In his autobiography, The Test Of My Life: From Cricket To Cancer And Back, Yuvraj Singh recollects the conversation master blaster Sachin Tendulkar had with the team a day before the 2011 World Cup finals. He writes, “Sachin laid it down plainly: on the field do anything you have to. Fall, break your bones, die, but do not let the ball through.”
Over the years, Singh has indeed broken some bones, but he has come out stronger. From experiencing the loss of the 2003 World Cup to winning the 2011 edition, fighting cancer, and then getting back to cricket, his life has been eventful.
The cricketer, who set up YouWeCan Ventures Technology Llp with associate Nishant Singhal in 2015 to channel their investments, has become the flagbearer for celebrities who are early-stage investors in online start-ups. “The process happened two years ago. There are a lot of people with good ideas who don’t have access to people who can help them. The world is moving towards start-ups and I thought it would be a good space to get into. Through this venture fund I have been able to create more than 600 jobs (in the 11 start-ups he has invested in), which I am really proud of,” Singh says. YouWeCan provides seed funding and angel funding and plans to invest Rs.30-50 crore in the next three-five years. It also connects investors to the start-ups it has already invested in.
Singhal, a chartered accountant who has worked with consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), has been Singh’s business adviser since 2010. “Singhal has been my associate for two years now,” Singh says. “It (the investment) is based on research and my adviser takes the call. We focus only on start-ups that have the potential to make a difference.” While Singhal largely handles the due diligence process, the decision to invest is taken jointly.
Singh explains how it works. “The adviser will bring a start-up on the table with pros and cons and ask me if I want to invest. When you have 50 options, you pick five-six. Next, we meet the team to understand the focus before we take a call.”
Singh’s diversified start-up portfolio includes JetSetGo (travel), Vyomo (a home beauty service), SportyBeans (a children-focused sports programme), Cartisan (an automotive services marketplace), Healthians (an online healthcare marketplace) and EduKart (an education marketplace).
In January, Singh ventured into the digital marketing space with Yral—a joint venture between YouWeCan Ventures and AdLift, an advertising agency specializing in search engine optimization.
Singh only became interested in business after he won his battle with mediastinal seminoma, a germ cell cancer, in 2013. “I was never a business person. I was just a youngster representing my country and 24x7 thinking about cricket. But, you know, life can go anywhere. My life went to a place where I didn’t know what to do. I had to come back and I was a very changed person. I wanted to do something for society.” Investing in the start-up ecosystem, particularly in sectors such as education and healthcare, has helped create jobs and trigger change.
When it comes to finances, he believes in professional advice and comes across as a calculated risk taker. “I have to take risks because if you don't, there is no fun. Also, you need to be smart about a few things. If you take decisions very quickly, they can backfire. I have taken some spontaneous decisions. But I always sit and discuss it with the right people. You need the right people to advise you.”
In cricket, Singh will always be remembered for hitting six consecutive sixes in the India-England match of the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 tournament in South Africa in 2007. But when it comes to business and finance, he prefers taking singles.
“I am a little different when it comes to my business . If I start hitting sixes, my business can fail. In business, I am going to take the singles and leave a few balls,” Singh says. And he doesn’t venture into equities; real estate is a safer bet, says the left-handed batsman.
Singh is also focused on the Yuvraj Singh Foundation (YSF), a non-profit that works to create awareness about cancer prevention and detection. “When I came out of cancer, I wanted to do something for my people. I have been focusing on my charity work for the last three-four years now. We focus on one cause—younger kids who are fighting cancer. We have 25 kids.” The foundation sponsors their education.
Very often, he says, cancer isn’t diagnosed early enough. “If you don’t get diagnosed in time, it is very difficult. I have been lucky but coming back has been a lot of struggle and pain. I have shown a lot of courage and determination. The right people have backed me. And that is what I want to give back. I want to inspire people to get back to their life.”
Singh recently launched merchandise to further the cause. “The higher percentage of sales will go towards the cause and the remaining will be used to take care of costs such as salaries,” he says.
We ask him what comes next. “At the moment, the brand is the biggest thing for me. I want to work on it and make it something really special for people out there and for myself. Let’s see where life takes me. I am not that kind of person who will sit at home and do nothing. Whenever I stop playing cricket, which is a couple of years later, I will be doing something else.”
He has one piece of financial advice that he explains in cricketing terms: “Keep taking singles and doubles and get set before you hit the ball.”
Name: Yuvraj Singh
Investment philosophy: “I have to take risks because if you don’t, there is no fun.”
Investment strategy: He set up the investment company YouWeCan Ventures Technology Llp to support online start-ups, including e-commerce firms, to build brands and encourage entrepreneurship. So far, the firm has invested in 11 start-ups.
Investment advice: “Keep taking singles and doubles and get set before you hit the ball.”
P.R. Sanjai used to work for Mint.