Capt. Ameya Kocharekar is an ex-army officer awarded with General Officer commanding in chief commendation card, for his exemplary service and leadership during his tenure. He has served with prestigious surface to air missile regiments with Indian Army for 6 years. An alumni of IIM Lucknow, a first generation entrepreneur and a state level gold medallist in boxing, he is one of those lucky persons, who get a chance to work close to their passion. Capt. Ameya is a Co-Founder and CEO of a company named Proforce which is active in the field of Holistic Sports Education in K-12 segment for last 4 years plus. Proforce currently is present in 4 cities with 24000 children under umbrella and has achieved a niche for itself by winning 3 National Trophies, 42 trophies in district and state and 513 medals including a national in fencing in just 40 months of operations. An eminent speaker at many public forums, he is regarded with respect as a guest speaker even at distinguished institutes like IIM.
It can be both. But in majority of the times, its more emotional than the professional pursuits. Given a fact that one has to bear the hardships of training and difficult postings thereafter, and also the only service which demands your life if the situation so desires, in exchange of monetary compensations (Salary), one needs to be more passionate about joining the Indian Armed Forces than anything else.
A most compelling story, interestingly, is not of killing someone in counter insurgency or any such operation but of saving hundreds of lives from a major fire incident during one of my peace postings.
It was Nov 2007 and I was posted in Gwalior. Gwalior is famous for its Diwali Mela organised in in Gwalior Mela ground during Diwali where almost 600 to 700 shops are set up, right from electronics to fire crackers and everything is on great discount.
On 07 Nov 2007, Dhanteras Day, I was doing field officer duty for Gwalior cantonment. It was a Saturday. On every Saturday, the field officer is supposed to practice the fire fighting drill. However, I had slept over it. Somewhere around 2.30 pm, I got a call from station HQ that there is some fire incidence and civilian administration has asked for Army’s help. This call was picked up by my buddy and he informed me. I neglected it, considering that this would be a regular fire fighting practice drill. However, after about 30 minutes, I thought of checking up myself. That was the time, when I was informed that Gwalior Mela ground was in flames and more than 200 people including children are trapped inside.
I, without following any protocols, gathered the strength of the company under my command, got hold of fire engines of station HQ, and straight marched towards the ground. It was six hours of continuous operation but we were managed to save every life. I was honoured with General Officer Commanding in Chief Commendation Card for this effort.
Some part of this incidence is still on youtube by the names of Gwalior Mela Fire- 2007.
Absolutely. Without any doubt. Those were the years probably that boosted a lot of confidence and risk taking ability in me that comes to use as an entrepreneur now.
Well, for a middle class boy who was born and brought up in chawls of Mumbai, the decision of switching over to an insecure environment from secured one wasn’t easy. However, during my service, I had gauged as to how far would I be able to go up the rank! That prompted the decision to try my expertise in corporate world. Thus, it wasn’t a straight jump to entrepreneurship. I handled sales and business development in media and in consulting industry for a good amount of 06 years before starting my own venture – Proforce.
I studied in a vernacular medium in one of the prominent schools of Mumbai. However, the school was completely focussed on academics and we had only one ground – Shivaji Park – to utilise for our games period. For school I travelled 25 Kms daily to and fro. It didn’t allow me any spare time in the evenings to peruse any game. Hence from std 1 to std 10, I didn’t play any organised game.
After 10th, I was selected for Services Preparatory Institute, Aurganbad. (SPI). For my 11th and 12th, I studied there and also prepared for UPSC. SPI life exposed me to all the games suddenly and playing was compulsory. I stated picking up one game after another and it changed my complete personality. Somewhere in the back of my mind, this impact was permanent. I thereafter went on picking up a state gold medal in boxing.
My child was born when I was serving the Army, but I had made a decision that I wouldn’t put him into a school which doesn’t have a good sports infrastructure. When he was in his schooling age, I was already a part of corporate. I put him to a school which was budding and was promising a lot on the infrastructure part. However, for the first two years, I didn’t notice any of the school teams performing, in spite of great infrastructure. That prompted me to find out the reason and gaps – the two prominent gaps that came out after visiting few schools were:
- Not everytime good coaches were available for school. Good coaches were demanding a full time payroll job and schools did not cater for that kind of budget.
- Schools, in spite of having the infrastructures, did not spend a lot on recurring expenses on equipment that is required.
This gap prompted me to think over a solution as to what can be done and that is where the ideation of Proforce started.
I believe both had equal weightage in this. Since we were in the field of sports entrepreneurship, the zeal of creating possibilities and shaping sports careers was high. Also, the start up saga in its young stage had its own glamour.
- First is co- founder – Capt. Sachin Sharma. Without him, I would have probably taken more time to start up. Unfortunately he is no more a partner is this journey, since the hardships were high and survival also became an issue at some point of time.
- Second is my wife- Mrs Karishma who is a nutritionist too and takes care of the nutrition vertical of Proforce, who stood by me in difficult times. She gave me all the support and was even a part of some of the hard decisions like selling of our house, selling off her jewellery, allowing me to withdraw all the money in saving and mutual funds – she only insisted that we started Proforce with a vision and the dream didn’t end into a failure. Her support in such times was most important.
- The set of angel investors that I have. All of them have supported us strongly so far.
I believe in setting up a long term vision and break it into short term goals to achieve it. Chasing a goal needs persistence and patience. A part of my army tenure and the struggles to get selected in the Army, had taught me persistence. A part of my sales profile after Army also taught me a good amount of persistence and patience.However chasing goals become easy, when you have a good team together. I am fortunate that Proforce today has such a team.
We had undertaken an over ambitious campaign after tasting first success in the very first year. However, it was too early in our stage but we didn’t realise it. The glamour of media attention and easiness of raising funds for this campaign had overshadowed all.As a result, at the end of first FY, we were standing on a revenue of 65 lakhs, loss of 54 lakhs and lost both the clients since we couldn’t pay attention to that business. At the start of new FY, we were standing at zero pipelines and a top heavy management team. Next few months were very difficult. Survival became an issue. We couldn’t have raised more funds since we had spoofed off earlier ones without much results. This was the time when Capt. Sachin Sharma went back to corporate life on a very mutual decision. Even I was contemplating so but I knew that once back I would never be able to come back to entrepreneurship as no one would trust us with their money. We were answerable to our investors. I couldn’t just run away saying it got lost in a risky decision. That wasn’t me; that wasn’t what I had learnt all my life.
I decided to stay in the game. We managed to gather few more clients but with low margins. I took a decision of liquidating my assets and that was the point where my wife – Karishma, instead of reacting to it, supported me to the core. We sold our newly bought house, sold all her jewellery (except one ring), and liquidated all savings done in MF for our son, just to stay afloat.
I guess the efforts and learning’s paid off. For next two years I kept the company top light and we could operationally break even in July 2017. I took my salary after 18 months in August 2017.
- Starting Up Proforce with a good angel funding
- Producing results in the desired manners for partner schools – today Proforce stands with 3 national trophies, one national medal, 44 state and district trophies and 580 state and district medals in just 45 months of operations.
- Introducing niche sports like Fencing in school level and winning national medals for schools.
- Surviving through hard times but ensuring that investors’ money and trust is safeguarded.
- Making the company profitable and cash positive in spite of going bankrupt at a personal level, in this journey.
As an entrepreneur, the biggest high is to see the number of employments I could generate within this short time. A journey from updating my resumes on job sites and linkedIn profiles, to receiving about 10 requests per week asking for work opportunity is something amazing. Today, when I see a staff of more than 50 persons depending on me, which is close to 200 persons including their families, it always gives immense satisfaction and a sense of responsibility.
Proforce today has established its niche in western part of India by proving what quality sports education shall actually comprise of. It has 16 schools partnered with different boards. We shall now be looking at expanding the horizons to other parts of country through a planned growth strategy. We shall be looking forward for an athlete trained at grass root level by Proforce, performing in Olympics of 2024 and 2028.It shall definitely increase our valuation to three fold in next four years’ time. In next four years, we shall be looking for having 100 schools under an umbrella of holistic sports education.Proforce is currently cash positive and we shall strive to remain that way. However for an aggressive growth, there is a plan to raise growth capital within the first two quarters of FY 2019-20.
Well, a lot has changed now. In other words, many of the schools and parents have woken up to the need of learning more games than Cricket. Football enjoys the same status as that of cricket now in grass-root level. Niche games like Fencing, Archery, Rifle shooting have also been performing well and catching up steam.Once we have around 16 to 17 games (out of 25 high impact games GOI has shortlisted to be concentrating on Olympics 2020-2028) being played at school level, that shall definitely be a benchmark towards achieving more number of medals in Olympics and be in the first five of the charts.