A MESSAGE FOR FUTURE ‘FREEBOWLER’ COMPETITORS: NO! WE ARE NOT AFRAID OF BEING COPIED!!

A lot of people especially in the business world advise us on ‘expediting the process’ and being quick, swift and fast even before somebody copies and replicates the same thing and releases the product in the market. We get a ton of word of caution on patenting, copyrighting and trademarking to protect ourselves from being ripped off! Everybody wants us to be the ‘only player’ in the market and capture the entire market opportunity because we were the first ones to come up with this idea /concept and product. So, everybody feels we deserve to reap the benefits of hard work we’ve put in all these years in developing this amazing and innovative problem-solving product. At the same time, everybody is also equally a hundred percent sure that somebody is going to copy the design and do it anyway, maybe there’s already someone somewhere in a small corner of the world reverse engineering the freebowler Superthrower to build another one just like that. We’ve to really appreciate people’s concerns and wanting us to do well and do the best! But, that’s not how it works in reality!!

There are going to be competitors and competition in the marketplace. That’s just how things work in business. If somebody is not trying to fight the game by copying your product design by making it better, then you’re doing something wrong. People will only come after you if you have created a market need and that somebody also realizes the market potential and the opportunity. No competition either means the market opportunity is not big enough or you have a sh***y product which is not worth pursuing as a business! It’s always good to have competition and competitors trying to put you out of business every day. That way, the competition will always keep you going and keeps you on your toes. It also keeps you grounded not letting you fly high thinking that you’re the only player in the market and you’ve it all forever.

For us personally, at freebowler, we have a slightly different take on competition and competitors. We are not as scared and worried as other businesses in a similar phase of the company and people who are afraid that somebody will knock us off. In fact, we want competitors to come on to the playing field. That makes us feel good about ourselves as a business and a bunch of innovators who have challenged the traditional cricket equipment manufacturing world to change and innovate. The other most important thing people forget is the ability of a hardware startup to scale and scale — up faster or at a rate, they are expecting us to grow. In general, people have far less understanding and connect to ground reality. People don’t understand the limitations of a hardware startup, people have no context to how hardware businesses run. Hardware is a cash flow business and people have no idea of what that even means.

We have a bigger vision than just freebowler Superthrower, and this project is just a stepping stone and a way to enter the back door of the sports business industry. There’s just so much more to do than just building bowling machines. Bringing this product into the cricket training world has already bought us immense happiness, pride and a sense of accomplishment. But it’s still far from being done. But the fact that we have introduced this product concept for the first time in 150 years of Cricket’s existence has already given us a head start. The world now knows we are the first ones to popularize the idea of non-electric and portable cricket ball throwers a thing in cricket.

We, in fact, want people to try and design around it and build better non-electric and portable cricket ball throwers in the future years to come to help solve a real need in the cricket training space. We’ve done a good job of introducing this concept, but we can’t do it all. We can’t fulfill the needs of 20 million cricketers around the world just being a 6-member team. We’ve limitations to our own abilities to keep going with this project and in making the best version of this non-electric and portable cricket ball thrower concept.

For starters, we can’t manufacture 50,000 of these ball throwers (which is our target number to sell throughout the world, which we also think is a very conservative number considering the size of the cricket market) because of 1. We don’t have the manufacturing capability 2. We don’t have the investment to pump into manufacturing these units (50,000). Assuming it’ll cost Rs.10,000 to manufacture 50,000 units, it’ll require us to invest 50,000 x 10,000 = 50,00,00,000 = 50CR. Best case scenario, even if we get credit from our manufacturers, then that puts us at 50% of 50CR =25CR to manufacture 50,000 units to sell globally. On top of it is marketing, administrative, legal and other miscellaneous business expenses, all put together will still put us at 25–30CR to capture the world cricket market. We also understand we can’t do it all in 1 year, it takes years to get there. But the fact that it requires huge investments and a sizable team is true at any stage.

Hardware startups always have challenges that are different from other types of business when it comes to product development, product testing, validation, verification, quality assurance, customer service and support, logistics, fulfillment, warehousing, inventory management, product training, etc. which all factors in during the lifecycle of the product like ours. It’s just impractical to think about capturing the entire market without accounting for the above-mentioned challenges. But a lot of big brands already have well-established and streamlined processes which allow them to get the output efficiently. Moreover, they have the human resource and the financial means to execute the project much better than a hardware startup. So, it only makes sense for them to do it, so if they want to copy the design, reverse engineer and build a better product, then so be it. Even if they attempted to copy the design, practically it’s also impossible for us to fight the lawsuit with them. 1. It’s going to take years to resolve the matter 2. They have big pockets to win the case. If they want to do it, they’ll do it anyway. If they have the resources to execute it and capture the market, then they totally deserve it. So, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just impractical to even think to stop the big players in the market from doing what they would want to do.

On the other hand, it’s great and a positive sign for a young hardware startup that a big brand has replicated the original design. We at freebowler want this product concept to reach millions and millions of cricketers around the world to help get the best batting practice experience and complete their cricketing needs. Whether we do it or somebody else does it better than us, it doesn’t really matter to us. If freebowler Superthrower non-electric and portable cricket ball thrower concept has reached the grassroots cricket throughout the world and becomes a part of the everyday cricket training setup, then that fulfills our dream and vision. It’s just a matter of how it gets to that point, we may not be financially successful at the end of the process, but the process, the fight, the innovative spirit, the passion, the true care for cricket and cricketers is what keeps us going and is a far bigger success than the economics.

We’d also eventually want innovative minds to come together, experiment and innovate the existing concept and make it better. Innovation is the constant in the game. It’s important for us to get the attention of the best design and engineering minds in the cricket product world to work on this project. Because any competitor will do their best with their design and engineering team to build a very good product that stands out from the rest of the competition to have something up their sleeve to offer for the cricketers. So, all this, in turn, creates a very healthy and competitive environment where every brand is trying to outsmart the other by building the greatest product by having an innovative edge which will eventually turn into sales and make money for them. In the end, the two people who would have benefitted the most are 1. cricketers 2. freebowler.

  1. Cricketers, because they deserve the best training aid to be the best version of themselves.
  2. freebowler — because our ultimate vision of building a world-class product for the cricket world is fulfilled

So, either way, our objective, and purpose will be served and fulfilled by the virtue of putting out the concept for free for people to take and build the best. Nothing comes close to the feeling of people being blown over by your product that they feel like wanting to copy it and build one for their brand.

So, for all young hardware startups and including ourselves. Two biggest takeaways and positives while finding ways to navigate through people who try to pull you down by bringing in the competition theory is to bear in mind and communicate:

1. Competition is good. It helps to keep you on your toes and lets you differentiate from the other players in the market because you are always 4–6 months ahead of any new player because you have the most and best experience with the product. You know the product inside out, again if anybody it’s only you who can deliver it the best.

2. Competition is great because it opens the market, it makes the playing field even. Being a hardware startup, you can’t fulfill the entire demands of the market all by yourself. So, if the competition aids the process by filling in some of the gaps, then it opens up the opportunity to improvise and release the next best version soon so that you’re again ahead of the curve letting the competitor lag.

Also, it’s important to be practical at the same time being ambitious. Anybody who executes and operates the business better deserves to win. It could be you or your competitors. Everything’s fair, there are no hard and fast rules as such in this game. You win, and you only win on merit. Nothing else helps!!

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Pratheek Palanethra

Founder & Innovator at freebowler . Cricket’s 1st Non-Electric & Portable Cricket Ball Thrower.