FREEBOWLER SUPERTHROWER: WHY I DECIDED TO BUILD THE CRICKET’S FIRST PORTABLE CRICKET BALL THROWER
Just like every passionate cricket fan in India, I’ve grown up playing a lot of cricket — gully cricket, street cricket, tennis ball, hardball, just everywhere with anybody. Here in India, we play cricket daily, mornings, evenings and very regularly. And just to give you more background information on how it all started, I come from a strong cricketing background in the sense that I have played professional cricket alongside some of the big names in the current Indian cricket team setup from Karnataka. I represented Karnataka Zonals, represented university cricket — VTU, highest level of representation in an engineering setup. But at some point, I had to choose studies over sports. So, I went on to do my masters in the US. But I continued to associate myself with the cricketing affairs in the US. I took part in the Cricket All-Stars, Sachin and Warne event in the logistics, operations and sponsorship departments. I was also a part of the local Cricket club called Lehigh Valley Cricket Club as a player and an advisor.
So, having been played and seen cricket from close corners both as a player and a manager I saw a need in the space for a training aid which could help the infrastructure and coaching space. Just to give you my own example, I used to drive 1.5 hours to the closest practice facility from where I lived, 2 hours of practice, 1.5 hours of a drive back and spending close to around $60–100 every time for 2 hours of practice session was expensive at the time. So, I started doing research on buying something small and compact that I can keep it with myself, which can throw cricket balls without the use of electricity so that I can put it up in my backyard or garage where there was no electricity access at a price point that’s affordable to me. I was also very specific about the machine’s ability to throw real cricket balls since I wanted to be technically sound and wanted the real feel for a cricket ball on my bat. To my surprise, I just couldn’t find anything online like I was looking for. Cricket has been around for over 150 years and nothing existed like what I was looking for. I was shocked because I felt it was just something every cricketer ever dreamt of having grown up and it just didn’t exist, and nobody has ever tried to address this problem in the last 150 years of cricketing existence.
At the same time, I was also doing my final year masters project. I was looking for a topic too. So that’s when I took the concept to my professor and said, ‘this looked really interesting and I wanted to do more research on this’. He immediately thought it was worth doing it and gave a nod. So that’s how it all started. From then on, I started building mockups, prototypes, wireframes, bare minimum sketches, just anything I could communicate the idea with a set of people around me to get their thoughts and feedback. People began liking the idea of it and wanted to learn more about it, then I also got some funding from the university itself which helped me work on the project for a couple more months. Then 6 months down the line, I got some funding from the local government organization called Lehigh Valley Economic Development Center which further helped me continue the project. During all this development, I also had my roommate and my classmate from the master’s program Justin Jacobs join me as a founding partner of the company freebowler.
Since the startup costs were beginning to get high, I decided to move back to India in July 2017 so that I can focus on building the company by working with manufacturing partners, Prototyping partners and just, in general, get more people on-board from a professional cricket setup. In the US, we could only go so far with funding resources and access to professionals, but we wanted more validated feedback from people in India to see the value and worth in continuing to work on the project.
We got amazing feedback from everyone who saw and used the machine but identifying the right manufacturing partner who could turn the golden prototype into volumes of products was very hard in India. Again, incorporating all the changes people wanted in the machine was also hard in the hardware product because every small change affects the entire dynamics of the machine and it has to be checked on the field and a bunch of cricketers all the time before approving the change which was very lengthy process which was also equally challenging. And access to funds to continue the hardware innovation project is just hard, we had to cut corners at some places and deny opportunities to advance forward just because we were always cash strapped. So, these were some of the early financial struggles we had.
So, even though it was ideated and conceptualized in the US by me and realized into a working structure by providing it form and functional by my partner Justin Jacobs in the US with his manufacturing, prototyping and product development background, but it was fully built and industrialized for commercialization here in India. So, I would proudly say it’s a ‘Made in India’ product, if not for India we wouldn’t have been able to build elsewhere.