Arshi Yasin — On building ‘The Bridge’

Journalism fascinated Arshi Yasin, the 28-year-old who began her journey from Kishanganj — a small town near the borders of Bihar and Bengal in India — as a college-going student to Bangalore as a journalist/entrepreneur. After studying engineering and spending a few years running social media campaigns for various entities and among her other expertise, Arshi finally found her true calling — sports journalism.

She tapped into the start-up world dedicating her ambitions and skills to establish The Bridge — a digital media house covering all kinds of sports in India using textual and visual storytelling. Arshi co-founded the platform with Shuvro Ghoshal — her colleague from a former workplace — and manages a team of 20, only within a span of two years. Together, they are making waves in the Indian sporting world and sports journalism.

CFWIJ sat down with Arshi to chat about sports journalism in India, social impact of The Bridge, advice for aspiring women sports journalists and much more. Go read.

CFWIJ: Before establishing The Bridge, you worked as a writer, business developer, spearheaded digital campaigns and even headed the Aam Aadmi Party’s social media during its initial years. How did that all come together? And did it all prepare you to start your own digital news platform?

Arshi: In 2016, I came to Bangalore and started working with The Logical Indian — an independent and public-spirited digital media platform for Indian millennials. In 2017, we found out about a women’s ice hockey team in India. It was surprising for us, since India is predominantly obsessed with cricket.

So Shuvro Ghoshal — the co-founder of The Bridge, who was one of the sports writers at The Logical Indian, and I traveled to Ladakh, to work on stories and make documentaries. Upon reaching the region, we learned that the team had to participate in a tournament in Thailand and required funds to do so. We started a social media campaign and contacted the Ice Hockey Federation to arrange for funds. Because of The Logical Indian’s community strength and power of the internet, we were able to raise the funds.

Then Shuvro and I realized that India has so many sports related stories to be told, but there is no platform that focuses on other sports except for cricket. Numerous publications and media houses in different languages cater to cricket, but none of them accommodated other sports.

That’s where we identified a vacuum and found scope in this industry. So in the latter half of 2017, we conceived the idea. Today, if someone asks me about The Bridge’s competition, I say ‘none’. There is no India-centric sports portal that caters to the Olympics and lesser known sports.

CFWIJ: What challenges did you come across when you developed the idea of your start-up and created The Bridge subsequently?

Arshi: Entrepreneurship is not a cake walk. Both my co-founder and I belong to the middle class. We have had our fair share of struggles. But despite that, the most difficult part back then for us was to get the right kind of people for the company. It is still the biggest challenge. We have so many sports, but very few people follow table tennis, boxing, wrestling or weightlifting. But in the past two years, we have been blessed to have identified the right people. We are now a team of 20 people, all of whom are passionate about the work we do. Together, we have done interesting projects in the past two years.

For instance, a team of 16 women football players based in Munger — a city in Bihar, India — wanted to participate in a tournament organized by the United Nations, but they needed shoes — worth INR 90,000 — to play. We published an article on The Bridge and in a span of 24 hours people donated money to buy them shoes. The girls then went to Delhi to participate in the tournament, and won too.

With respect to funding for The Bridge, there was none, initially. But in 2018, we realised the need to expand. So we went out in the market and secured our seed funding, which was in February 2019, almost a year ago. Now, we are operating out of Bangalore and have an office space. This year is very important for us because of the Olympics and we are anticipated to see what is in store for us.

CFWIJ: With reference to the examples you have shared, did you ever think about the social impact of your work when you decided to highlight the often, undercovered sports in India?

Arshi: The social aspect is always there, especially for women in sports. We have come across stories of sportspersons from small villages where women get married at the age of 16, 17 or 18. But then these girls have chosen sports as a way of life, they have played well, they have won on the state and national levels, they keep performing well and have come out to participate in international tournaments. They are doing well for themselves, which is a good example of social impact.

I feel good that I’m contributing my bit in this aspect; every small step counts. I cannot build a viewership of 10 million in a day or a year; it will take time. But all these impactful projects give me strength to move ahead.

CFWIJ: How did you and your co-founder get seed funding for The Bridge? Do you both still struggle with that aspect of your start-up?

Arshi: If an idea is good, if the founders are passionate and get connected to the right set of investors, then it is not that difficult. Every investor is different; some are philanthropic but others focus on the profit that a company can make in a span of five to 10 years. In India, the pie of revenue in sports is dominated by cricket and other sports that are nowhere close to it. Fortunately, our investor is a like-minded individual. Even though The Bridge is a private limited company, he does not just ask us for a balance sheet because sports are very close to his heart, he believes in our idea and that is how he invested in it.

Even today in terms of revenue, the media is not a heavily money-making venture and I do not think it will ever be. We are facing a problem in terms of revenue generation and it is not close to what we forecasted, the economy is also down, and so the marketing budgets are shrinking. But since this is the Olympics year, we are hopeful and making efforts for betterment.

Considering the trends in the last five or 10 years, the popularity of other sports, apart from cricket, has increased in India. Companies are investing in sportspersons through marketing campaigns. Even the sports ministry has increased its budget. This is the most fertile time for anyone who wants to contribute to the Indian sporting system and I am very positive about it.

CFWIJ: The Bridge drew immense traction in a rather short span of time. Did you expect the amount of following it gained, particularly with respect to its contribution to sports journalism in India?

Arshi: No, because I have closely monitored the trend and the reign of other media publications. It takes time, like five to seven years to reach the level of platforms like Buzzfeed, ScoopWhoop, The Quint or The Logical Indian. But the growth is rapid because there is no similar entity. If you ask anybody in the sporting ecosystem, apart from cricket, people know The Bridge, they know that it is a platform covering non-cricketing sports in a detailed manner. Now, we’re into vernacular language, so we have also tapped into that market.

CFWIJ: The Bridge essentially started as a two-person organization, but now there is a team to manage different roles within the organization. What was this transition like for you as a co-founder?

Arshi: It is a significant transition, because working in an organization as an employee and working towards a vision with a team are both very different. Confidence and having clarity on the work that I’m doing is very important. As a first time entrepreneur, I’m learning each day and I have observed the transition in the last two years.

My teammates say that I’m a very lenient boss, so at times I deliberately try to be strict — something I’m very bad at. I don’t believe in pressurizing or scaring employees to get the work done. Whoever is working with us should love the job and know their purpose, as that will lead to maximum productivity. This is why we are very flexible and this is probably the reason behind The Bridge’s growth.

CFWIJ: To see one’s organization grow day by day is a dream for any start-up founder. In an industry that is financially struggling globally, what plans do you have to sustain your start-up as a media entity in India?

Arshi: I have given a lot of thought to it and have arrived to the conclusion that just being a media entity will always keep the venture in a very fragile situation. There have to be parallel supporting ideas or verticals in the business for revenue. This yeaUPDATESr, we are expanding to multiple verticals.

There is no dedicated e-commerce portal where you can only buy Indian sports merchandise. For instance, if someone wants to buy P.V Sindhu’s sports jersey, it’s not out there, so we are planning something like that. Even though The Bridge will function how it is functioning (at the moment) and it will expand. But we are coming up with new ideas and verticals, to find new sources of revenue.

CFWIJ: Women sports journalists across the world encounter immense harassment and abuse, especially on the ground. You’ve done your fair share of reporting of sports events in India. How would you describe your experience?

Arshi: Fear exists. Not just within journalists but any woman. Sports are primarily male-dominated. The state of journalism, especially sports journalism is also similar. The way people treat you in such events or situations makes you feel unwelcome. But now I take it as a challenge because I want more women to step up and come forward to join this stream. More women should go out and cover hockey, football or any other sporting events.

More than highlighting harassment, we should talk about ways to overcome it. The more we talk about fear, the fewer women will come ahead but the more we talk about courage, the more women will participate.

We, at The Bridge, are a team of almost 20, wherein the number of women is five. Whenever I hire, it is on the basis of skillset, but I also ensure a healthy gender ratio in my team. Everyone comes with different perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures.

When I go for events, it’s not easy, at times. The situation can get uncomfortable, but if I make it obvious and succumb to it, it will give others a reason to not welcome me. I don’t want that, I want the world to see me. There are people whose attitudes have changed. They now take me seriously because my work speaks. That is the impact I have made in the past two years.

CFWIJ: What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in sports journalism or want to start their own digital news platform focused on sports?

Arshi: A girl on LinkedIn messaged me and shared that she has done engineering but wants to pursue sports journalism. I responded to her saying ‘don’t hold back’. The more you fear, the vacuum will be larger. You have to enter the ecosystem and bridge the gap. There will be challenges, but overcome those challenges and work towards your goal.

My advice would be to not hold back. Enter the field with enthusiasm and confidence. Prove people wrong, especially those who scare women or harass them. By not entering the field we’re giving them a chance to say that this is just a man’s field and a woman cannot survive. We are not living in that age anymore, where a woman cannot travel or cover events. However, we have to be careful, safe, alert and aware. But never hold ourselves back.

This interview was originally written for Women In Journalism Magazine by The Coalition For Women In Journalism