WHAT IS THE BEST VERSION OF A BALL THROWER FOR CRICKET?

The cricket equipment design, development, and manufacturing space have made us think a lot lately about what does it take for cricketers to indeed adopt a ball thrower for their everyday cricket practice. As much as people like freebowler superthrower, we still believe there’s still much work that needs to be done to make freebowler superthrower ‘a true ball thrower’ that makes a difference to the way currently cricket is being practiced. Right now, it just solves the part of the problem with ball throwing, but there’s much scope for making it truly the best and a practical solution for everyday practice. The more we demonstrate it to different psychographics of people, the more we discover about people’s actual needs. Just talking and interacting with people, and learning from our own experiences is now getting us into the process of reverse engineering cricketers’ mindset from a practicality standpoint. 

Of course, we still believe the freebowler superthrower is currently the best version of ball throwing amongst all other options. But the next big question for us is, what’s the best version of the freebowler superthrower? We had bowlers; then we made bowling machines, then we made portable ball throwers, but what next? Answer: It’s a combination of all three. By now, we all agree that the ball throwing aid has to be or preferably be ‘non-electric, portable, affordable, and capable of throwing real cricket balls’ if it is meant to be adopted by masses including the elite and professionals. These features and benefits are enormous. Still, then there’s the other side of the product, which is manufacturing, assembly, environment, logistics, marketing, sales, distribution, customer service, and just a whole new dimension to the product considering the business model built around the product. It’s economies of scale. 

Product demonstration with the engineers at Decathlon India HQ

SO WHAT DOES THE REAL BALL THROWER WILL EVER BE LIKE FROM A CONSUMER SIDE

“People should be able to get a good amount of throwdowns with minimum human effort” — That’s the punchline.

It is envisioned to be along the same lines of a Sidearm Throw/SpeedArm or a RoboArm, essentially the handheld ball chucker/ball thrower, which has got every ingredient to becoming ‘The Solution.’ It ticks a lot of other boxes in terms of product design, manufacturability, servicing, instructions for use, safety, logistics, pricing, and everything around the business model is very favoring. It has shortcomings being user-friendly; it’s for a very niche segment of people that are capable of using it. It still not quite there yet. Today it’s still a version that’s good enough for elites; it’s not something anybody picks it up from the ground and starts firing balls at the batters at 130kmph from the get-go. It needs a lot of practice, a level of expertise and experience playing the game to be able to make full use of it. Also, it’s pretty taxing on the arm. But having said that, we never know, this could just be it. Over some time, people might perfect this, and it could come naturally and spontaneously to people. But it’s too early for that big of a change and shift. 

SO WHAT DOES THE REAL BALL THROWER WILL EVER BE LIKE FROM A BUSINESS SIDE

It has to be along the lines of the Spikeball set. For some of you who don’t know what Spikeball is, here it is- https://spikeball.com/. We have tried Spikeball at freebowler, and we are a big fan of this game, the concept, the product, the business model, and just about everything. They are killing it out there. It could have all just clicked together, or maybe these guys at Spikeball could have given it deep thought to strategically build a consumer-centric product and also a tremendously favorable business model from a profitability standpoint. But either way, their product is just rad. Not only have they just made a product, but they have also created a large community of followers. They’ve built a Spikeball empire or more like a Spikeball nation. That’s how big Spikeball is. Of course, there are tons of other creative business models out there, even more successful than Spikeball. But the fact that it’s built around sports innovation and bringing about a cultural shift into sports hardware business through user base building is what stands out. They have got most things right about the product, and we have taken some inspiration from their product design and a leaf out of their business model to arrive at the below assumptions for a successful cricket ball throwing aid manufacturing business:

DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURABILITY(DFM), DESIGN FOR ASSEMBLY(DFA) AND QUALITY CHECK(QC): Simple, aesthetically appealing, made up of lightweight material that is abundantly available, capable of producing using established manufacturing techniques. Design intent should be consumer-centric — ergonomic and intuitive leading to faster customer validation and feedback loop. 

Smaller the product, the higher the volume, lower is the cost of manufacturing per unit. This way, we can invest a sum of money upfront and produce higher quantity units. Essentially faster production cycle using molds such that the lead times and turn around time is quick between orders. Less complicated and intricate parts, lesser the quality-check(QC) nodal points, better the life of the product and faster the assembly process. All this is leading to higher productivity and efficiency.

DESIGN FOR LOGISTICS(DFL): Things to consider for DFL-Size of the product, Weight of the Product, Packaging Material, Packaging Time, Loading And Unloading Time, Effort To Load/Unload i.e., manpower, Paperwork, and Documentation. Shipping costs are directly proportional to the dimensions of the product. Added to the shipping costs are custom duty charges, VAT, and import taxes for international shipping. All this better be included in the price of the product because customers hate to see added shipping costs towards the end of the product checkout process, which leads to increased abandoned carts. And shipping times more than 10–15 days are a big NO, NO. So lesser the cost of the product and lower the weight of the product; faster are the shipping times with minimal shipping charges, quicker transit, and leading to a faster customer fulfillment cycle. Not to forget WAREHOUSING AND INVENTORY MANAGEMENT. Less space-consuming and more products to fit in. Size matters when the product has to be carried and stocked on the shelves of major sports stores and retail-outlet locations.

EASE OF BRANDING & MARKETING: Smaller products, lesser the price(not too cheap), more comfortable it is market it and sell it on the internet. Easy to send samples for free samples for early-adopters to build the market initially. Easy to feature and generate creatives for social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, Twitter, and among others. The product should be captivating enough for cricketers to adopt this at a pace where content generation is at scale and community building of user database and followers on social are exponentially growing. It has to be easy for influencers to generate content and also equally good enough to endorse and help us spread the word out into the farther parts of the world.

PRICING, SALES & DISTRIBUTION: Not too low and not too high. Always 4x — 4.5x price of cost of manufacturing or just about the price of a regular cricket product where people don’t have to put too much thought into buying the product. It has to be compelling enough to make an instinctive buying decision. Again, the product offering has to be of the highest quality with no compromise with quality. Then the price should be attractive such that the perceived value is higher than the cost of the product. Also, the amount of the product should be just right enough to get introduced into the existing distribution channels. Always have enough margins to feature the product in significant marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and other major platforms. Also, to be able to sell it through major POS(Points of Sale)- dealer network by accommodating channel partners. Not to forget payment gateway commissions, transaction fees, and processing fees added with the platform’s currency conversion. Last but not the least, factor in shipping costs with cross-border import duties, VAT and custom clearance charges. It better be priced to be a pass-through entity in significant countries.

SAFETY AND CUSTOMER SERVICE, SUPPORT & MAINTENANCE: NIL. Just kidding! All that product operation needs is basic human common sense. The idea is to make it entirely foolproof by giving people less or none to complain about the product. If any, it should come out in the form of a recommendation, suggestion, and feedback for product improvisation/future iterations. Creating the best customer experience is of the highest importance for any growing brand.

Courtesy: Spikeball

SO HOW DO WE SEE IT AT FREEBOWLER

Eventually, the concept for a non-electric and portable cricket ball thrower should be an improvised version of a hand-held ball chucker. We genuinely see to be something along the lines of a triple flame, handheld pitching machine with all the above features. Something like a prosthetic arm with a strap-on armor that’s spring-loaded and capable of generating the speeds, line, length, and natural variations with ‘real cricket balls.’ Something as easy as wearing a short bodysuit that is easy to slip-on with a loaded gun kind of arrangement that’s capable of shooting balls with the single-step operation that has nothing to do with stability, noise, and vibrations. Of course, more realistically simulating bowling action.

It also has to be simplistic in design, lightweight- easy to carry it around, and be able to throw it in the cricket kit bag with minimal maintenance. People shouldn’t feel like they are moving something; they should be able to just plug and play, safe to operate just about anywhere and everywhere. Something one can pick up from the ground and start using it without instructions. It should be intuitive enough for people to go with the flow without having to break their heads and tax their brains, figuring out what the heck this thing is. Inexpensive, easy buy-everybody could be able to buy one and keep it irrespective of how much they make use of it.

Something that is also easy to manufacture in volumes, size it, and price it in a way that allows scalability by expanding into the distribution network of sports goods equipment channels. Simply, something that’s super affordable -100% consumer-centric and business-friendly that gets adopted at all levels.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

It’s great to have a product that solves all the human problems, but if it can’t be produced at the level to build a business model around it, then it’s no good. It’s like the analogy with cars and horses back in the day. If you asked people what they wanted for transportation, they said “faster horses.” So if humans tried to mutate horses to make them faster, they would have got nowhere. Instead, they built cars. So taking customer’s feedback is the right thing to do, but transcribing their needs into a useful form is the key to innovation in making a meaningful and sustainable business model around it. Here’s the blueprint, it’s out there. Anybody who’s able to check these boxes will indeed go onto win this competition of building something that’ll be forever a part of cricket as long as the game exists. It almost feels like we are all sitting on a vast gold mine, in its abundance, and the opportunity to make it is significant.