CEO and Founder of Sandbox, the digital learning company
Bhav Singh, 49, is founder and CEO of Sandbox, a company that provides digital learning tools for teachers and home learners. Formed in 2015, it has 17 market-leading properties, with CoolMathGames, Hopster, and Code Kingdoms under its wing. It is now valued in the region of £100m following the pandemic boom.
The UK-based cricket fan has a proven track record of scaling businesses in the media, entertainment, sports and e-learning sectors, and is a former executive vice president Emerging Markets at Viacom International, and President and CEO of Pearson English.
I owe Bob Mackish, the current CEO of ViacomCBS, on many levels.
I was working in a mid-level position and Bob was brought in to help energize the international team. He came with a different perspective on doubling down on certain aspects and is one of those incredibly clear strategists who has a good eye on execution. He gave me the task of managing high growth markets and gave me the ability to manage them on a global scale.
Read more: My first boss: Nick Wheeler, founder of blouse and tailor Charles Tyrwhitt
Bob realized my strengths and gave me the freedom to go hard on some things. Bob is a down-to-earth guy who can get to the point very quickly. He was a partner in crime as my boss and held me accountable for deliverables when needed. Bosses tend to be “Here’s what I want, find out” or micromanagers. You need people to guide you and help you solve complex problems. He was a great practitioner of these things.
I learned from Bob how to go from being a leader to being a manager. For me, it’s more and more about leading, not managing people: leading is above all else. It’s about how you give people the confidence that they are managing themselves.
I also learned a lot about responsibility during my days at IMG with Andrew Wildblood. I had to make a decision about cricket rights in India. I was in my twenties and it was an exhilarating, sometimes overwhelming time.
Andrew had this incredible ability to give me the confidence to follow my own instincts. He helped me go into detail and taught me how to create a cushion of contingencies and fallbacks. He would never give me the answer, but he would point me in the right direction to really think about it.
Now, when making an investment decision, these are things I’ve learned from Bob (the operational elements) and Andrew (the synergies), as well as former Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino, who taught me to focus on the person before making financial decisions.
The starting block for Sandbox had come when I was at one of the senior meetings at Pearson trying to acquire more video content for kids learning where the likes of Teletubbies were at the era.
The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that there was no one to scale in games, e-learning, and videos – it was mostly individual startups.
When you’re clear about your strengths, stay committed to them, was one of Bob’s mantras. I’m better at scaling than being a startup, better at bringing people and properties together and connecting the dots.
Read more: My first boss: Jonnie Peacock, double Paralympic champion GB
This is how to get young children to spend two hours a day with my products in a safe way, and a parent would feel happy. It’s not about trying to build businesses for valuation, it’s about a scaling mentality. If I can do this with an appropriate set of products and services focused on stealth learning, then I’ve achieved my goal.
I was told I was too enterprising, now I feel like I was too slow then. I learned the resilience, perseverance and stubbornness to say that I will go all the way. I didn’t know I had it in me, but I’m grateful to the people who have united around our cause at Sandbox, which now has nearly 400 employees.
The founders who also decided to roll their businesses with us and stayed, I feel like they are older than me in their entrepreneurial journey. They are the veterans and I am the rookie. I bring the scaling expertise, but they bring the restlessness, the mindset, and the means to innovate quickly. It is this melting pot that makes Sandbox unique.
We are now at the crossroads of video streaming, educational games and online learning. All three of these are massive, high-growth spaces and from a consumer perspective, we’re at the start of the journey.
Read more: My first boss: Anne Boden, CEO and founder of Starling Bank
The pandemic has boosted the popularity of online learning. We have evolved from a niche industry to a mainstream industry in how young people and families consume our products and services.
I love cricket as a consumer, but I’m not sure I’d be very good at running anything in the sport. Anything you’re too emotionally invested in sometimes makes it harder to be unbiased.
Maybe we’ll do something in sports in the future, but as things stand I’m pretty passionate about what I do here and we still have a lot to do. It was Bob who came up with this concept of piloting and stress testing in a professional environment and, once it worked, pushing harder. It served us well at Sandbox today. We are off to a good start, with a great platform.
Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?