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Ticket to success


Hemrajani weathered the slump to become the undisputed leader of the online ticketing business

  • Hemrajani's philosophy is: Monday mornings should be as happy as Friday evenings.

Two boom-bust cycles and still going strong. Not just strong, a leader in its category. BookMyShow, a website that offers ticketing for cinemas, plays, concerts and live events, is one of the best examples of entrepreneurial persistence and perseverance in India. You have to believe its founder Ashish Hemrajani when he says that running a business is like running a marathon. The speed may have changed, but he has been running 'the show' successfully for the past 17 years.

In that sense, the website is the ‘father of all existing start-ups’ in India, but it remains as youthful as ever. Hemrajani is proud that he has earned his place the hard way unlike the current fund excess ecosystem. The 2002 dotcom bust brought it on the verge of shutting down and the staff strength shrank from 150 to 6. Like most good entrepreneurs, however, Hemrajani bounced back.

“We were probably before our time when we started, but had we waited for the right time, we would have missed the bus,” he says. “We would not have learnt important lessons that these cycles taught us.”

The idea that was born on a vacation in South Africa has now reached critical mass. Around 60 per cent of its revenues come from selling movie tickets. The company now has presence in 300 cities and is a leader in the online ticketing segment. From Rs.25,000 as capital to more than Rs.1,000 crore in valuation, Hemrajani’s perseverance has paid off. He views Apple, Zappos and Southwest Airlines as exemplary corporations.

Having started pretty early in the start-up cycle, Hemrajani has a life and a weekend that he thoroughly enjoys. His philosophy is: Monday mornings should be as happy as Friday evenings. And, it shows in the variety of stuff that he does.

Hemrajani spends his Saturdays sailing, taking off from the Mumbai Harbour near Gateway of India to Mandwa. He developed a passion for sailing after travelling to New Zealand as part of the Beachheads programme. A member of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, Hemrajani enjoys fleet racing (competitive sailing) on the Seabird (sailboat), sometimes completing a loop and sometimes a loop and a triangle.

Sundays are reserved for his three-and-a-half-year-old son, Zahan. “We wake up late and go to the beach with this little picnic basket. I swim with him in the waters. We play, hang out with the fishermen and are back home by 1 in time for lunch,” he says.

Hemrajani’s heart and soul are in Juhu. Born and brought up there, he studied there, now lives there and has a office nearby. There is something about Juhu, the fresh air and the beach that he can’t live without. “When I walk down the street, everybody from the cobbler to the security guard to the shop owner knows me,” says Hemrajani, 41.

He wears the hat of a doting father with élan. Dropping his son at the bus stop and chatting all the way is a ritual. In the evening, they again have a chat at the dinner table and then Hemrajani puts him in bed. On days when he is not home for dinner, Hemrajani calls Zahan on phone and the two have a hearty chat.

Tuesday evenings are meant for catching up on movies at PVR Juhu, for the tickets are cheap on that day, says Hemrajani. Being in the movie ticketing business does not mean that he watches everything. In fact, he has so far watched only 20 Hindi films, the last one being Talvar, which came out a few months ago.

Hemrajani has a fetish for all things classic and time honoured. “I am a traditionalist at heart,” he says. “I feel that in the garb of modernity, we are letting go of our traditions.”

He has an old Mont Blanc pen that is very dear to him. An old wristwatch with a compass, an old German clock and a bat signed by the members of the New Zealand cricket team are some of his other cherished possessions. Being a sailor, he has a special fondness for old compasses, which he buys from nautical shops. He loves heritage eating joints—the Parsi café and Cafe Ideal, both in Mumbai, and Kayani Bakery in Pune.

“It is sad that some of these heritage shops are closing down. I try to patronise them as much as I can,” says Hemrajani, who is currently studying vedanta. In fact, every Tuesday morning, a class is conducted in his office. It puts life into perspective and raises the bar of one’s intellect, he says.

Not exactly a car enthusiast, Hemrajani loves his Skoda Yeti, which he drives down to his farmhouse in Karjat on the outskirts of Mumbai. “I like it because it is low key and not very ostentatious. It is a driver’s pleasure,” he says.

A certified diver, Hemrajani plans to scuba dive in Papua New Guinea, one of the best diving destinations in the world. He also wants to see Ireland and parts of eastern Europe.

Company: BookMyShow (started in 2007)
Valuation: More than Rs.1,000 crore
Hobbies: Sailing and scuba diving
Quote to note: We were probably before our time when we started, but had we waited for the right time, we would have missed the bus.

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