At 35, Ashish Hemrajani has seen BigTree Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. through two rough patches – the dot com bust of 2000-01 and the global recession of 2008 where the parent company of India’s largest entertainment ticketing website, BookMyShow.com, was faced with a global financial meltdown, the movie industry strike and the general elections forcing the Indian Premier League (IPL) to move to South Africa. As software sales plummeted, the company turned to its strength, its people, and found a way to come back triumphant when normal course returned. “It was a unanimous decision to take a salary cut. Depending upon their salary bracket, we asked people to take a 30, 20 or 10 per cent cut for a period between three to six months. It was either that or sending home a lot of folks. And on our part as an organisation, we saved on electricity, switched to Skype from telephone lines and cut down further on operational costs,” says Hemrajani. It was a move that few would consider, but as time proved, it was a move that spoke of the faith he had in his people and the faith they returned in his vision for the company. Today, BigTree Entertainment is on its way to providing a cutting edge digital platform to the Indian film industry apart from its exclusive association as ticketing partner to several theatre venues. This year, the company is a ticketing partner to five IPL franchises and come April, the entire organisation will gear up to back its operations team as Hemrajani points them out to be the nucleus of this venture.
“We are like a jazz band, anybody can play the lead riff at any time in the performance.”
As he talks of his team at BigTree Entertainment, you see flashes of a proud Papa Bear. The sort of Papa who gives his kids a lot of room to take a couple of falls on the way to the top. Of course, anybody reading this from BigTree Entertainment is probably keeling over with laughter at the imagery given that he’s the cool boss who throws impromptu parties, allows you to come into work wearing shorts on a Saturday and even houses your cat in his personal cabin. Nothing Papa-ish there!
Close to Nirvana
Hemrajani’s is the sort of guy who walked out of J.Walter Thompson’s offices at 22 to never look back on a career in advertising. In 1999, while in Johannesburg on a holiday, he sat underneath a tree and listened in to a local radio station selling tickets to a Rugby game. He was transported to his boyhood and the times he spent at cinema halls in South-Bombay trying in vain to buy tickets. As he says, “There was demand, there was availability, just that there was no access to information about either.” Inspiration did its bit and Hemrajani brought back an idea of a ticketing service to India. 11 years have gone by and he’s still the guy looking for a creative solution to a problem.
Hemrajani begins his day, like most of us do, at 7:30 a.m. A quick skim of the headlines on Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Economic Times keeps him abreast of what’s going on in the world. He’s also a hearty eater and he calls his breakfast a ‘power meal’. Unlike most of us, Hemrajani’s a Mumbaikar who has the good fortune to live close to his office in Juhu. A quick jaunt across is all it takes. For a man on the go, Hemrajani is surprisingly not a big fan of technology fads. “I’m not averse to technology neither am I an early adopter. I take my time to buy into something, but I make sure I get maximum use out of that technology,” he says. His iPhone serves as a good example as he uses it to set an alarm, check memos, listen to music and even check the weather. The weather’s more important to Hemrajani than it is to an average person, given that he doubles up as a competitive sailor. The sailor in him exercises every evening and it’s probably one of the few things he does according to a schedule. On alternate days, Hemrajani swims over 50 laps or does circuit training at the gym.
When it comes to technology, his personal philosophy extends to the organisation he runs. Unlike other e-commerce ventures in India, his company did not rush into social media. They ensured that everybody got a good grip of a platform like Facebook before launching their applications. The response they received was measured, but as their understanding of the medium grew, so did the numbers. Their current applications include Ticket Buddy, where one can invite friends to events and create a group booking of tickets where each person pays for their own ticket. “It’s like any other movie plan you make with your friends, only it happens online,” says Hemrajani.
Nothing typical about it
I ask Hemrajani about his typical day at office and he tells me that no two days are the same. Even as this approach might strike some as ‘too casual to be in control’, he has implicit faith in the capabilities of his people and does not believe in micro-management. He’s even willing to trust a person as young as 24, who’s juggling a part-time masters in business administration, with a project worth crores. “Of course, there are checks and balances in place, but I believe that if you give youngsters responsibility, they get more responsible.” Again, when it comes to dividing his time between the various divisions of the company, Hemrajani says that there is no rigid schedule while adding that each function supports the other and there is a larger appreciation for what they achieve as a whole. “We are like a jazz band, anybody can play the lead riff at any time in the performance.” No other parallel fits as well.
If Hemrajani allows his team such freedom to function, it is because his investors, Network 18, share his work philosophy. “They have supported us when we were in need otherwise there has been minimal interference with the way we work. It’s a great relationship as it allows us to run our ship for our customers and not our investors,” he shares. It all comes together for Hemrajani because he keeps his philosophy simple. “I want the folks to be happy”, he says, adding that the happiness of those around him is as important as the valuation his company receives.
I ask about the future and he spells out his plans with clarity. “We want to enhance the experience for prospective first time users of the Internet and also look to explore wireless technology.” Hemrajani believes in setting realistic goals for himself and BigTree Entertainment. He adds that unlike other contemporaries, he does not want to deal with a problem of excesses. “I want us to stay nimble and flexible to be the most efficient company we can be,” he says. As our meeting draws to a close, Hemrajani insists that the way forward for the company is to go local, go social and in doing so, go the distance.
Ashish Hemrajani – Founder, BookMyShow.com
Favourite Book – A Fortune Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani.
Favourite Movie – The King’s Speech
Favourite Cuisine – Anything under the sun
Favourite Destination – Turkey, New Zealand