This afternoon we’re meeting Ashish Hemrajani, the founder of bookmyshow.com, a website that offers ticketing for cinemas, plays, concerts and live events. He’s asked us to come and meet him in Juhu, the Mumbai neighbourhood where he was born and bred and still lives today.
It’s the first day of Diwali, the festival of lights and the streets are buzzing with activity, with food stalls, parties and music everywhere.
Ashish welcomes us into his office and takes us to a quiet room at the back of the building where we ask him about his story.
“You came up with the idea for bookmyshow.com back in 1999 and it’s been quite a struggle to get it off the ground. What gave you the conviction to keep on going?” I ask.
“It’s true that it hasn’t been an easy ride,” says Ashish. “When I first launched the company 14 years ago, India wasn’t ready: there was very low Internet penetration and no broadband. We were too early. When the dotcom bubble burst, we were wiped out. But then in the years after that I started noticing that people were buying things online so I focused on building the ecosystem around the company and by 2007 we were ready to relaunch.”
“And now you’ve just received India’s ET Award for Start-up of the Year! Talk about determination!” says Anouk.
Ashish laughs. “Well it wasn’t always easy. We went from 150 employees to six back then. I got calls from headhunters about jobs, but I was determined to stick to the project. That was one of my toughest decisions.”
“So how is it going now?” I ask. “The company seems to be growing steadily.”
“Today we have 350 people working for us in offices in offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. We sell four million tickets a month for concerts, sporting events, cinema and more. Ninety percent of the tickets bought online are sold through our site.”
“Impressive,” I say. “And clearly there is huge potential for growth.”
“The potential is huge!” says Ashish enthusiastically. “We have a very young population. There are 20 million people between the ages of 18 and 20 who will be getting their first credit card and their first paycheck in the coming two years. They’ll want to go out and enjoy themselves. And where are they going to book their tickets?”
“On your site of course!”
“That’s right!” says Ashish. “I want bookmyshow.com to be the first e-commerce experience these kids have.”
“So explain how it works. What about people who don’t have a smart phone, how can they use the site?”
“Ah!” says Ashish. “That’s a very important point. There are 1.4 billion Indians of who 700 million have a mobile that is not a smart phone. So it’s an important segment of the market. We’ve developed a new service for these users. They can book through their mobile and receive a text message with their unique booking code. They bring this to the cinema, where a specially designed device reads the code and delivers the tickets.”
“Have you got plans to expand internationally?” asks Anouk.
“We have companies in New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh and the UK,” says Ashish. “But my focus for the coming years will definitely remain on India. This is my country. There is still so much to be done and I want to contribute to that. I also feel that way about the company: I’m always trying to help people to improve themselves.”
“In what way?
“I try to help staff by paying for further education, like learning English or contributing to their college fees. We have a flat structure in our company and everyone shares the same beliefs. In the end, it’s all about giving people an opportunity in life.”
“Nice philosophy,” I say. “I like it a lot!”
As we leave, Ashish strolls with us through the festive streets of Juhu. We pass the Diwali celebration, where he gives a small decorative lamp as a souvenir. “Happy Diwali!”
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