Four years ago on a muggy evening in Mumbai, Ashish Hemrajani of BookMyShow permanently logged out of his Facebook account. He had lost a friend and colleague to a heart attack and was returning from his funeral.
“My friend had 1500 friends on Facebook, and only six turned up for the funeral. The rest were sending out messages like ‘miss you a lot,’ ‘love you.’ It was all bullshit. If they cared enough they would have been at the funeral,” Ashish says, talking to YourStory from the sidelines of TechSparks recently.
Ashish goes all out to tell people who spend their lives on social media to step out and smell the fresh air once in a while. “I don’t want you to poke me on my birthday. Just call me or leave a message,” he says, referring to how automated we have become where our actions are controlled by the notifications on our phones.
However, he goes on to add that this does not mean that BookMyShow doesn’t have a social media presence. “We are everywhere, on Instagram, on Facebook, on Snapchat…I am aware of all the technology that is available for us to harness and use, and I value what Facebook has done. It is phenomenal,” he says. He does not see the need to tweet. “I do not feel there’s any need to let people know when you check into a hotel or something. I just find that a very vain metrics of humans today,” he adds.
But there’s one chat app that Ashish uses all the time and it is WhatsApp.
“I have 53,950 unread emails sitting in my inbox. I don’t read emails. My entire business is run on WhatsApp. I have different groups and everything happens instantly.”
Ashish is an interviewer’s delight. In the 15-minute interview before his talk on stage, he had shared not one but many stories about his personal and professional life. Powered by an Americano, he let us have our paisa wasool, so to speak. So tighten your seat belts and let’s go on a roller coaster ride with none other than Ashish Hemrajani.
Ashish believes life is meant to be lived in the real world and not the virtual world. He wakes up at 6.53 am every morning (“I take an extra three minutes of sleep”), and drops his four-and-a-half-year-old son to the school bus stop.
“On weekends, I race boats. It’s a big part of my life for the past 15 years now.”
He has his own yacht, a German-built Hanse 325, called ‘Peace and Plenty,’ and he just returned from a nine-day Croatia trip with his sailing team. “I was racing there. Living on the boat for seven days,” he adds.
For Ashish, swimming and exercising are very important. Having an occasional beer or a bottle of wine or scotch with friends is a good way to relax. He does not need social media for this. “Having real conversations is important. Going out with family and friends, and just being silly is being private. These are not things to flaunt on social media. It is your personal space,” he adds.
“My Monday mornings are as exciting for me as Fridays,” he says. At BookMyShow, they have Friday evening beer in office but they also have Vedanta philosophy classes on Tuesday. There’s Yoga and Pilates too. “For me, a proper, well-rounded personality is important. At the end, it is about who you truly are. I am not doing all this for other people. I wear a $150, seven-year-old Suunto watch. It is beaten and battered, and I must have changed the strap three times. I don’t need to wear a watch and show people. I’ll wear a Rolex for myself and not because I have to flaunt it.”
And that, according to him, makes a big difference. “You have to focus on your quality of input. Even in an airplane, they say that in case of emergency first stabilize yourself before helping others. And if you don’t do that it is a missed opportunity.”
Ashish claims that he has had an awakening for the past few years now, which reflects a lot in what they do as a company both internally and externally. “We are an invested, high-growth company. Unlike others, we are not interested in a land grab, market share or valuation metrics.”
Here’s a glimpse of what BookMyShow does, which Ashish says, are their success metrics.
Ashish points out that as far as the business is concerned his focus is on the user, the user experience, and the product. Everything else is secondary. BookMyShow has close to 1500 employees. There’s no HR head, though they have an HR team. Ashish himself interviews candidates for senior positions and people who matter. “For me, a cultural fit is very important. I never look at a CV.”
So what is BookMyShow’s culture fit? Ashish says,
Ashish is one of the few entrepreneurs who witnessed the 2002 dot com bust. In the light of the funding freeze in the tech startup ecosystem in India now, it is interesting to know if he is experiencing a déjà vu. “No. Not a déjà vu. I see an opportunity now given the fact that we went through that,” he answers.
According to him, in 2002, the dot-com bust was real. There was no ecosystem, and there deserved to be a bust. “I think a pull back is extremely important. A good growth story is also important, because in 1999, if someone had not cut the Rs 2 crore cheque, BookMyShow would not have happened. And if in 2006/2007, guys hadn’t cut those big cheques to some e-commerce ventures and travel companies, they wouldn’t exist today," he says, adding,
"In business, it is important to have these waves coming in. And it is only when the tide pulls back do you know who has been swimming naked, as Warren Buffett said. Three years from now, perhaps, we’ll again see a peak.”