We have all heard the catchline – “Shah Rukh Khan is a BigBasketeer, are you?” We’ve seen the golden goodness of the Nagpur oranges in the ad, sampled the lush spinach, fresh from the farm, tried the succulent grapes and the shiny apples – and now, most of us will agree that we can no longer do without the convenience of our online grocery stores, and BigBasket tops that list.
So when YS Weekender got a chance to interact with the man behind the online grocery giant, Hari Menon, Co-Founder and CEO of the company, the first thing we wanted to know was what his entrepreneurial journey has been like so far. “It began in 1999 and has just been so fascinating,” he recalls. “There have been lots of ups and downs, good and bad times, and I have seen the bright and dark sides of entrepreneurship, but it has been great fun. And now, we are just focusing on building our firm to a billion dollar company.”
Since Hari has often talked about his love for music and dream of turning his childhood passion into a retirement plan, we asked him to speak about this love and what he enjoys doing over weekends.
“I listen to music, sing my heart out on karaoke, play the guitar and spend time in The Jam Room, my son's music studio,” he says. “And if there is a cricket match, I watch it in the Chinnaswamy Stadium if it’s in Bangalore, or I see it on TV. Music and cricket are the two big stress busters for me.”
“My whole family loves music,” he adds. “My wife Shanthi listens to Carnatic music and is a Mohiniattam dancer. My eldest son Varun owns and runs a full-fledged music recording studio called The Jam Room in Kamanahalli, Bangalore, where he sings and plays the guitar in his spare time. My second and third boys, Uttam and Karthik are in the US; one is a talented guitarist and the other is a drummer. Music means a lot to us in our family.”
Given a chance, would he have opted for a career in music? “Wish I had,” he quips. “I am not a trained singer. I started learning to play the guitar in Class 7 and also began listening to music and singing along. And that's one of my regrets. If I had known my wife when I was class 12, she would have pushed me into learning Carnatic or Classical music. It would have helped me get some of the nuances of music a lot better.”
Hari enjoys listening to classic rock, and old Kishore and Rafi songs. He has a long list of favourite songs, right from Hotel California, Temple of the King, Wonderful Tonight, Kathy's Song, Boxer, Imagine, Teach your children, Phoolon Ki Rang Se, Raat Kali, Ye Shaam Mastani, Pyaar Diwana Hota Hai, songs by Remo Fernandes and Yesudas, and lots more.
When Hari got his first guitar at the age of 12, he practised almost every day afterschool.
“I still remember the first time I went on stage in school with two of my classmates at St. Andrews High School in Bandra, Mumbai, and played the song Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai. Anil played the violin, Vinod played the bongo and I was on the guitar and vocals and we managed to do a good job. However, as time went by, I took more of singing, and the guitar just helped me keep rhythm. Hence I didn't master it as much as I would have wanted to. I began enjoying singing immensely.”
At one point of his college years, he launched his rock band The Thunk with his friends. The Thunk had Arun Mitra as the lead guitarist, Asit Roy on bass and rhythm, and Rahul Pal or Anil Shinde on the drums, while Hari did the singing. He reminisces, “Sanjiv Desai, a guitarist and singer, who was a few years senior to me, joined us too.”
Hari met most of his band members during his first year in BITS Pilani, and they just hit it off together. “The best times were in the BITS Music Club,” he recalls. “The best moments were when we were practising for a song called Radha, written by my college mates. The song goes… "My Radha is calling me as she sits beneath the mango tree, Oh Radha my love, I'll come to thee’.”
Hari loves to meet his band members Arun Mitra and Asit Roy at least once a year at their BITS Wings’ reunion. “We love to jam during these reunions. We pretty much play the songs listed by me above and of course, we always sing, our song ‘Radha’!”
Jam sessions with his sons do not happen too often, says Hari. “When we are together, we try to do so. They like classic rock music too. We have a music room at home where a karaoke machine has been installed.”
Hari occasionally sings at The Sherlock’s chain of pubs. “I am a small investor there and a mentor to the team running it,” he explains.
As for his opinion on current music, Hari says, “I have no clue of the English or western music scene today as I haven't spent time listening to it. However, Bollywood has some very good new singers like Arjit Singh, Ankit Tiwari, Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal and other artistes.”
Hari is extremely passionate about cricket, and is a member of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA). “I don't miss a single match played at the Chinnaswamy Stadium,” he says. “IPL time, for me, is all about being busy supporting RCB. I think it is important to find time to pursue what you like doing outside of work. And that's just what I do. Find the time.”
As to what he thinks of the glamour and glitz of today’s cricket, he says, “I just enjoy the game and the glamour does not affect me. Yes, the game has changed. It has become much faster and more aggressive now, and very competitive.”
According to Hari, it is very important to create time for your hobbies. “If you don't, work will simply kill you,” he says.
Hari has some retirement plans too, with regards to music. “When I finally hang up my boots with BigBasket, I am keen to make my son’s studio become an incubator for young musicians. I have seen and heard many young musicians playing at Sherlock’s pubs across the city and I find so much talent in Bangalore. With some support like a studio for them to use, record their own compositions, or facilitate some gigs, they can increase their earnings and go places.”
He is also keen to pursue his other interest -- skill development and micro-entrepreneurship.
And last but not the least, Hari has one more dream. “I am hoping to get Asit and Mitra to move to Bangalore so that we can revive The Thunk one day.”