Are friends on Facebook your friends? Asks ashish Hemrajani

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 Hemrajani at TechSparks 2016
Ashish Hemrajani at TechSparks 2016

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.”

Rewards of an offline life

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.

Success metrics

“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.”

The chief who never gives up, BookMyShow’s Ashish Hemrajani

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 o 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.

  • For sometime now, the company’s been running a medical programme for every employee which is outside their CTC. They give 10X of their basic to them, two children, parents and a spouse (“if you’ve got another spouse hidden somewhere then that’s your problem, we support just one,” he jokes as an aside) towards medical needs.
  • The company also has a food programme. This is where the top management pays a premium for the food that is served in office. People below a certain salary pay 50 to 60 percent, while all office bais, peons, and outsourced staff pay only Rs 20, the cost of a vada-pav, for the same food. Everyone eats on the same table. If an office boy is eating and a manager walks by, he is not supposed to stand up. That metric is very important to me.
  • Similarly, there are no separate office toilets. As long as the toilets are hygienic and maintained clean it is ok. We do not have any executive toilets. Shit smells the same when it goes down the drain.
  • I don’t carry titles on my card.
  • I am not religious and will not touch a cow’s behind for blessings. But I use Krishna’s philosophy in the Gita, where he gives a discourse to Arjuna about good and evil, and he achieved the end by taking all the wrong means. So, at BookMyShow, what we do is we take one rupee from every ticket by making it opt-in for you (we say that in the fine print). By doing that I am collecting Rs 8 crores from consumers. But every single time, I am giving back to society. We support many causes because of that one rupee from you.

Culture fit

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.”

ashish-hemrajani-techsparksSo what is BookMyShow’s culture fit? Ashish says,

  • The candidate should be extremely entrepreneurial.
  • They should think on their feet. Have loads of common sense.
  • I don’t want excel sheets.
  • I don’t care whether you come from Mckinsey. I don’t have a single IIM graduate in my company. For the first time in the history of BookMyShow in 18 years, we’ve hired six IITians that too from the second rung institutes.
  • My CTO has been with me for 17 years. My Head of Operations has been with me for 13 years. My Head of Customer Support used to be a call centre agent with me. She became a team leader, then a supervisor, and today leads a team of 270 people. Her first black dress, her first five-star hotel stay, and her first flight were all because of us. We love developing people.
  • The head of my warehouse used to be my office boy. We give people the opportunity to punch far above their weight and they deliver.

Slowdown a big opportunity

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.”

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