The BookMyShow Saga – A story of trials, tribulations & triumphs

When 24 year old Ashish Hemrajani quit his plush corporate job and started his company BigTree Entertainment from the confines of his bedroom in Mumbai, the financial capital of India it was the done thing. After all the year was 1999 at the height of what has come to be known as the Dotcom Boom. And in what was a worldwide phenomenon then, young educated entrepreneurs started their ambitious online ventures unaware that the bubble would burst shortly after. When the stock markets crashed in 2002 and caused a loss of billions of dollars in market value to these Dotcom companies more than half of these startups shut shop. And even fewer of those who survived have gone on to do well in these consequent years. Which is exactly what Hemrajani’s company has done so admirably. Valued at over 3000 crores, Bookmyshow is today the country’s number one entertainment ticketing platform. But the almost two decade long rags to riches journey of the company has been far from easy.

In a story (that is now part of history) it was in South Africa that the idea for this venture first struck Ashish. He was tuned in to a radio program where tickets for a Rugby match were being advertised and this got Ashish thinking. Movies and cricket are two passions that are common to most Indians and since these were the pre-IPL days cricket had not grown to become the commercial spectacle that it is today. So that was ruled out and so movies it had to be. The film industry back then was largely disorganised with corporates not yet having entered the fray. Similarly when it came to cinema halls it was the single screens that ruled the roost with multiplexes being few and far in between. Yes, the newspapers listed show timings for theatres along with the name of movie being screened. But there was no way of ascertaining whether tickets were sold out already, unless you paid a visit to the cinema hall yourself. The challenge was immense but so were the opportunities.

In those heady days before the bubble burst it was not uncommon for many of these entrepreneurs to spend large sums of money on operation & marketing with the intent of creating brand awareness. So much so that many would happily forego profits in order to build a database of loyal users. Dotcom companies would not think twice before splurging millions on advertising their products & services. Likewise when Ashish started his venture they dealt primarily with booking tickets for movies and little else. Lest we forget those were the days when internet meant dialup connections which were notoriously slow. This was also the time when customers (at least in the subcontinent) purchasing online stuff using their credit /debit cards was not as commonplace as it is now. So it was not unusual for Ashish to buy tickets in bulk from the cinemas and get them delivered to the homes of his users.

Ashish was able to convince a couple of his close friends to join him in this venture of his but getting investors onboard was not as easy. Not in those days. But as luck would have it all it took was a one page fax explaining their business plan to get American financial services giant J.P.Morgan to back the venture and get it off the ground. The ticketing service was first called GoForTicketing and even IndiaTicketing before an intern at the company supposedly suggested the name Bookmyshow and that was that. When the markets crashed the company had call centers in as many as 12 cities with over 150 employees. Acting against the advice of those in the know, Ashish decided to continue with his venture though the number of employees were down to single digits. While he ran the company during this five year period (2002-07) with bare minimum resources there was some respite. Multiplexes mushroomed all over the country creating a new market with fantastic potential.

This was what Ashish and his team had been waiting for. Bookmyshow was quick to tie up with many of these multiplexes which gave them exclusive rights to sell tickets at all places where their partners had a presence. Their revenue model also changed quite drastically and the accent now was as much on profits as it was on growth. Users who booked tickets using the service would have to pay an additional fee in order to do so. Then there was the much improved internet where broadband connectivity ensured that things got done quickly. Ecommerce & online business saw a huge surge with more and more people willing to log onto their computers to buy what they needed. This was the beginning of the Digital Age. Call it coincidence or whatever but it was in 2007 itself that the Indian Premier League made it’s debut opening up hitherto non existent markets for the game of cricket. In many way this was a tipping point for Bookmyshow. And after selling movie tickets for several years, Bookmyshow finally got into other avenues of entertainment cashing in the early mover advantage.

Today there are several ticketing platforms that have an online presence but Bookmyshow continues to dominate this space with a lion’s share (almost 70%) of the market. The interactive Bookmyshow App can be downloaded for free on to your smartphone and used to book tickets for just about anything. See what you like, wherever you like and at the time that you like. In short The App allows you to indulge yourself completely. Though two thirds of their revenues still are from sale of movie tickets, from tickets to a rock concert to Formula One racing if there is a major event happening anywhere in India you can be rest assured that Bookmyshow will always be in the picture. The Bookmyshow website, which is visited by a billion people every month has become so popular that organisers of many international events see value in promoting their forthcoming ventures on this platform. Tons (read millions) of tickets are booked using this portal every month and today Bookmyshow has a global presence spanning several countries of the world.

bookmyshow website success story
bookmyshow website success story

For budding entrepreneurs and startup owners there are several takeaways from the Bookmyshow story. One is about being doggedly persistent with your goals regardless of the obstacles that come your way. Which is why Ashish never gave up even when things were not going his way. Another is that when the going gets tough you might have to take some tough decisions in the larger interest of the company. If that means cutting extra flab, not spending excessively on daily operations/ advertising campaigns or even resisting the temptation to scale up so be it. Above all the Bookmyshow story is one of vision. Ashish Hemrajani had the vision to foresee that Bookmyshow and the concept of online ticketing was something that had great potential and has stood by his belief all the way through. So while it might not be a bad idea to listen to marketing professionals & experienced consultants when it comes to your business venture it is more important to trust your instincts. And the rest will follow.

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