20 Million Tickets Per Month And Just Getting Started: How Big Tree Entertainment Is Building India’s Live Entertainment Business

Ashish Hemrajani
– Ashish Hemrajani
Founder and CEO of BookMyShow
How did a kid from the Juhu district of Mumbai, India, end up heading a company that sells close to 20 million tickets per month, has a staff of more than 1,400 and sports a presence in over 650 towns and cities in India, plus offices in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Jakarta and more?
Ashish Hemrajani, now 45, has spent the past 20 years building his company, Big Tree Entertainment Pvt Ltd, which owns and operates India’s leading entertainment destination, BookMyShow. Hemrajani believes in karma and has built his business philosophy around it.
“Forget talking about tickets,” he says, “I had support-staff within my company, who couldn’t afford even a quality meal.”
The man in question is Ashish Hemrajani. For half his life, he only knew one way of buying tickets, which was in a queue at the box office or from scalpers outside the venue. It was only after he had finished his MBA and was working for advertising agency JWT that he learned what online ticketing could potentially look like. 
“On a backpacking trip to Botswana, South Africa, I heard a radio commercial encouraging you to buy tickets online and collect benefits like jumping the queue. I thought this was pretty cool,” he recalls.
Ed Sheeran performed in Mumbai on Nov. 19, 2017
– Ed Sheeran performed in Mumbai on Nov. 19, 2017
BookMyShow was the ticketing partner

So, upon his return to Bombay, Hemrajani, along with his friends Parikshit Dar and Rajesh Balpande, began laying out and implementing a business plan for Big Tree Entertainment and secured investment by Chase Capital Partners JPMorgan. This was the year 1999. Hemrajani was 24 years old.
“The idea was to build India’s live entertainment ticketing business as well as the movie ticketing business, because movies is a big use case India,” he explains. “It’s a hot country, people like to be in an air-conditioned environment. It’s the cheapest form of indoor entertainment that you can get anywhere in the world.”
BookMyShow started with cinema tickets
– BookMyShow started with cinema tickets
Indians love going to the movies. “It

Most will know the massive Bollywood movie industry, but India speaks many languages, it’s a patchwork rug of 29 states that are almost like individual countries stitched together, and the movie business reflects that. There’s the Tamil movie industry, the Telugu industry, the Malayalam industry, etc., which are just as big if not larger than Bollywood. And Big Tree Entertainment was catering to each market with staff speaking the regional language and understanding every culture. 

NewsCorp invested in the company in 2001, the future was looking bright, but a year later the Dotcom bubble burst. “The problem was that we had been way ahead of our time. There was no internet penetration, there was no debit or credit card penetration. Mobile connectivity was very far and few in between and very, very expensive,” Hemrajani remembers.
Without any options for paperless ticketing, Big Tree Entertainment would home deliver tickets, and because there was no trust in the market, Hemrajani would buy inventory. “I had an opportunity loss at the weekend, and an actual loss in the week. It was a hugely inefficient model.”
“So, in 2002, the carpet was pulled from under us. We went from 150 people down to six. I got a six-month severance for all the employees, I tried to place as many people as I could at new jobs through my personal contacts, bought back the company and started from scratch,” he explains.
In 2007, the market turned again. Network18, which is part of the Reliance Group that owns the Jio network, invested in Big Tree Entertainment which then launched the platform BookMyShow as an online movie ticketing aggregator platform. That investment was followed by investments from Accel Partners in 2012, SAIF Partners in 2014, Stripes Group in 2016 and more recently, from TPG Growth, which led a $100 million funding round, in BookMyShow in 2018. With this, BookMyShow has raised investments to the tune of $224.5 million so far.
All of these financial boosts enabled a constant and measured expansion. Says Hemrajani: “Today, in terms of ticketing, we get over 200 million customer visits on the platform with five billion page views each month. With our current run-rate we’re doing about 200 million tickets a year, which is about 18 to 20 million tickets a month.” 
This makes BookMyShow one of the largest ticketing companies globally as far as pure quantity is concerned.
However, ticketing is just one of five verticals the company is venturing in. The second one is the live entertainment business that includes promotions and full stack management of events. BookMyShow handles the tours of India’s biggest artists, including singer Arijit Singh or composer A.R. Rahman.
The company is the producer of the musical “Disney’s Aladdin” in India, and has a partnership with Cirque du Soleil, which resulted in the world premiere of “BAZZAR” to be held in India – a market that the Canadian entertainment giant had never done business in earlier. The partnership resulted in more than 30 shows each in Bombay and Delhi, selling over 45,000 tickets per market.
“That’s with real ticket prices, generating millions of dollars in ticket sales. We also have a partnership with the NBA, we’re bringing the first pre-season game between the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings to Mumbai in October of 2019, produced and promoted by BookMyShow,” Hemrajani says. 
This makes NBA the first North American league to stage games in India. There’s also a huge demand for Mixed Martial Arts, WWE, local sports including T20 format of cricket – Indian Premier League amongst others and local music.
BookMyShow also produces its own shows
– BookMyShow also produces its own shows
One example: the Indian version of “Disney’s Aladdin”, where the Genie actually speaks Hindi.

The third focus area is infrastructure which goes hand in hand with the firm’s vision for its live entertainment business and one that remains the underlying reason behind major international tours’ hesitation to visit India. According to Hemrajani, “BookMyShow is looking at how we can manage venues and fit them with state-of-the-art technology.”
The company owns its own turnstiles, handheld scanners, EDC machines for payments, processes all the payments for food and beverages at the events. 
BookMyShow most recently has invested in payments technology solutions firm AtomX to enable cashless payments for customers and vendors to make seamless payment transactions on-ground. It also owns 75 percent of DIY ticketing platform Townscript. The other focus areas of the business revolve around merchandising and building a content repository around live IPs in the digital media. Yet, Hemrajani emphasizes, “we’re still only scratching the surface.”
Cirque Du Soleil entered the Indian market with the help of BookMyShow
– Cirque Du Soleil entered the Indian market with the help of BookMyShow
A cooperation that resulted in the world premiere of “Bazzar” in India

India is a 1.3 billion population market. There are more than 50 cities with a population of more than one million, while the top-ten cities have a population of eight million plus. Mumbai alone has a population of over 22 million, Delhi, another 20 million.
It is a unique country, where the wealthiest of the wealthy and the poorest of the poor often live right next to each other.
“You could have the most expensive real estate, but sometimes when you look outside your home you can see a slum down there with the folks who work for you, who get paid a monthly salary, which might be equal to an expensive dinner for a family of four,” Hemrajani explains. “It’s very painful to see that, and you could either choose to turn the blind eye or be part of a solution.”
Since 2014, BookMyShow runs a charity initiative called BookASmile. “Every time you buy a ticket on BookMyShow, instead of you doing an opt-in [to support the charity], I included an opt-out. It’s just one Indian rupee, which is one seventieth to the dollar, but I collect millions of dollars a year, which all goes back to society and charity. 71% of users who transact on BookMyShow opt to ‘donate to BookASmile’ on an average.” 
People who have benefitted from this money include 300 girls from a soccer program in Jharkhand, a very impoverished part of India. Six of them went on to receive UEFA’s official soccer coaching training. The winner of this year’s Laureus Sport For Good Award is Yuwa, an NGO that BookASmile fully supports. The money also goes towards music, art and educational programs, and putting a smile on the faces of disabled or terminally ill children, by doing simple things like taking them out to see a show of “Disney’s Aladdin” or Cirque Du Soleil “BAZZAR” specially performed for them. 
Ashish Hemrajani with Daniel Lamarre, CEO, Cirque Du Soleil
– Ashish Hemrajani with Daniel Lamarre, CEO, Cirque Du Soleil
Hemrajani says, BookASmile has so far impacted over 200,000 lives in India through its work with over 200 NGOs in India over the past 5 years.  
There’s a voluntary employee fund within the company going towards the education of some of the employees’ kids, and a food program that allows those who can afford it to pay double the price for their cafeteria meals. The surplus is automatically transferred to the RFID tags of those who couldn’t afford a meal otherwise.
“Culturally we’re as Silicon Valley, or as LA or New York-ish, as you can be. People come in shorts, we have two dogs in the company, Ivy and Brownie, strays that my son picked up. We’ve got a first-name basis culture, I don’t carry my title on my card,” says Hemrajani.
Indians by and large, still adhere to the caste system. Toilets in most large organizations are segregated, not only by gender but also by hierarchy – for executives and regular employees. “How is that even normal,” he says, “you can have a dog in a quilt sitting next to you while watching Netflix, but you can’t have another human take a dump in your loo? BookMyShow has done away with all of that. We teach people about personal hygiene, because I understand that people come from different backgrounds, but once you walk through the doors of BookMyShow, everybody’s the same.”
Two developments in India have complemented BookMyShow’s success. Firstly, the launch of the so-called Unified Payments Interface, which enables peer-to-peer and bank-to-bank real time transfers. According to Hemrajani, “it has brought financial inclusion to more than 400 million people overnight. Google Pay, Amazon Pay and even WhatsApp Pay are now live in India. They all sit on top of the UPI.”
Secondly, internet penetration. For the last ten years, the country had been stagnating at 150 million mobile subscriptions. This changed when “Jio, which is the world’s most expensive startup and part of the Reliance Group – our investors – spent $24 billion on building the world’s biggest 4G LTE network, which went from zero to 350 million [subscribers] in under 24 months. 90 percent of the country’s data today goes through Jio,” Hemrajani explains, adding that “YouTube has grown 14-times in the last two years on the back of Jio.”
Book My Show is the ticketing partner and promoter of Mughal-e-Azam
– Book My Show is the ticketing partner and promoter of Mughal-e-Azam
It is India’s first Broadway-style musical

This has led to an unprecedented consumption of music, comedy and other forms of entertainment from all over the world. Hundreds of millions of Indians are English speaking, because they were educated in schools set up during the rule by the British, so, according to Hemrajani, “when you invest in acts coming, there’s a ready population of millions.”
BookMyShow intends to be “the one-stop shop for all consumers’ out-of-home entertainment needs in India,” from discovery to tickets, to on-ground execution to content, and Hemrajani says he’s “just about getting warmed up.   
“I’ve always felt that, in India, there was a big gap between promise and delivery. For the first time I can see that narrowing really rapidly.”