The story of Make my trip and its founder Deep Kalra
Back in 1995, Deep Kalra quit his steady, safe, good-paying & boring job of a banker to join AMF Bowling, an American company that was trying to setup bowling alleys and billiard halls for the first time in India. Kalra managed to open about 200 lanes, most of them in small centers.
Worse, Kalra was in that businessman’s limbo: The venture wasn’t really his own thing, but he had a remote boss back in America who didn’t give him much mentorship or guidance. After serving there for four years, he decided to return to the safe world of Banking. Then in 2000, with some money saved in his bank, he began to get that entrepreneurial itch again and decided to quit again.
kalra was amazed by the power of Internet and also knew how hard it was to travel to India. He opened MakeMyTrip.com to address this issue. For Indians, the venture was too ahead of time as people were reluctant to using their credit cards online and didn’t trust non-established brands.
Like any other venture, MakeMyTrip was successful in raising venture capital; but post the dot com bubble, the VCs refused $1 million in funding commitments. The times were really bad for Kalra.
Kalra was 31-years-old with a wife and a baby at a time when starting a dot com was insane and in a place where it was downright suicidal. But Kalra and two senior managers bought back their equity in the business and agreed to go without salaries for 18 months. Kalra says, “It worked out, so we can say we were resilient. But at the time I worried I was just being stubborn. But I figured you regret the things you don’t do in life, not the things you do.”
Kalra’s company is now making $5 million in US dollars of profit this year and doing more than $500 million in gross bookings. Revenues are up 88% during the recession and one-out-of-every-twelve domestic flights in India is booked via MakeMyTrip.com. After airline tickets, the second biggest category is railway tickets—the site sells 2,500 of them every day. Kalra is busy interviewing a lot of US-trained management types to augment the team. Don’t look now, but MakeMyTrip could be India’s next dot com IPO. (Like most well-behaved CEOs, Kalra wouldn’t comment on any immediate IPO plans.)
Ahead of his time or no, Kalra is glad he took the risk when he did. He’s not sure he would today even with more money in his savings. He’s also glad he didn’t give up on India’s domestic market, “If I’d been in Silicon Valley I’m convinced we might have reached scale in half the time, but we also probably would have been obliterated by the competition.”
Some life facts of Deep Kalra
Deep went to St.Stephens College, Delhi in 1987 to pursue Bachelors in Economics from where he went to IIM-A for an MBA Degree. “I was 23 and fresh out of an MBA and it was a fairly obvious choice to go with the flow which people are trying to change now but back then, I took up a banking job,” says Deep. He worked with ABN Amro Bank and as most of us are, was really excited about his first job. But after 3 years, a sense of incompleteness set in and he decided banking was not something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Deep quit ABN Amro and took a break for about a year to figure out what to do next.
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This period made Deep realize the importance of doing something you really like. If you’re doing what you love doing, you give your best. And hence, you need to follow your calling.
While on his break, Deep got a number of well-paying marketing jobs but he decided to pick the craziest of all. “I wanted to do something touch-feel, on-the-ground kind of a thing and hence I took up the job of bringing AMF Bowling Inc. to India,” said Deep. The task was a herculean one as no one in India was really ready to invest in a bowling alley in the 90’s.
Deep went around from place to place measuring places and setting up bowling alleys but the competition was just too tough. There were hardly any returns and competing against the giant chains like McDonalds’ was proving out to be impossible in terms of returns on real estate. Deep ran it for four years but decided to quit. “It was a great entrepreneurial experience but a financial disaster,” said Deep.
How did it help? The AMF stint taught Deep some of the nitty gritties of how a business is run and basically how to setup a business from scratch (rolling in the mud all the while).
Post AMF, Deep could have started up something else but he felt he needed some more corporate experience before diving into it. He felt that he was missing out on the learning part and the self-development part had plateaued after ABN. Looking out for companies, he got a lucrative offer from GE Capital to head Business Development.
The year was 1999 and looking for opening up new avenues, the internet was the obvious answer. Deep met almost all the top players in the Indian internet space and helped GE grow via the internet and during this time, Deep also had a couple of incidents that formed a strong faith in the internet- he managed to successful sell a car for INR 20k more than what was being offered online and he was able to book a hotel in Thailand for a trip with his wife and the vacation went off really well.
And after a little over a year with GE, Deep felt he was ready to take the plunge. Entering travel was not only because of the good experiences but a very clinical thought-out decision: it was too early for eCommerce back then and travel seemed like the right direction to move in. Mixing the idea with a proper business model, Makemytrip was born in the year 2000. And the rest, as they say, is history…
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