Online ticketing platform BookMyShow is probably one of the few e-commerce companies to have had a turnaround last fiscal. The Mumbai-based company, owned by Bigtree Entertainment, has pivoted and re-branded itself four times in the past 18 years, and has witnessed two major financial crisis — the dot-com bust (2000) and Lehman Brothers bankruptcy (2008).

From almost being shut in 2002, BookMyShow has come a long way, and has been doubling its revenues year-on-year since 2007. It is now the largest company in the online movie and event-ticketing segment in India.

Founder and CEO Ashish Hemrajani talks to BusinessLine about the company’s growth and future plans, besides sharing his views about the current state of the Indian start-up ecosystem, the valuation game, unicorn status and challenges. Edited excerpts:

BookMyShow will complete 18 years this year. How has the journey been?

It has been a fantastic journey for us. We started as in 1999, and then faced the dot-com bust in 2002, when we had to almost shut the company. We came down to six employees from 150 at that time. We re-branded ourselves as BookMyShow in 2007, and since then, have been able to grow organically. Though we have raised a lot of funds, we still run as a bootstrapped company and that is a very important thing to do. Just because you have raised money from investors doesn’t mean you go on burning. There has to be a balance somewhere.

How did you manage to turn profitable at a time when every other online company is booking losses? Why has profitability become a big concern?

I don’t understand why it is a big buzzword these days. The purpose of any business is to draw from society and give it back, and in that process, you make some money in the middle. But it seems it has become a big issue as no one seem to be making money. But does anyone ask that question to the oil industry, or auto or manufacturing, etc? But a lot of people are being led by irrational founders and investors who are putting money at irrational valuations. This is absolute madness; some kind of sanity has to come. While we don’t see a dot-com bust kind of a situation here, companies with poor metrics will either morph or get disbanded soon.

How has the online movie/event-ticketing market evolved since you re-branded?

Multiplexes came in 10-11 years ago, and has seen a steady growth; but due to real estate prices, red-tapism, it hasn’t grown as rapidly as it should have. China grew from 8,000 to 40,000 screens in the past five years. There is a lot of headroom in India, we have about nine screens per million people compared with 108 screens for a million in the US. We need to add more screens.

How is the competition looking like with new players such as Paytm and PVR entering the business with cash-backs and discounts? Is there a threat?

I don’t know if it’s a threat, but there are competitors. We have to do what we do best and focus on quality. Why should you complain or bother about something that is not under your control? BookMyShow focusses entirely on what we should do. What happens externally is not under my control. I have to be aware, I have to be on the ball, and focus on what we do well. My personal belief is that cash-backs do not work in the long term.

But even you offer cash-backs?

We are bound to and forced to. But it is not sustainable for anybody. You can keep raising capital and putting it in the market to bribe customers. It corrupts people. You will never get loyalty through cash-backs. I want to be an honest and straightforward player.

You say India is still very under-penetrated. Yet you still went inking partnerships in global markets...

New Zealand and Australia happened through partnerships and we just did it. We do not even give enough of our attention to it. Really, it is Indonesia that we looked at. It was a defined strategy. We felt it was a market we should certainly explore. It is playing out well. We have done a lot of work in Sri Lanka as well, but on the non-movies side (sports).

How soon do you think these will become profitable?

I hope another 18 months at least for Indonesia. New Zealand is already profitable. Sri Lanka was profitable from day one.

You made four acquisitions in four years. What is your strategy going forward?

If they come at the right price and if there is a meeting of the minds, we can talk. But we are looking at areas we want to get into and which gives us a 360-degree view on entertainment.

What is the target for 2017?

In our business, you can’t set targets. If there are more concerts, more cinemas are built, and we do well.