- MakeMyTrip took 8 years to figure out what Deep Kalra really wanted to do before coming up with MakeMyTrip (MMT) the online travel portal.
- Deep was astounded by the power of the internet when he tried to sell his car online at INR 20,000 more than what was offered around him by local resellers.
- MMT app has approx. 33.5 million downloads with a market share of approx. 42% followed by others.
- It’s also listed on NASDAQ with a market cap of $ 2.39 billion USD.
- Last year MMT collaborated with L&T Metro Rail Hyderabad and rolled our QR code-based e-tickets for the metro that will provide cashless travel to over 4 lakh riders.
The story of India’s most preferred travel portal is not a smooth one. From various economic downturns to not being able to receive funding, from senior management’s salary crunch to almost shut down, the company has seen it all.
But even after all the hard times, the online travel portal seems to be unaffected by everything that has stood along its way to success. The transition of MMT from 30 employees in South Delhi to 50+ branches in India employing over 3000 people has been an eye-opener to young entrepreneurship aspirants.
The backbone for MMT is none other than Deep Kalra (CEO & Co-founder), an MBA from IIM-A (Batch 1992). Let’s have a look on his journey with MMT along with several turning points during his journey.
After graduating from IIM-A, Deep got associated with ABN Amro bank for 3 years and then took a year break from corporate culture.
Despite all attractive job offers, what attracted him was bringing the AMF Bowling concept to India when no one was actually interested in it, neither in funding nor in the game itself. He went from place to place to set up bowling alleys but competition from giants like McDonalds and Domonis proved to be a major hindrance in terms of real estate returns.
During his short stint of 4 years with AMF Bowling, Deep managed to open more than 200 lanes across India. But even after hard struggles the business didn’t turn out to be as amazing as the team thought it would be.
But Deep learned a lot from AMF Bowling journey.
“It was a great entrepreneurial experience but a financial disaster”.
Post AMF, Deep felt that he needed more corporate experience before starting something of his own. Being a constant learner, he felt he was lacking in learning and experiences corporate culture gifts to every employee.
Moving ahead with opportunities, he stumbled upon a lucrative job offer from GE Capital to hear Business Development where he was introduced to the world of internet. Getting associated with GE he was also introduced with all the top internet players of that time.
It was that time when he realized that if he wanted to take full leverage of the internet, he needs to quit the company and start something of his own through the internet.
“Doing my own thing was the feeling I got and I avoided getting into the trap of big company syndrome because then you spend a lot of time there unnecessarily. With the big companies, the internet was just a side-project for them”
The rise of MakeMyTrip:
After being able to gather hope, courage, and enthusiasm for leveraging the internet and create his own presence in the ecosystem, Deep Kalra finally started the journey to build up an online portal that would take care of all travel necessities, from hotel reservations to air/rail tickets and much more.
But before he concluded to set up an online trip aggregator, he did a lot of brainstorming. Deep’s method was really simple. He started observing businesses that were running through phone calls. For him, these were the businesses that could be brought to the internet.
After a plethora of ideas crossing his mind, online stockbroking and online travel were potentially top 2 ideas. But he went ahead with the online travel portal because traders were trading in stocks through a reputed platform traditionally after they have searched the internet about their stock options.
If you ask the reasons why he went with the online travel portal, it’s really interesting. He was following his gut instinct initially and then backed up with various observations that would set him free on the road to success.
Deep’s family also traveled aspirants. During his childhood days, his parents would go on trips every summer holiday at a new place every time. Deep got married in 1995 and luckily his wife was more travel enthusiast than him.
All the travel environment helped Deep to set up a vision that MakeMyTrip definitely has a lot of potentials. While he booking a hotel in Thailand through the internet, he was sure that online hotel reservations can be the next revolution in the travel industry.
MMT – Inception and it’s hard times:
While he was conceived that his venture will be a success, MakeMyTrip was born in 2000 when the internet started spreading like forest fire globally.
MMT’s first year being a fairy tale, 2001-03 were the struggling years for the company. Deep was able to get early-stage funding for his business plan and everything was finalized on a tissue paper at Crossroads Mall in Mumbai while they were in a meeting with eVentures.
eVentures were about to inject approx. $1 million had to withdraw its offer and exited the market. They were reluctant to invest in online start-ups which took birth and after sometime entire internet was struggling.
“I was foolish enough to start alone”. Deep was not a travel professional, the only thing that helped him going was his MBA experience that provided him to break down all complex problems and break them into simpler and achievable ones.
“I’m fortunate enough to come across 3 other co-founders who were humble enough to compromise with their payroll during crucial times.”
2001-03 saw many negative downturns like the dot-com bust following by the 9/11 attacks and SARS outbreaks. “Dotcom was a big risk. It was an interesting model but it may or may not work if the ecosystem was not ready.”
During all this time, Deep Kalra came up with something unusual. Rather than investing more and looking for more investors, the team decided to shut all marketing in India and shift their focus to the NRIs in the US who used to travel back and forth to India.
Dot-com bust shook the small growing company and all the seniors had to compromise on their payroll. But during this time Deep along with his co-founders: Keyur Joshi, Sachin Bhatia, and Rajesh Magaw and the team were forced to focus on unit economics from early on.
“No great company has been built quickly. It takes time to set up a decent company in India and probably 10 years to become something. So be patient. Don’t look back for the first 4-5 years. Once you are onto something tweak, pivot, keep your ears to the ground, pick up the message, do the right thing but at the first sign of winter, do no backup. It takes a lot of courage to do it all over again. You probably won’t do it all over again.” Deep says.
During this time MMT was struggling to even run for a month. They had just 1-month capital with them and every month senior managers discussed closing the venture next month.
Hard Times, Collective Vision & Team Focus Finally Rewarded MMT:
Even after struggling on a monthly basis, good times finally started rolling out. In 2004 when LCC (low-cost carrier) airlines were launched in India, Deep Kalra and the team approached the airlines and started selling affordable air tickets through their portal.
The real breakthrough for the team happened to be when IRCTC launched its online portal for online railway booking. IRCTC being a government entity was the main reason why people started purchasing things online and built trust on the internet and its opportunities.
No great company turns big in a matter of days/months or years. It took almost 7 years for the online travel portal to be break-even and settle in the marketplace after struggling like crazy.
MMT launched in the Indian marketplace in 2000 and it took a lot of time for them to report $30 million in gross domestic bookings. It took even more time for them to report $500-600 million gross bookings.
The company stayed profitable until Kingfisher airlines went bust. A lot of travelers were preferring Kingfisher airlines, sudden discontinuation definitely had ripple effects.
Now, if Deep Kalra, other co-founders, and the team look back to their journey, they would definitely be awestruck. The journey has been not less than a roller coaster ride.
From 30 employees to 3000 employees. From just 1 office at Okhla to 50+ corporate offices globally, MakeMyTrip and the team have seen it all.
If anyone is afraid to take risks, then Deep Kalra and his journey will definitely flush the fear of taking risks and moving ahead.
Since its inception, Deep Kalra has made sure to collaborate and acquire a number of companies that can be helpful or that sync with his vision.
MyGola a travel guide, a Gurugram based health store (com) received an investment of around $6 million along with numerous investors like- Sequoia and Intel Capital. Deep Kalra also angel invested in online dating site Truly Madly. Then the team went on to acquire Hotel Travel Group (HT group) due to which they were operational in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
MMT along with Ebix was in talks to acquire Cox & Kings previous year but the deal is still on hold.
Another Delhi based hotel operator My Guest House Accommodation was acquired by the team in 2011.
Learnings from Deep Kalra’s Journey:
Going through MakeMyTrip’s story is not only interesting but it comes with a plethora of learnings and experiences that one can inculcate in his professional life. Below are some of the learnings that we managed to quote while we were going through Deep’s story.
- Starting a business is not very difficult. But not losing hope and not losing the entrepreneur in you matters a lot.
- If you have a team and if the team trusts your vision, don’t lose those people. They are the ones who are always ready to compromise and take the business to new heights.
- There will be times when either lenders or interested parties would back out from investing in your idea. Don’t lose your chill and stay focused. If your business idea is unique, there will be a time when it will take off.
- Always listen to your guts and never doubt yourself too much.
- Don’t chase profits, chase breaking even and chase per transaction cost. Even if the per-transaction cost is 1/-, million transactions done in a year yields 1 million INR.
- Always observe your surroundings. That’s where ideas linger and that’s where opportunities are there.