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Verve Man
July 15, 2015

Hrush Bhatt: Cruising in Cyberspace

Text by Zaral Shah

He launched his online travel product Cleartrip.com purely out of a sense of frustration. But, when his new venture faced its own challenges, Hrush Bhatt rode the rough times with equanimity until he turned it into a successful portal. Verve browses through the inner spaces of the founder and director of the popular travel website

Nestled in a quiet lane in South Mumbai is an old-school structure. This heritage building is home to New Age entrepreneur, Hrush Bhatt, who lives on its top floor. When we reach his domain, he opens the door with a cup of coffee in one hand — and we walk into a space that is dotted with artistic treasures, and has wooden pane windows and high ceilings.

Bhatt, the Founder and Director, Product and Strategy at Cleartrip — one of India’s most popular travel websites ­— should be proud of his personal journey that spans the last four decades. Holidays have always been a part of his life and about his early trips, he says, “As a college student, I did travel from India to the US, but I could not afford more than that. But, as a kid, I had journeyed extensively throughout India with my family. My maternal grandparents were fond of travelling and they were keen on showing us the length and breadth of our country.” Now, Bhatt does not plan his vacations to the last detail — he prefers to explore new destinations by walking around, shopping and discovering things that catch his eye. Fond of visiting places that are ‘alive’, his favourite destinations are New York, London, Amsterdam and Goa.

It can be said with a degree of certainty that his foray into the world of e-commerce owes its genesis to his college days. The economics and history alumnus of Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin believes that at a liberal arts college, one tends to learn more outside a classroom than inside. He believes that if he had not written for the college newspaper, he would not have acquired his first Macintosh, an accomplishment that led him to learn design. And Bhatt’s first attempt at launching a ‘company’ was as co-founder of the consulting firm, Paper Plane — a boutique agency focused on web design and web strategy. He learnt a valuable lesson: “When you start a company, you cannot say ‘That is not my job’. Everything is your job, because the buck always stops with you.”

The mid 2000s were a tough period to set up shop due to a scarcity of venture capitalists and angel investors. Bhatt started Cleartrip more out of frustration after Paper Plane didn’t take off as successfully as he’d hoped. Cleartrip faced its own challenges, for not only was it an online travel product, but it was also one that was highly dependent on external sources such as airlines, GDS (Global Distribution System) and hotel systems. Bhatt recalls, “For the first few months after we launched, we could barely keep the site up and running. Things looked fairly bleak, but we stuck it out and turned things around.”

And Cleartrip soon changed the way bookings for journeys are done. So, I ask him when was the last time he stood in line to buy a ticket. He laughs and recalls, “It was probably 17 years ago. I was at VT station (as it was called then) and bought a ticket to go to Sion station.”

His work ethic is straightforward — the driving philosophy of his life is to look forward to each day, to engage in things one is passionate about. Today, he remains modest even in the face of his site’s acknowledged popularity. He states, “I don’t look at Cleartrip as a great success even today. The moment you start resting on your laurels, you risk losing it all. The world doesn’t stand still and the past is history.”

His formula for doing well is geared to the world he is operating in. He says, “In terms of mantras, I believe in simplicity and focus. The world is complicated, so simplifying products and experiences is the key to standing out. The world is also very noisy, so staying focused and saying ‘No’ to thousands of distractions is critical to success.”

Bhatt is known to look for innovative solutions to issues that may arise. On being called an out-of-the-box thinker he states, “People who are labelled so rarely ever think of themselves that way. They just wonder why everyone else doesn’t make the same obvious connections.”

With research showing that a great number of people are shopping online every day, Bhatt believes that the strengths of being an online business far outweigh the weaknesses today. Even in this changing scenario, there is one thing to watch out for. He feels, “The number one thing to worry about as an online business is always scale. Is your business scaling fast enough that the economic effects of the scale kick in for you?”

Beyond work, the e-entrepreneur spends hours reading. No wonder then, the shelves in his home are lined with books. He picks Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit by P G Wodehouse as his latest fix, saying the author’s writing is ‘second only to sunshine’. His most recent splurge, an iPhone 6, has his most used apps — Twitter, The New York Times and Cleartrip.

Looking back over the four decades, Bhatt has no regrets — because he believes that there is no point in wasting time over what cannot be changed and he feels that the years have shaped him. He states, “Entrepreneurship has changed me. I have matured from being a lone designer to becoming someone who works exclusively with teams across multiple disciplines. You cannot achieve anything significant in life by yourself; you always need great people around to help you.”

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