His zest for life can give many a run for their money. Hari Menon, the CEO of BigBasket.com talks to Nikshubha Garg about being a believer, his quirks and his life plans
To Hari Menon, the skill and ability to organise and plan things matter the most in life. Unfortunately for him, his friends at BITS Pilani didn’t quite agree. “I organise myself and my belongings all the time. So, during my hostel days at BITS, Pilani, friends would secretly come into my room and mess things up just to annoy me. They knew I would lose it if things weren’t where they were supposed to be. That is how much I hate being disorganised,” laughs Menon.
Hari Menon is a self-confessed music enthusiast and hopes to be a member of a rock band and play in small pubs, someday.
But the Bangalore-based entrepreneur’s love for order came in handy when it was time to launch India’s largest online grocery store, BigBasket.com which, Menon claims, stocks over 10,000 products and 1000 brands.
Becoming an entrepreneur
Menon was born into a middle-class family in Bandra, Mumbai, in 1963. “While growing up, I was completely influenced by my parents and their ideology about ‘settling’ in life. I was expected to study and get a stable job. That’s your first sign towards making it big,” he recalls. But it was an urge to experiment that prompted him to try out something new. It was during a client call that he and his colleague, VS Sudhakar, went on to build India’s first online store, fabmart.com, as far back as 1999. “Two years later, both of us, along with four other friends, started a chain of physical grocery stores called Fabmall which was later sold to the Aditya Birla Group in 2006,” explains Menon. Post 2006, the group parted ways to pursue their own individual dreams and goals, only to get back together in 2011 to launch BigBasket.com. And then, there was no looking back.
It’s all in the family
At a time when Menon decided to venture into a business that was considered unconventional, his wife and principal of Bangalore’s The Deen’s Academy, Shanti Menon, stood firmly by his side. “It was difficult back then. No one supported me, as they didn’t know where I was heading and it was only my wife who understood and motivated me to move forward,” he says, adding that he considers her his biggest support even today.
Menon considers his father-in-law, E Shreedharan, the man behind the Delhi Metro, his role model. “He is an inspiration to many, I would say. He always believed that no matter how much the bureaucracy and the corruption makes it difficult for someone, changes can be brought about in the country. He has always pushed his agenda and fought for what he believed in.”
In the race to the finish
By his own admission, Menon is an emotional man. “Emotions can drive you to wrong decisions sometimes and I have taken many in life,” he recalls. Does that make him nervous about competitors? “To be honest, no. I think India is a huge market and one online grocery store cannot serve everyone. So, it’s great that others are venturing into this line because business will thrive if more customers are satisfied. Did we ever think about buying furniture online? Or clothes and shoes? But now the online clothing industry is one of the fastest growing e-commerce industries. It’s all about trusting the retailer. You start by buying a few items from a particular retailer and only if the items impress you will you go back to them. It takes time to build trust. You can’t foresee things, you need to take the plunge. As it is popularly said, entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t,” he elaborates.
A man of many interests
A self-confessed music enthusiast, Menon loves to sing and fondly remembers the jamming sessions at home with his wife and three musically inclined sons. “I also play the guitar. At BITS, Pilani, I was a member of the rock band and we went for inter-college competitions. That time, my passion was retro-rock but off late, I have been listening to Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi songs,” says Menon. He is also an avid cricket fan, a member of the Karnataka Cricket Association and a keen follower of Indian Premier League (IPL) where he supports the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
So, is there anything left to achieve in life? “Oh yes. I want to be a part of a rock band and play in small pubs, use vocational education for skill development in the country, devise ways of using money to help our country and get rid of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I keep checking whether the lights in my house are switched off before leaving. As a result, I keep delaying things,” he laughs.
Magazine: Business Magazines
Film: Deewar, DDLJ, Woodstock
Book: Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey Moore), Pepsi to Apple (John Sculley)
Destination: Himachal Pradesh and Nilgiris
Born: November 3, 1961
Education: BITS, Pilani - MSc. (Tech) - 1979-83
First job: ORG Systems, Mumbai
Mantra in life: If you don’t chase your dreams, someone else will hire you to chase theirs.
Best advice I ever got: From my wife who said: “Take risks, chase your dreams, enjoy what you do. Risk is like making an omelette. You have to break an egg to do it.”