A symbol of hard work and success, Harindra Singh is an example to be followed.
The Sherp had a word with the chairman and managing director of Percept Ltd, and he was a more than happy to talk about Sunburn’s journey to its 10th year.
The Sherp: You are the chairman and managing director a big company like Percept Ltd. How does your day typically begin?
Harindra Singh: I wake up with a cup of tea, get ready and go to the gym to get done with all that before the world wakes up. The day is broadly divided into two parts; one is for stuff that I want to do and the other is stuff that I have to do. A large part of my life is occupied with the stuff that I have to do and not what I want to do. So, the only adjustment that I make is that before the world wakes up, I try to manage my time between the gym, health and fitness, which are stuff that I want to do.
The Sherp: This is the 10th year for Sunburn. For you, which was that one defining moment that made you want to venture into the music festival scenario?
Harindra Singh: We were in the Marcom business, i.e. marketing and communication services. Here, we were surveying brands and companies that wanted to cater to different audiences and we were responsible for creating their content, identifying their markets, finding the right media vehicles and communicating for them. So, we acquired two things over the 25 years of hard work – one which was consumer insight and the second was the ability to create content which was appropriate for that consumer-based insight and then deliver it through various mediums. We came to a position where we realised that all we do is a lot of work. With our clients, sometimes we get paid, sometimes we don’t get paid, sometimes we get paid less; but we did not have an actual sustainable revenue stream. So that’s when we realised that we had to build intellectual properties and assets. We had to move from an agency business to the principle business and when we thought about the move, we knew we were not getting into power or chemicals; we’re only going to do what we know. Deal with consumers, figure out something that they’re going to consume, create and do something that brands can use; these were things we could make more money from. That’s how we started off with Sunburn. It was unique in its own way and the big thing about Sunburn was that it was all about electronic dance music, which was just catching on properly in India. Not too many people knew about EDM, but one thing that caught people’s fancy and attention was the fact that it did not have lyrics. India is a unique country where, probably, with every hundred kilometres a language changes, a dialect changes, even culture changes. EDM managed to cut through that because there were no lyrics; it was just music with high energy and everybody could feel that music. You didn’t have to be an awesome dancer or have moves. You could be left footed or right footed and still enjoy it. It slowly began to pick up and we continued to invest in it. We realised the opportunity and wanted to scale it up and go national, vertical and horizontal. We began to expand to other products and expand across geography and so, we went overseas. Today, looking back at it, I think we did everything that we wanted to do with it.
Harindra Singh: We still struggle and suffer from misconceived perceptions attached to this whole segment. Everybody thinks that Sunburn is all about sex and drugs and obscenity. I’m tired of explaining to people but it’s not like they’re going to give up. The truth is that we don’t cultivate or produce drugs and we don’t have chemical processing plants, nor do we sell drugs. We do not even advocate it. We have a zero tolerance policy towards it. We don’t have a clothes line nor do we have a dress guide. We just want people to dress how they feel, which can be the same clothes that they wear everyday of their lives. We’re not telling them to dress differently for Sunburn, so I don’t know where the obscenity and vulgarity is coming in. But never mind that because it’s survived for ten years and I think it’ll continue to grow.
The Sherp: Tell us about Sunburn’s success story so far.
Harindra Singh: Right now, we’re one of the top two worldwide festivals and India gives us the strength of numbers. The IMS Business Report of 2014 categorised us at Number 2 worldwide and if we continue to grow at that rate, in three to four years we’ll be 18 times bigger than Tomorrowland. And we’re not even talking about Sunburn in total. There, nobody in the world even touches us now. We had around 800,000 people coming in last year and Goa alone had 50,000 people. Unfortunately, my crowd pays INR 2,000 while international festival tickets are at 2,000 Euros. So, in terms of revenue, they can throw a lot of money. But the fact is that our numbers is what we have and we are continuing to grow. We’re targeting more than a million this year and I don’t think there’s any other festival brand in the world that has gone into a horizontal expansion. We have multiple products and we are making them more affordable and accessible.
The Sherp: What made you choose Pune as the new location?
Harindra Singh: We were having challenges in Goa and the less we speak of it, the better. What we can talk about is infrastructure. One of the uniqueness or strengths of Goa is its character and if Goa changes the way the streets are, the shacks are, the trees are, the side lanes are; then it’ll not remain Goa and let’s be real about that. The whole old world charm is there, but unfortunately that is a huge challenge for infrastructure. Goa is good to hold an event with 20,000 or 30,000 people at max, but even that creates blocks. Last year, when we have 60,000 or 70,000 people a day, we felt it. It took six hours for people to get to the festival. We had challenges bringing our DJs from the airport to the festival and the whole stage was just blocked. Thankfully, such a situation did not arise but if somebody needed to go to the hospital or somebody needed anything else, it would have been difficult. There were many other reasons too and we realised that we have to go. We began to look at different beautiful spots with nature but given the numbers that we have, we needed something that could handle the infrastructure. We needed a hospital, F&B options nearby, rooms, accommodation, access and much more. We looked at Hyderabad, Telangana, NCR, Mumbai, Khandala, Alibaug and many places and, after much thinking, the easiest for us to operate from was Maharashtra because we live here. Looking at it historically, Mumbai is the commercial capital of the country and commercially, it is one of the most mature states. So, what we’re trying to do, they’ll understand best. Even in terms of administration and bureaucracy, they are mature and it can make sense to them. Maharashtra was the first choice when we narrowed it down and within Maharashtra we began to look at airport access, roads, hospitals, hotel rooms and the venue. With Pune, we had a forty minute radius for driving time in traffic time and have ten thousand rooms that account for 30,000 people with kids. Plus, we having camping facilities, hospitals, airport and railway station, all about 30 minutes away. On top of that, we have a thriving IT industry, BPO industry and colleges that account for a whole bunch of people. So, we said this it is. We began to look at places around and we found this spot which is beautiful and green.
The Sherp: With a change in venue, do you think it’s going to be bring a change in the kind of people attending Sunburn this year?
Harindra Singh: Our assessment is that we think Pune has a slightly better quality of crowd. Not that we don’t like anybody who loves us; we love them. But the fact is, that in Goa, we did end up getting a lot of freeloaders who made their way in, even though they were not on the guest list or didn’t have tickets. They made their way through or forced their way through. Also, over the years, the mix in the crowd was deteriorating rather rapidly. So, if you would look at a picture from a few years ago, you could just point the camera at any direction and take beautiful snaps. But last year it was off, because we had a huge number of people who were not right. I don’t know if we’re going to get the same numbers; we don’t know because the controversies that the media carries everyday will make normal people shy away unless the whole media scenario turns around. Every day, we get newspapers with more headline like “Oh it’s all about drugs and obscenity and vulgarity and ashleel harkat” which is funny because we don’t even allow such behaviour. The way we manage things is pretty good. We find something incorrect, we just move them out. Our security and systems are pretty strong that way and that’s where people should feel safe and secure.
Harindra Singh: 2009 was my first and that was the only time I had fun. I think the years after that were hectic because I founded the business and by default, my role over the years grew into a default role which means anything that gets messed up or can’t get managed, I have to manage. I was not the one hanging out with the film stars or the beautiful models. When we get stuck with a legal issue or a tax issue or a funding issue or a technical issue or permission issue; I have to handle it. In 2008, my dad passed away and suddenly everyone in the family was lost. So, in December, we all decided to make a family holiday out of Sunburn. My mom also wanted to see what it was all about. She said in Hindi, “Suraj ko kaise jalate ho mujhe bhi dekhna hai”. So I said “Yeah let’s go”. That was the year Armin van Buurin was headlining. I’ve always loved music and been passionate about it, but I’m not deeply into it. But we went for this edition and it was really beautiful. Mum came to the event and she had a good time with us and she loved the energy. My kids were there; the whole family was there and it was lovely. I did use that as an endorsement and said, “Listen, before you think that there’s something wrong with Sunburn, understand that we run it and I’ve got my daughter, son and mother there.” My mom still goes by the way. She going this year as well.
The Sherp: Apart from Sunburn, which other festivals have you attended and been really impressed with?
Harinder Singh: I quite liked Mysteryland. It’s really chilled out and there’s no pressure. You can spend those 2 or 3 days there without a drink and not be dancing in front of the stage and yet you’ll have an amazing time. There’s so much to do and it’s so beautifully laid out in a very natural setting where the stages are divided by little mountains and trees. You have bridges connecting the pieces of land. In India we don’t have venues like that but if we did, we would love to create something like that. Mysteryland was really chilled out, with an awesome production and the line-up was not bad. Sensation was a beautiful experience too, but that was more like a dance music show and not a dance music event. They have a lot of performances and a massive production. So I’ve seen a couple and we’re working with many, but I love Sunburn. And this year, we are really pushing it. Our main stage is huge and it sits on the top of the hill. We saw it coming together a couple of days ago and were beyond impressed. We want to make sure that when people come here, they don’t even think about Goa, forget asking about it. After seeing this, Goa will be completely erased from their minds forever.
The Sherp: Percept’s growth over the years has been magnificent. What do you think is the primary element behind its success?
Harindra Singh: A lot of hard work and good luck. Seriously, a lot of people have put in a lot of hard work and I’ve seen a people around us who work probably even harder than we do and don’t make it. On the other hand, I have also seen other people around us who don’t produce as much and they are living an absolutely luxurious life. We’re in between. So we put in a lot of hard work and we get lucky, but not all the time. I’ve been working since 1980 which makes it 36 years and in these 36 years I have lived many lifecycles.
The Sherp: Any mantra that you would like to impart to budding organisers?
Harindra Singh: Put in your best and don’t worry about the result. Just take it as it comes and carry on. Don’t let results impact you because that’s not in your hand. No matter what you do, there are many factors that actually contribute to your success. Some of them are in your control and some are not. Sometimes, something that isn’t in your control could impact the result. But, as long as you’re true and you do your best, don’t worry about the outcome. It will fall right eventually.