19-year old Ritesh Agarwal is the founder of Oravel an online travel aggregator, he is now also a Thiel fellow. This youngster is a proof of how passion can move not just mountains, but also change the hearts of Indian parents. We recently had a chance to catch up with Ritesh Agarwal, who got selected in the Peter Thiel’s 20 under 20 scholarship program. We discussed with him interesting parts of his journey been so far and his plans for the future.Excerpts.
YS: What motivated you to start up so early in life? You must be getting this a lot! :D
Ritesh (laughs): Yeah I get this a lot. My motivation came from two things.
1. My work experience as a sales guy cum rough traveller (I started off when I was 13 and used to travel a lot).
2. The accommodation issues I faced during my trips. There were times I was sold a crappy place for a huge amount of money and sometimes I would find a nice place in a little amount. This motivated me to create an online social community to bring information about all good places together on one platform. And technology has helped me do that.
YS: What are problems faced by you before starting up? And how have people reacted once you started?
Ritesh: Few common problems were funding, marketing, reaching out to the property owners and investors. I had a mixed reaction from friends and family around me, few of them believed in me and a few criticized and were worried if I could make it. But now they all smile with appreciation.
YS: What according to you are the most difficult problems faced by the student entrepreneurs? Are there any solutions for the same?
Ritesh: Building your own company without a decent financial background is quite difficult and as a young student entrepreneur, the risk is even high! You have quit the rat race for sure but now you’re in a different race altogether. And here the support factor plays a major role. Student entrepreneurs generally fail to receive this support – either moral or financial support. I feel investing in a mentor or business coach could be a good idea here. Also building up your network and finding people who have the same goal as you do helps a lot!
YS: What motivated you to apply to Thiel Fellowship?
Ritesh: Quoting pandoDaily- “Thiel is viewed by some as a libertarian freedom fighter, by others as a mysterious Mr. Burns like figure, and by others still as a man trying to corrupt today’s youth.”
Well, isn’t that something? *winks*
To be really honest, the whole idea of being a Thiel fellow really excited me. The platform with mentors like Sean Parker and Elon Musk and meeting amazing people who are doing super amazing stuff pushed me, to take up the opportunity, fill the application and be flown to San Francisco for finals!
YS: Are your parents comfortable with you not going through your graduation?
Ritesh: In our country immense weightage is laid on college education, so who can blame them. Of course they were apprehensive initially but then when they understood the whole idea they were the ones who motivated me and haven’t stopped ever since. I guess its just about making them understand what is actually happening out there in the entrepreneurial world, once parents get that, they are the ones who push you further.
YS: What are your plans for next two years while you are a Thiel fellow?
Ritesh: As of now we are based out completely in India. As a Thiel fellow I plan to work towards bringing affordable, curated and standardized accommodation to people across the emerging world taking up one country at a time. This is of course, with the help of cutting edge technologies and the innovative minds of my team-mates.
YS: Any long terms plans after two years of fellowship?
Ritesh: The plan is to change the world - one problem at a time ;)
YS: How different is the scenario in Valley compared to India in terms of startups? What one do you think is the most important thing that needs to be addressed first?
Ritesh: Ecosystem. Its very easy to find a co founder, team, advisor, funding, connections, customers etc in US because the ecosystem has been built over a long term. Things are however changing now and much better.
YS: How has the journey been from the day you applied to the day you got selected?
Ritesh: It was a mixed bag of ups and downs. The day I applied, there was a lot of anticipation too of course and I kept my fingers crossed. But was mostly sure I wouldn’t make it since I hadn’t seen any Indian being selected earlier.
The day I got selected, I was super excited, the kid in me was alive yet again. Having Peter accredit you is the best thing ever. However one thing still remains unchanged: Commitment to Oravel was #1 earlier and still is!
YS: What is the one thing that you missed from India while you are in US?
Ritesh: My customers, team and investors - all of them are awesome and make me feel India is going to better Valley soon :)