The bright red boards with the bold white ‘OYO’ splashed across have become a common sight across most metropolitan cities in India. A 25-year-old is responsible for much of OYO’s rapid expansion.
“Shrey joined us a year ago when we had only 20 properties. He has been instrumental in leading some of our most critical initiatives. He built the transformation vertical (converting new properties to OYO standards) and later joined the expansion team. We launched in 100 plus cities, in a matter of six months,” says Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO, OYO Rooms, about his Awesome Startup Employee, Shrey Gupta, AVP (Expansion).
OYO Rooms aims to provide a standardised experience to people across the country when they are away from home. Shrey, who joined the company in June 2014, has been entrusted with ensuring great customer experience by establishing and implementing standards across the OYO network. He is also in charge of putting together OYO’s expansion strategy and building the systems and enablers to execute it. Shrey’s pluckiness was clear to OYO Founder Ritesh Agarwal right from the start. Shrey had reached out to Ritesh via Twitter to congratulate him on OYO’s seed round last year; within a month he had joined the 15 member team.
“Shrey bet on this idea when most folks did not even understand what we were building at OYO Rooms. He understood the problem and brought the same passion to solving it that most of the founding team did,” says Ritesh.
An obviously proud Shrey shares that in 18 months OYO Rooms has scaled from 12 hotels with 200 odd rooms in one city, to over 3,500 hotels and 40,000 rooms across over 150 cities. They have also launched OYO WE exclusively for women. “These 18 months have been nothing short of inspiring,” says Shrey.
Shrey spent his early years in Varanasi and the last decade in Gurgaon. After completing his Bachelor of Commerce at Delhi’s Sri Ram College of Commerce, he began his career at Bain & Co in 2011; however, two years later he opted to be part of the Lok Sabha campaign war room for the BJP. “Leaving the comfort of a ‘safe’ job to give my time to an election campaign was a key moment of my life. It brought me face to face with the ability to take risks and has been instrumental in my decision to join what was then a very young OYO Rooms.” he shares.
The second key moment was when he ran his first half marathon, in 2013. The marathon helped him realise the importance of training and gave him the motivation to keep moving ahead, despite the odds.
Working at startups
Though a strong advocate of working at startups, he believes that early experience with a corporate helps individuals learn new skills in a relatively slower-paced environment. These skills, which could be Excel modeling or work planning, will come in handy at a startup where learning happens on the job. Corporates have the bandwidth to focus on solving problems and building processes. “These skills have held me in good stead,” he says with a smile. But a lot of intangible qualities are also required to be successful in a fast-growing startup.
Shrey shares an experience from his early days at OYO, when the startup’s operations were quite limited. In August 2014, they got a booking for 200 people, which is over 100 rooms, with just 48 hours’ notice. Shrey says: “At that stage, we had a little over 300 rooms in total and only about 50 rooms were ready and available. Over 100 room nights meant nearly 40 per cent of our daily sales and we were determined to
not let go of this business. This lead came in at 10 pm on Day 0. On Day 1, our business development team got into action to partner with three new properties in Gurgaon’s DLF Phase 2. By 5 pm that evening, we had found and signed on these properties. The mandate was clear—to transform these rooms within 24 hours and have them ready for our guests. Work on standardising the rooms started on the morning of Day 1. At 10 am, one person was tasked with getting runners, cushions, linen, and towels from our linen vendors. Then it was time to get down to getting over 50 rooms cleaned and ready for the guests arriving the next day. Another team member worked overnight with our board vendor to get three OYO Dollops (the lollipop like circular boards) ready. These were installed by 1 pm on Day 2 (barely 2 hours before the group arrived). I oversaw the deep cleaning of 20 rooms at these new properties while managing the rest of the team. Deep cleaning started at 4 pm on Day 1 and by 1 am on Day 2, the rooms were ready. At the end of it—a team of six people managed to get three new hotels and transform them for our guests. That's how fast we believe in moving, and this experience guides our working style till date.”Shrey says the team is very important and believes it is his team’s ‘get stuff done, no matter what is takes’ spirit that pushes the startup to greater heights.
Ritesh says Shrey has the ability to strike the right balance between process and hustle, a quality that is highly prized in a startup employee. “He knows when to change gears and can get things done whatever it may take. Everything we build at OYO has strong process fundamentals and we choose to use hustle to speed up these processes or plug gaps when they don't work. And this approach to solving problems has helped us scale rapidly and is a core part of our culture,” says Ritesh, who adds that as an early member, Shrey has been part of most important initiatives at OYO and so everyone knows and loves to work with Shrey.
Ritesh shares an anecdote that gives us an insight into Shrey and the work he has done at OYO. “Shrey built the first playbook on what needs to be done to convert a new hotel to an OYO. This meant creating exhaustive checklists, negotiating with vendors and being out there getting things done. We decided to call this process Transformation and all the team members became Transformers. Shrey became Optimus Prime (the leader of the AutoBots or the good transformers in the movie series).”
OYO’s Optimus Prime aka Shrey signs off with a message, “Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t shirk away from speaking up about something that you think should be done differently!”