[Podcast] Ritesh Agarwal on building OYO, the decacorn of India’s hotel industry
We continue the #InsightsPodcast series with the man of the hour: Ritesh Agarwal, Founder of OYO, the largest hotel chain in India, which is now operational in more than 60 countries.
Ritesh remembers his childhood as being the kid who always wanted to do different things. At the age of 13, he was selling SIM cards just for the heck of it. And at 18, he dropped out of college to start his first company, Oravel, and got selected for the Thiel Fellowship, receiving a $100,000 grant from Peter Thiel, Founder of PayPal, and an early investor in Facebook.
Spending time staying at friends’ places for a few months opened Ritesh to an exciting opportunity in the hotel industry. On the supply side, most hotels were passive investments for owners and had a fundamental problem of yield generation, with the asset owner wanting to get away from the daily headache of managing the asset.
On the consumer side, there was a clear gap in the availability of clean, well-organised, and well-designed hotel rooms at an affordable price. Ritesh saw absolutely no reason to not invest himself into solving this problem, and there has been no looking back since then.
“Whenever I have two opportunities, risking it versus regretting it, I would always invariably choose risking it, because I never want to regret that I did not pursue something that I really wanted to do. So that’s sort of what inspired me to start the first OYO hotel,” he says.
Build the right team
Today, OYO has expanded to beyond just budget hotels, with its offerings featuring upmarket luxury resorts, a chic mid-market accommodation brand (Townhouse), and others. The core principle though has remained the same: “bringing beautiful living spaces to middle-income persons world-wide”.
Talking about things that he got right, Ritesh feels building a phenomenal team that gave him competitive leverage when it came to execution, and always doing right by the customer and other partners in the ecosystem helped OYO achieve much of the success we see today.
Having spent time in the Bay Area very early, Ritesh learnt the importance of thinking big. While OYO doubled down their efforts in India, expanding to other geographies like China and Europe was a first from a consumer-facing startup from India.
“Nobody in the Bay Area thinks that I want to be the biggest business in California. Everybody has a dream of being the most impactful company in their segment worldwide.”
Leverage technology to make an impact
Ritesh has always had a focus on leveraging technology in his business. His 700 engineers in China and 700 engineers in the rest of the world are constantly building new products and features that help OYO break the boundaries of language and culture through a superior experience.
This, along with access to large capital and resources that come along with it, helped Ritesh understand the challenges and opportunities while entering new markets. Local talent has been a game changer, he says.
One of the most distinctive things about the OYO story is the fact that Ritesh is just 25-years-old, which makes his feat seem even more incredible. He credits much of his personal growth to the management team he spends most of his time with, which brings in years of experience across venture capital, consulting, and operations.
Keep learning all the time
Continuing to be field-oriented by learning from people who’re on-ground has helped Ritesh stay true to his entrepreneurial self and bring value to the table. Having a common mission that everyone was working towards, a transparent work environment that held each one accountable, and delegation through empowerment helped Ritesh keep age out of the picture when it came to team management and decision making.
On a closing note, the OYO founder talks about how he considers perseverance as the most valuable learning from his journey so far.
“I feel that perseverance has no replacement. Remembering that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and continuously investing in the same direction for a long period of time is very important.”
Tune in to listen to Ritesh as he talks about the OYO journey, starting up and scaling, leveraging technology, and the importance of the right team.
Anand Daniel is a seed/early stage venture investor with Accel Partners.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)