We sometimes overthink entrepreneurship: Sandeep Lodha, CEO, OYO-owned Weddingz
IIT Delhi graduate Sandeep Lodha turned entrepreneur when he founded Weddingz.in that was acquired by hospitality behemoth OYO in 2018. Unlike other CEOs, Sandeep has come a long way from managing his father's bike shop in Bokaro as a teen.
Sandeep Lodha, Founder, Weddingz.in
Before starting up, he sourced material from a wholesale market in Chandni Chowk. Today, he handles the big fat Indian wedding under a hospitality unicorn.
After becoming part of OYO, Sandeep’s stress levels lowered and now, he wants to read a book a week. In an interview with YS Weekender, Sandeep speaks about his life, daughters, entrepreneurship and the journey from Bokaro to Bombay (Mumbai).
YSWeekender: Tell us about yourself and your family?
Sandeep Lodha: I grew up in a small town in Jharkhand - Bokaro Steel City. My father used to have a motorcycle shop there. When I was 12-years-old, I started working part-time at my father’s motorcycle shop, and by seventh or eighth grade, my weekends and most of my time after school was spent there. I opened the shop at 9 am daily, and my father would come to the shop by 3 to 4 pm. Later, when I had just begun ninth grade, I got involved in purchasing logistics for the shop. I would go to the wholesale market in Chandni Chowk to source.
However, things changed when I entered 11th grade. My teachers realised I had a good IQ, and thought I was wasting my time at the shop. They spoke to my father and post that, my contribution to the shop came down significantly. I then got serious about studies and got admission in the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, in 1993.
YSW: What did you study and how did the wedding startup come about?
SL: I pursued B.Tech, Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Delhi. In 1997, I went to the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States to pursue MS, computer and engineering.
At that point, my aim was to become a good engineer. I specialised in making hardware chips which led me to work in the Silicon Valley for four years where I built hardware chips for Riverstone Networks (which was later sold to Alcatel Lucent).
In 2004, I realised that I wanted to take a leap as an entrepreneur. I pursued an MBA in finance from the University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School.
Soon after, I joined Bain & Co to sharpen my business skills. I worked there for seven years and joined Disney next where I handled the consumer division for a couple of years in Bombay and then in 2015, I founded Weddingz.in.
In 2014, while attending a cousin’s wedding, I sensed a market gap - organising a wedding with gazillion requirements, and realised that the struggle was similar even after 15 years of marriage. That’s when I took the entrepreneurial plunge and founded Weddingz.in.
YSW: Your motivation, and the challenges in your entrepreneurial journey?
SL: When we started, we were focusing on the overall event industry including weddings, social events, corporate shows, etc. and we didn’t start the brand with Weddingz.in but Parties.in.
Due to financial and resource constraints, we realised that we needed to streamline our business model and that’s when we changed the brand name to Weddingz.in. The other big challenge was to create a stable process to grow demand. We tried multiple ways to attain stable demand, and realised that digital marketing is the right way to get customers and market ourselves. I was not into digital marketing but it happened by luck and worked in our favour due to which we focused most of our resources into it.
One of the biggest learnings I had from this experience was to have a defined focus, be it marketing, products and services or segments. Another aspect I learnt is that we should invest in the people who are hungry for success, and are full of ambition to lead a success story. It was challenging to find such people. The ones that joined me then have stayed with me all along.
Initially, I couldn’t spend time with my family. In the first two to three years, there was minimal to zero work-life balance. As a workaholic, I still continue to work very hard but now I have learnt to strike a balance or rather make it all happen harmoniously. I’m okay to go on a vacation with my family and work in synchronisation or I can be at a restaurant with my family and work side by side. It doesn’t bother me or my family anymore. I would say that I have found a way to bridge the gap between work and life.
YSW: How has OYO acquisition changed your professional and personal life?
SL: I have started to work more after the OYO acquisition but my stress has lowered dramatically. I am happy all the time. We are scaling rapidly and hiring talented people who help me take confident strategic calls. I don’t mind working harder, it is just that there is no undue stress which gives me the ease to function more efficiently! There is no stress to look for funding and the focus has shifted towards the growth of the business, getting good people, enhancing customer experience.
YSW: How do you balance it out?
SL: Whenever my kids are on vacation, we make it a point to go out and bond over travel. On weekends, we either go out for lunch, dinner, brunch or a movie. I am a voracious reader and my older daughter chooses the books I read and we have a very healthy exchange of thoughts and reviews.
I have two daughters (the younger one is 13 and my older daughter is 15-years-old) and both enjoy debating. With my years of experience, I think we have a fruitful debate which makes them learn about what’s happening. On Sundays, we practise Maths. Yet, work is constant in all the scenarios.
YSW: How do you maintain your health or calm your mind?
SL: I work out every morning. Whenever I’m in Mumbai, I don’t miss a single gym routine and I believe that it keeps me going and gives a good start to my day. Also, we have grown up in a healthy-eating environment where we are conscious about the food we consume – while the tongue may have never ending cravings, it’s important to let your mind take the call.
My daughter is (way) ahead of me, she wouldn’t even allow me to eat a pizza. So, there are four things that are making things healthy for me - the gym, portion-control eating, quality eating and my elder daughter.
YSW: Your favourite books?
SL: I love to read books by a Japanese writer, named Haruki Murakami. I also love nonfiction. A few years ago I read “Shoe Dog: A memoir by the creator of Nike by Phil Knight,” it was an absolute delight to read!
I love to read biographies for its real-life story format. The learning from the experience of the protagonist is quite evident. You get to learn a lot from someone’s life experiences to understand the struggle of becoming successful.
YSW: How many books do you read in a month or a year?
SL: The goal is to take the time out to read at-least one book per week!
YSW: Do have any plan B in your mind other than entrepreneurship?
SL: We sometimes overthink entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship can never be thought of as a tick mark or doing it for the sake of doing it. It should come naturally. If you think you have a great idea or a problem in the world you can solve then entrepreneurship is the right place for you. It should always start with a “why.”
For example, skillset and skill training is a big issue in India. If you start thinking that, “I want to change India and I want to build India,” then isn’t it great? One should know the answer of why do they want to become an entrepreneur. For me, entrepreneurship is like any other job. If a great idea comes along that makes me believe that I can make a significant difference to society then I will have to take it up. I don’t think there is any age or time to start or end this.