INSIGHTS#34 Ritesh Agarwal on building OYO – decacorn in the hotel industry

Jul 26, 2019 35 MIN

In this edition of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have the man of the hour, Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO, largest hotel chain of India that is now operational in more than 60 countries. Ritesh talks about the early days of OYO, how he always had grand plans for OYO and was able to execute them with his able colleagues to scale his company to today’s levels.

Ritesh remembers his childhood self 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; 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 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.

Building the right team
OYO today 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”.

Leveraging technology to scale
Ritesh has always had a focus on leveraging technology in his business. His 700 engineers in China and 700 engineers in 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 thing about the OYO story is the fact that Ritesh is all of just 25 years old today, 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 who bring in years of experience across venture capital, consulting and operations.

Always curious to learn
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 empowering his team members 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 the most important.”