Don’t underestimate the power of a common man! Especially a tall, thin, wheatish boy with shabby looks i.e. Ritesh Agarwal! Ritesh is, in fact, just like any other normal teenager but with unusual talent! And this very talent has made him stand tall and distinguished while his contemporaries could just look and admire.
Ritesh Agarwal – the young Founder CEO of OYO Rooms has been an inspiration. For those who don’t know, OYO Rooms is the fastest growing network of hotels – online as well as offline. The brand value, as of now is estimated around INR 360 Crores. But what exactly makes the owner of OYO Rooms so different?
The thing is, Ritesh did nothing out-of-the-box, to be honest. He went inside the box and tweaked the ways the contents inside the box were arranged. The result was, well, superlative. OYO Rooms provides its users aka the travellers the best cheap standardized rooms with absolutely no add-ons; making the traveller getting that peace of mind and rest at a nominal price and utmost comfort!
This common man with rather rare qualities has truly revolutionized the way a common man thinks and perceives; giving him an alternate route when all he could think was standing in the long, never ending queue. Let’s take a look at the extreme journey this ordinary man took in the most subtle of ways. No wonder he spends 16 hours a day into making this dream journey a pleasant one, indeed!
So, the protagonist of our story began quite early in his journey. Let’s take it right from the beginning. Ritesh was born in Bissam, Cuttak in Orissa, to a business class family. He did his schooling from the Sacred Heart School in Rayagada, Orissa. Even in his early days growing up, Ritesh was a bit different in his approach from his counterparts. All that meant fun to him and his ways learning were indeed unconventional from the word go.
His “fun” included – screwing around with the computer and getting screwed up! Yes! This guy actually looked for opportunities wherein he could make mistakes and get to know something new, rather learn something new! And following this somewhat strange habit of his; he gained an ardent interest in software.
This idea that started with the onset of such noble childhood wishes slowly transformed into an obsession that was to last – without any expiration date actually! He started by going through his brother’s books at first. He grasped all that his could, starting from the popular programming languages like Basic and Pascal from school and school books and from the Great, wise Google as well.
What’s even more intense is that Ritesh starting coding at a tender age of just 8! By the time he reached 10th standard; he knew for sure what his life goals would be. In the year 2009, he got himself enrolled in Kota to go to IIT and in no time did he find out that Kota was not the ideal destination for his coding dreams to take shape. Therefore, his dream took the backseat, and he took admission in Bansal Tutorials via his father’s advice as he had a lot of spare time. The rest of the time when he wasn’t attending classes, he would just hangout and chill.
Ritesh even started writing a book – “Indian Engineering Colleges: A Complete Encyclopaedia of Top 100 Engineering Colleges.” The book turned out to be a massive success and was quite popular on the e-commerce site – Flipkart, which sold its copies quite quickly.
Ritesh was just 16 when he started out on this dream journey. He was chosen among some 240 candidates to undertake some Asian Science Camp being held in the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai. The camp was primarily focussed on promoting healthy discussion among science enthusiasts for pre-college students for the betterment science in the region.
Ritesh, during those days used to travel a lot, thanks to a truckload of free time! He stayed in budget hotels, PG’s and some other places as such during this course. Since there was nothing left to bewilder him in the Kota locales; Ritesh often used to travel to Delhi via trains and enjoy his free time. He used to stay at different bed & breakfast type places and attend various conferences and events in order to meet entrepreneurs and get inspired. And when he couldn’t afford the registration rates, he would just sneak in! (Actually, most of the time!)
And thus, started a never ending journey!
It was never enough for Ritesh. In the year 2011, Ritesh moved out of Kota to his favourite destination of all –Delhi, in hope of starting something of his own. At the same time, he also sought to prepare for his SAT’s so that he could move to the US for further studies. Money, on the other hand, was not an issue as he had his savings safe in Kota combined with his then pocket money (roughly 15k at that time!).
Now call it fate or otherwise, The SAT’s just never happened for Ritesh. He had joined some London University’s Indian Campus that he attended for a meagre three days and then took a day’s leave to start working on his project. Believe it or not, he never went back again! Now during this time, he also met and read about entrepreneurs, businesses, start-ups and especially Airbnb!
Oravel – a new beginning
Now, Ritesh had understood quite early in his life, the importance of good living conditions for a basic budget traveller. So, he sought to build his very first venture – Oravel Stays in the year 2012.
What it did was to provide short and mid-term rentals for bed & breakfast joints, service apartments and private rooms. It provided a way to the budget travellers to look at opportunities from a different and indeed better angle.
Within no time, Ritesh started receiving funds from other sources – Venture Nursery (an accelerator firm that helps start-ups) being the first one to initiate in this particular direction with a secured funding of INR 30 lakh. Now, with money in hand, he started working further towards his new found interest. At the same time, he presented this idea of his at the Thiel Fellowship – A global-level contest for students under 20.
Ritesh reached amongst the top-ten of the competition and managed to receive a sum of $100,000 for over two years (about INR 2.7 lakh per month) along with able guidance and other resources; Guidance and that too from who other than PayPal co-founder and a Facebook investor – Mr. Peter Thiel!
A Slight Downfall
With his new found poise, he started working even more passionately. But even after such ruthless hard work, things kept falling out of place for Ritesh. No matter how hard he tried or what he tried; his luck just didn’t catch up!
Ritesh even got Manish Sinha of Cinnamon (A Gurgaon-based firm), to join in as a co-founder; but sadly, that didn’t help much as Manish eventually had to quit. In fact, the company tried to follow the Airbnb business module but things were, unfortunately falling apart! The company wasn’t able to secure substantial transactions to help their cause.
The big change and revival – OYO Rooms!
This is when Ritesh went old school – he started thinking again! He began to self-reflect and took notice of the one thing that hurt him most during his time of tours and travel – a nice place for an affordable price.
All he could remember was crappy places for large rates and equally crappy places for low rates. And also the times when, out of nowhere, some place would emerge wherein he could get optimum services for optimum prices!
This motivated him to start working on his new project – an online social community in order to gather information, good or bad, about places so as to help people not fall for the honey-trap!
And so, Ritesh made a change in his present business model and re-launched Oravel Travels as OYO Rooms! (OYO stands for “On Your Own, by the way.)
OYO was nothing but a vision – to create India’s largest chain of self-sufficient and optimised rooms with absolutely on bugging add-ons! This way, Ritesh sought to build an online community wherein one could find accommodations that might be not the coolest (no spas, gyms, and stuff; sorry!) but efficient in its working and brought in at prices, beyond your wildest imaginations!
In order to make sure that the hotels met with the OYO standards and vice versa, the officials from OYO visit the hotel and audit it accordingly. And in case of any changes and stuff they share the same with the hotel team.
At first, Ritesh faced some criticism, but as time passed by, so did people’s worries and attenuations. He even faced mixed reactions from his friends and family!
After the launch and a little bit of settling; Ritesh roped in Bhavna Agarwal (former CEO at e-commerce firm Seventy MM) for critical business advertising. This time round, Ritesh tried playing it safe yet smart. They tied up with a dozen different hotels and began their services to the common “traveller.”
And it worked out perfectly! Things got better and better with every second passing and to meet the demands generated by the masses, what started as a two-member team slowly turned into fifteen and then to twenty-five in no time!
In the year 2014, OYO Rooms generated INR 4 crores from DSG Consumer Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners (LSVP), at a pre-money valuation of INR 14 crores. The thing that worked wonders for Ritesh even more than this was the fact that the company was clocking gross bookings of more than INR 1 crore per month!
Since then, OYO Rooms along with Ritesh, has never looked back. From becoming India’s first technology driven network of branded budget hotels to expanding its presence to 350+ hotels (which makes up to more than 4000 rooms in 20 cities including Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Mumbai, Goa, Pune, etc,); OYO Rooms have just scaled one height after another!
Additionally, OYO Rooms look to expand their services even further with the aim to add another 1000 hotels in 25 cities by 2015 end. Add to it the added facility of OYO Rooms mobile app, and what you get is pure happiness! (The app has been rated among the best in the travel and tours section in the Google Play store and it continues to get better and better.)
More recently; the company raised another $25 Million from Sequoia, Lightspeed and others.
- Awarded the TiE-Lumis Entrepreneurial Excellence Award (2014)
- The first resident Asian to win ’20 Under 20’ Thiel Fellowship (2013)
- Named one of the Top 50 Entrepreneurs by TATA First Dot Awards (2013)
- Finalist of Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards-India
- Named one of the ‘8 Hottest Teenage Start Up Founders in the World’ by Business Insider (2013)
- World’s Youngest CEO at 17(recognized at 16)