In conversation with Mr. Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO, OYO.
How and when did you feel the need to start OYO? Was it based on a personal experience or did you simply see it as an existing gap in the market?
Ever since I was a young kid, I was keen on doing something on my own. After school I enrolled for college but I already knew that my heart was not in it. Attending start-up events, meeting young entrepreneurs and listening to established leaders at these events inspired me. That’s when I decided to start Oravel Stays – a listing site for hotels, bed and breakfasts and similar properties.
The reason I started something in travel is because I am personally fond of travelling, and also felt that this impacted a large section of people. In time, Oravel pivoted to OYO – a brand that offered predictable, standardized and affordable hotel- stays across the country.
The reason for launching OYO was that there was a lack of quality hotel experiences in the budget sector. The objective was to introduce predictability for customers and to empower hotel owners by giving them access to technology, facilitating efficient operations, effective CRM and better revenue-management.
Tell us more about your personal journey. How had been your life prior to starting OYO? Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I dream’t of running my own business ever since I was a kid and I made it a point to work towards it whenever the opportunity arose. So, whether it was selling SIM cards during summer holidays or taking up some odd job or errand, I was happy to learn more about interacting with people, specifically customers.
(A look at one of the many campaigns done by OYO)
After high school, I moved to Kota for coaching and senior secondary education, but was instead spending my time at start-up events and mixers in Delhi. And then, instead of attending college I was trying to run Oravel by travelling across different cities and towns to convince hotels and inns to list with us. Around this time, I applied to and was accepted by the Thiel Foundation for the Thiel Fellowship. This was a real turning-point in my life.
Can you please describe what a typical day at Office is like?
I start my day with a working breakfast or team-meeting at my house. From there, I head to office, catching up with different teams and checking on progress of various tasks at hand. Emails and external meetings also take up a lot of my time but I like to spend time with different functions and teams in the office. For this reason, I don’t even have a dedicated workstation. We have an open office but the flip-side of it is that people have to try hard to zero in on my location. Actually, that’s not the flip-side, it’s really the good side! (laughs).
I also like to step out to one of our hotels to see how operations are being run, or what customers say about their experience. There is nothing more useful than taking direct feedback from the customer. It is really at the heart of what we do. Many a times I travel to our field offices which is when I catch up with teams, on field. Sometimes I man the reception of one of our local hotels, like I used to do it for our first hotel – in fact I was the bell-boy/receptionist/manager all rolled into one because it kept me very close to the operating principles of the business. On a regular day, I often take work and meetings home. I like to unwind with my friends – usually a late-night movie or a drive.
What has been your most significant achievement till date and key learning in your career so far?
I sincerely believe that we have only scratched the surface of the potential that OYO can tap. So in terms of achievement there is really a long way to go. But it is humbling and also heartening to see the impact we have created – both for customers but also for the hotelier ecosystem – we have got technology into small hotels when people had written it off.
We invested in creating apps and technology to power every aspect of hotel operations – from CRM to inventory-management to revenue-management. Check-ins and Check-outs were automated via the tabs we provided to our hotel staff. The hotel-owner was usually a guy in another city or location, unable to keep track of this business , so we built an Owner app with which they could track P&L for their hotel. We have truly empowered the small-scale hoteliers.
Personally, the Thiel Fellowship was a life-changing experience. Getting mentored by a visionary like Peter Thiel, receiving access to the brightest leaders in Silicon Valley and being part of this network changed my outlook and gave me new perspective.
What are the values that you look for, or wish to instill in your employees?
We are a company driven by innovation. We look for problem-solvers. Most importantly, we believe passion drives one to be more proactive. Therefore, we hire people who are passionate about solving a big problem or creating a huge impact.
Any challenges faced by you in tackling competitors?
Competition is a part of doing business but one has to be focused on the customer, not the competition. We are trying to solve a huge problem – and have taken on a big mission. Each of us at OYO is inspired more by that, than the chance of upstaging a competitor or another player. The hospitality industry in India suffers from a major disconnect between demand and supply of quality living space, forcing travellers and city-dwellers to compromise on decision variables of location, comfort and pricing.
Our aim is to create a perfect equilibrium between location, comfort and pricing using our proprietary technology and skilled talent pool of hospitality experts, to deliver predictable, affordable and always-available hotel accommodation to travellers.
The motto you live/work by?
Try and solve large problems.
In my free time, I like to cycle and practice Yoga. Catching a late-night movie with friends (mostly colleagues) is a stress-buster.
If not in the current profession, you would have been?
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Any Favourite or relatable movie character and why?
Salman Khan’s characters that are larger-than-life and yet childlike, like the one he played in the film, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’.
One gadget you cannot live without?
My MacBook Pro