Arkish Jewels

Conviction in his dreams

The founder & CEO of OYO, one of the largest hospitality companies of India, Ritesh Agarwal believes what Mark Twain once said about not allowing one’s schooling to interfere with one’s education. In his case, it was college. The 17-year-old dropout is a 23-year-old millionaire today, and features among the Forbes under 30s list. He tells us why he doesn’t look back and wonder what if he had not dropped out but stayed on at college. Ritesh couldn’t be happier for having followed what he believed in and having started his journey when he did.

 

To be fair, it’s not because of the college or the experience that I decided to drop out, I was just sure that I wanted to start out on my own and I could not wait to get cracking. So naturally college did not seem like the best use of my time. I was extremely patient, even happy, during the entire process. When I decided to take the plunge in 2012, there were stories about dropouts-turned-entrepreneurs doing well. There was no stigma attached to it. I spoke to my parents about considering the time off as a gap year if my venture did not take off. As far I was concerned I wasn’t planning on going back to college ever. I was completely zen because I was so sure of myself. A little naiveté is good. At least it kept me from stressing out about stuff that I had no control over. What creates stress or fear is too many choices or conflicting points of view or paths to follow. But once your mind is made up, you can ignore the distractions and just follow your dream. Blinkers on.

 

Attending start-up events and mixers in Delhi while studying in Kota, Rajasthan helped me a lot. By the time I got to college I had a certain amount of clarity about the industry I wanted to enter. I enjoyed travelling and thought of building an Airbnb-like offering in India.

I started with Oravel which was meant to be a listing site for budget accommodation – inns, guesthouses, B&Bs and so on – across India which would become discoverable on the platform. I travelled extensively and stayed in more than 100 of these small hotels and guesthouses trying to strike a barter deal in return for listing them on my site. No one hosted me for free, but I got an insight to the budget hotel experience in India, which was not good. There was simply no way of knowing what sort of a hotel one would end up in when booking online, whether the service would be decent, or if the room would be clean or the staff cordial. So really when travel industry folks say Indians do not book hotels online, or that hospitality is a difficult business to crack online – they are focusing on the wrong end of the problem. The issue was not making these hotels discoverable, but predictable and standardised. And of course, that was easier said than done.

 

That is how OYO came into being in 2013. This was also the time when I was accepted for the Thiel Fellowship and got the opportunity to be mentored by Peter Thiel, founder of Paypal. A lot of thinking and internalisation

happened then.

 

At OYO we are innovators, not just disruptors. We are inventive, not derivative. Since we are involved with upgrading urban social infrastructure, we believe everyone in the team is an engineer. We want to focus on solving real problems that impact large populations, so that we can drive significant change and transformation. This is at the core of what we do.

It is a good time to be an entrepreneur in India. The market is huge. There is a large young demographic, the offline to online shift is going to be monumental, and we are right at the cusp of it. India is the right mix of opportunity and challenges. If there weren’t any big problems to solve, the potential impact and transformation opportunity would not be as significant.

 

I am too young to have regrets, don’t you think? On a serious note, one can only plan and prepare for how to deal with crisis or failure and it is in hindsight that you think of what could have been handled better or dealt with differently. I never look back at my decision of dropping out with regrets because I saw no worthwhile reason for spending a few years on a formal academic programme when I was so clear on what I wanted for myself. I believe, from my own experience, that if you have conviction in your dream or goal or passion, deciding to go for it is the only tough decision. Everything else that follows is extremely easy in comparison.

 

BY Nidhi