The aspiring story of Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO

Founder of OYO - Ritesh Agarwal

Founder of OYO - Ritesh Agarwal

Like any other engineering aspirant, Ritesh Agarwal too once wanted to appear for engineering entrance exams. He loved coding and was a travel freak. During his days of struggle, he used to travel on a tight budget and while traveling, he discovered that there is a dearth of hotels with good facilities at an affordable price. This very experience of his became the brainchild of the concept of OYO rooms that was envisioned to abolish the inadequacy of budget rooms in hotels.

Ritesh Agarwal was born in Bissamcuttak, a village in the district Rayagada, Odisha. His childhood days were all about fun and learning. He had an upbringing that was different from that of the other kids around. His family was well-off and had different ideologies about money. While others used to think that, “A rupee saved is a rupee earned”; his family believed in, “Earning two rupees is a rupee earned.” Akin to the notions elucidated in Robert T. Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, he was ingrained with an appetite to take risks, go out and get the stuff done. It was more about cultivating a go-getter attitude right from his childhood.

During his childhood, he was very fond of computers and never dithered to explore what’s inside a floppy disc or CD. There was a computer at his father’s office, something that hugely helped his love for computer grow; which later on proved to be the pivotal aspect of his success. He developed a keen interest in software from a very early age. Though he was always well ahead of the school curriculum, learning BASIC and PASCAL, he quickly started grasping higher knowledge from his elder brother’s books. By the time he was in 10th grade, he had made up his mind that he wanted to code for a living. What better place to foster these coding skills than the premier Indian Institute of Technology and that is where he set his target.

In 2009, Ritesh went to Kota for the coaching program. He was admitted to the famous Bansal Tutorials for IIT-JEE. It did not take much time for him to realize that Kota was not a place to learn to code. For a while, his dream to become a coder took a backseat and he grew unsure of his ambition. It was in such times that he started taking short trips to Delhi, where he used to stay in bed and breakfast (B&B) places and attend events and conferences to meet other entrepreneurs. As he couldn’t afford the registration costs, he used to sneak in unnoticed, exhibiting his street smartness and penchant for adventure and risk-taking. These exposures expanded his vision and his urge for doing something better and bigger kept on increasing.

Realizing that even getting into IIT was not going to do him much good, he quit Kota and moved to Delhi in 2011. Living in a small dingy rented room, he aspired to work on a start-up program of his own and prepare for SAT to go to the US for further studies. Unfortunately or fortunately, SAT never happened and after 1 year of meeting people and reading about start-ups, he came up with the idea of Oravel – an Indian counterpart of Airbnb in May 2011. Success was not instant for him and for a long time, it was just him, Anuj Tejpal – the guy he hired for operations; and a couple of interns. Eventually, the project started getting funds and Oravel turned into what is now one of the most used applications for hotels – OYO Rooms.

A timeline of Ritesh Agarwal’s achievements –

  • At 16, Ritesh was one of the 240 children selected to be part of Asian Science Camp at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai.

  • At 17, he authored his first book on Engineering Colleges of India – A complete encyclopedia of Top 100 Engineering Colleges, which became a best seller.

  • At 17, he became the youngest CEO in India at a company called Worth Growth Partners.

  • At 18, he found Oravel and the same year he secured funding of Rs. 30 Lakh from VentureNursery, an accelerator that brings together investors to nurture start-ups.

  • At 19, he was chosen for Thiel Fellowship – a global contest in which he happened to be the only winner from India.

  • At 19, he rebranded Oravel as OYO Rooms abbreviated from ‘On Your Own’ which now has become the most sought-after platform for bookings.

  • At 21, he became the youngest Millionaire from India’s booming startup community.

  • At 23, He was featured in Forbes 30 under 30 in Consumer Tech.

Ever since OYO Rooms was founded, Ritesh Agarwal focused and showed an unassailable commitment towards delivering the high-quality guest experience, which makes it the first preference for the guests. He believes that for a startup to succeed, setting up the right team is very important. And more than anything it is important to create something of value that people would accept and use.

“It is extremely important to build something that a 100 people absolutely love using rather than make something that a 1000 people would just, kind of, like”, he says.

Today OYO rooms has grown to operate across 70,000 Rooms in 8,500 hotels in 230 towns of India, Nepal, and Malaysia with monthly revenue of around $30 million housing more than 1500 employees. It also features among the companies which are tipped to become the next start-up unicorns according to CB Insights research’s findings, published in The New York Times. It has raised a total of $125million of funding in 4 rounds from 7 investors. OYO is primarily backed by leading global investors, including the SoftBank Group, Lightspeed India, Sequoia Capital and Greenoaks Capital.

Ritesh Agarwal is a guy that has always backed his decisions with guts and hard-work – the two essential elements of a successful start-up. Apart from his sheer eminence in software area and ability to ideate and innovate, he had street-smartness to take up each opportunity to meet key people and had an impeccable sagacity to convince investors. He did not have a formal education but he never let this fact become an impediment to his dreams. Being one of the youngest entrepreneurs from India, Ritesh is a true inspiration to the aspiring start-up founders.