This isn’t just your ordinary 'rags to riches' story. This is the extraordinary tale of a teenage boy who refused to cower down to fate and chose to make a solid mark in the startup world instead. It's the story of Ritesh Agarwal, the founder and CEO of the country's largest hospitality chain OYO, now something of a household name in India.
This isn’t just your ordinary 'rags to riches' story. This is the extraordinary tale of a teenage boy who refused to cower down to fate and chose to make a solid mark in the startup world instead.
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Unlike many businessmen, the 25-year-old tech star didn’t inherit his power and position. Agarwal founded Oyo in 2013 at the age of 19, but began his entrepreneurial journey selling SIM cards while in the eighth grade in his hometown in Odisha.
As a kid, he wanted to be an airline pilot but got fascinated by the word 'entrepreneur' so much that when his school teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up, his immediate answer was an entrepreneur.
"It was not an intent, it was just trying to be the nicer kid in the class who people would ask wow that sounds like a nice word what does that mean. So that is how it started long back," Agarwal told CNBC-TV18's Young Turks Conclave hosted in November 2018.
But his mission was to create great living spaces for common people in India.
“I believe that having the ability to dream big is one of the most important attributes of building a large impactful company. I had a dream when I was a young kid that I would be able to do something new and unique,” Agarwal said.
Agarwal moved to Kota in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan soon after finishing his school studies to get coaching to enter the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and would travel to nearby Delhi over the weekends.
"When I came here I used to take weekend trains from Kota to Delhi and come and be a part of a lot of these conferences and listen to entrepreneurs. A couple of entrepreneurs I was very inspired by one was Rahul Bhatia at InterGlobe Aviation and other was Siddhartha Lal at Eicher Motors," said Agarwal at the Conclave.
While he didn’t get into IIT, the experience inspired him to create an affordable hotel brand that would be both clean and safe. He started Oravel Stays—which later became OYO in 2012. When his concept won him a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship for budding entrepreneurs in 2013, he dropped out of college to focus on building OYO.
"There were two things I learned in the fellowship program; the first was what was in the contract. The contracts first line said as Thiel fellows we never let university interfere with our education which means that education exists everywhere, university is just one of the ways to get it. So I felt this is fantastic you get paid not to go to university and you still learn on a lighter note ... The second thing that I learned was thinking very big," said Agarwal.
Agarwal, who joined Forbes' 30 Under 30 list in 2016, founded OYO in 2012 when he was 19. Two years after receiving its initial from Thiel, OYO completed its Series A funding round receiving $24 million.
"When I saw this opportunity (OYO Hotels) it looked big, because world is 90 percent hotel, it is a huge opportunity," said Agarwal.
The Indian firm has grown rapidly since its launch and claims it is the world's sixth largest hotel chain. As of last year, the company was valued at $5 billion after raking in $1 billion to fund its expansion into China and elsewhere globally.
Startup Stories is a series of accounts by startup entrepreneurs on how they built their businesses and found success. Read them here.
First Published: May 3, 2019 5:26 PM IST
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