With a portfolio that comprises more than 31,000 hotels and 1,25,000 vacation homes, OYO Hotels & Homes offers over a million rooms to customers globally. Today, OYO Hotels, together with its vacation homes category managed under OYO Homes, Belvilla and DanCenter brands, enjoys a presence in 80 countries, including the US, the UK, India, Malaysia, Middle East, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan and several countries in Europe. What’s more amazing is that this incredible achievement has been pulled off by a first-generation entrepreneur—Ritesh Agarwal— now 25, who started this venture when he was just 19!
Ritesh Agarwal was born in the Rayagada district of Odisha. Hailing from a middle-class family, he harboured dreams of starting his own business, from a young age. After completing high school, he moved to Kota in Rajasthan for higher studies, while preparing for engineering entrance exams through private coaching classes. Simultaneously, he would travel to Delhi to attend start-up events, where he would be inspired by stories of entrepreneurs from around the world. He proceeded to Delhi to pursue his graduation, but ended up dropping out of college. “I wanted to utilise the time in building my business. Since I was very sure that I wanted to start on my own and couldn’t wait to begin, college didn’t seem like making the best use of my time. Moreover, I believed in what Mark Twain famously said, ‘I never let my schooling interfere with my education’,” quips Agarwal.
Setting up shop
Agarwal’s preferred line of business was listing diverse ‘assets’ (such as vacation homes, hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts) online, and to this end he launched Oravel Stays in 2012. In the process, the owners of a lot of those assets that were listed had become his friends, he recalls, and he began staying with them. As he travelled on a shoestring budget and stayed in over a hundred different accommodation facilities across the country—one day at each, for about three months—Agarwal made a couple of big, momentous observations. The first was that there was a fantastic business opportunity waiting to be tapped, given that 96 per cent of hotels across India and the world at large have less than 100 rooms. “Since every hotel chain was dedicated to making a difference, but only to the hotels which had 100 rooms or more, I felt this was a very exciting opportunity and I should invest in this direction,” says Agarwal. The second observation was that there was a huge gap between demand and supply of quality living spaces. “When I had to lodge in some unsatisfactory guest houses, I realised that I was looking at the wrong end of the rope. The problem was not the lack of availability of budget hospitality options—it was that the majority of mid-market and economy hotels lacked the minimum baseline standards of quality and service delivery,” he adds. These observations marked a turning point in Agarwal’s career in that they set him on the path to founding OYO Hotels & Homes. Instead of merely aggregating assets on a website, it was time to upgrade the stay experience for customers by using technology and talent, and he was now ready to do it.
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