From coding software at the age of eight, becoming a part of a global annual forum for improving science in Asia, authoring a book on top 100 Indian engineering colleges, starting a consulting firm for foreign companies entering India, dropping out of college and becoming the first Indian Thiel fellow, to pivoting Oravel Stays to OYO Rooms and making it a $5 billion private enterprise, Ritesh Agarwal has come a long way. What lies ahead for him is to become the world’s largest hotel chain by continuing to stay innovative. “While one is in the process of coming up with a truly innovative solution, it is essential to keep an open mind,” Agarwal said in a tete-a-tete with Sandeep Soni. Below are the edited excerpts – part 2.
While India and China remain your biggest markets but how do you see the graph moving ahead particularly with respect to your US foray?
You are right. India and China are two of our biggest and home markets. In fact, China is bigger than India for us in terms of room count. We have over 500,000 rooms in China and more than 270,000 rooms in India. In addition to these two markets, the US is our third home market and it is the fastest scale-up for us in any market globally, with over 100 hotels in a short span of time. The US has the potential to be a large market in the future. Indonesia had a stagnant growth but has taken off in a big way. We have over 21,000 keys in Indonesia. I think as we go forward, China, India, the US and Indonesia will continue to be our biggest markets. The focus in Europe continues to be on vacation homes while we are catering to the growing demand for quality, affordable accommodations in the Middle East.
Talking of innovation, when you say you will be the world’s largest hotel company, how does the innovation look to you from the top?
While one is in the process of coming up with a truly innovative solution, it is essential to keep an open mind. One should accept failure, and be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn again. We have always believed that an overnight success story is backed by at least five years of dedicated hard work and perseverance. At OYO, we have been able to instil innovation throughout the company by inculcating the ability to make sure that the company and mission come first. This is not just true for the management but also for all OYOpreneurs.
Another way through which we instil innovation is in hiring the right leaders. We have never lost any single senior leader in the history of our company when large Indian startups have faced huge churn due to the innovative philosophy of ‘Distributed Leadership’ to expedite decision making in the company and retaining top talent from the beginning. This diversified group of leaders hold the key to our growth.
How have you deployed technology both on the supply and demand side?
Technology has always been a key differentiator for OYO. As an intersection of real estate, hospitality and technology, OYO has over 20 technological products that power various business verticals. At present, OYO offers multiple app-based solutions both for its customers, employees and asset partners including our Property Manager app for managing all daily functions of the property and Owner App for asset owners to have complete visibility of his business. Then there is OYO AGMs (key contacts for guests and hoteliers in a certain geographical area) that use Krypton for auditing OYO hotels. Our AI-based algorithms help the chain in predicting the most suited properties at the best location at the correct price for its customers. Also, our integration with AI-based bots has enabled property owners to assist customers.
Having scaled significantly both as a business and an entrepreneur, any thoughts on giving back to society?
There are causes that are dear to me personally including encouraging entrepreneurship, improving livelihoods as well as helping humanitarian rescue and relief efforts. I am only 25 now and have a long way to go personally but I am considering a few ideas that will help me make a meaningful contribution. You will soon hear about this.
From an organisational perspective, we formalised a concrete CSR program called OYO Reach that assists in several causes including installing rainwater-harvesting systems in water-deficient cities, harnessing technology and resources towards cultivating a culture of sustainability, focus on skill development, and economic opportunity creation in the cities where we operate and help to boost the local tourism.
Lastly, on a lighter note what are your marriage plans since you are probably among the most eligible bachelors of India Inc.?
(Laughs!) My mom is surely worried that the fact that I don’t have a college degree will impact my chances of finding a bride.