Boy Wonder From Odisha Makes OYO $10 Billion Brand

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Bhubaneswar: Odisha-born Ritesh Agarwal, the founder of OYO, will invest $2 billion to triple his stake in the start-up he established in his teens.

Ritesh will buy shares from existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sequoia India, which will remain backers of the start-up, Bloomberg quoted an OYO statement.

The deal will raise OYO’s value to about $10 billion and Ritesh’s own shares will increase from 10% now to 30%.

Brand Builder

For millions of travellers, both domestic and foreign, the OYO has become synonymous with high quality rooms, good service and affordable prices. And the brain behind the company is this 24-year-old native of Rayagada district, Ritesh Agarwal, who founded the company back in 2013 when he was only 19.

Enterprising Kid

Ritesh was born in Bissamcuttack town in Rayagada district. Even as a kid, he yearned to do his own thing. His entrepreneurial nature first blossomed at age 13 when he started selling SIM cards. He followed it up with other ventures.

Ritesh credits his Odisha roots for igniting the early spark in him. “As a young kid (growing up in Rayagada in Odisha), I had the aspiration of doing something exceptionally different. A lot of people say if you have limited exposure, you’re handicapped. But I got more opportunities when I grew up in that place because as a young kid, more often than not, people would compare you on the basis of age rather than skills,” he recently told the Odisha Investor Meet in Bengaluru.

Convention Breaker

Ritesh studied for his engineering entrance exams in Kota. But books didn’t excite him. He knew that the conventional was not for him. He was more excited by the young and enterprising world around him and would sneak out to Delhi from Kota every weekend to meet and learn from entrepreneurs.

At an age when most of us were busy with college admissions and confused about career choices, Ritesh listened to his heart—he dropped out of college.

Stroke Of Luck

His dropping out of college was the biggest opportunity for this teen. This very fact made him eligible for the Peter Thiel fellowship, which “proved to be crucial in my journey as an entrepreneur”. Ritesh was the first Asian resident to have won the fellowship. “The acceptance rate is lower than the Ivy’s, but the catch is that you have to drop out of college,” he had told a convention way back in 2015.

The month-long programme at Stanford and a grant of $100,000 taught him to “think big”.

The Beginning

In 2011, at the age of 18, Ritesh founded Oravel, a platform for booking budget hotels, that later became OYO. He launched into extensive research and gaining first-hand experience to compensate for what he lacked in years.

For months, Ritesh travelled across northern India, staying in budget hotels himself, talking to customers every single day to learn the problems and expectations of his customer base. The young lad left no stone unturned in understanding the budget hotel industry and it finally, showed results. Oravel Stays Pvt. Ltd. was scaled to OYO in 2013. And Ritesh was a CEO at 19.

Incredible Journey

OYO, which is the acronym for ‘On Your Own’, started with one hotel in Gurugram in 2013. Today, the company has 8,500 hotels in 230 cities across India and has even launched in Malaysia. In just 3 years, OYO has been named as India’s largest budget hotel network.

The incredible journey of the boy wonder from Odisha can be best understood in his own words: “At the age of 19, I was clear about one thing—I did not want to build something that was another business. I wanted to create something that created a real impact. And if I lost, out, I would have great learning […] I will not build something that 1000 people kinda like, I will build something that 5 people will fall in love with.”

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