Jul 26, 2019
34
 Min

Ritesh Agarwal

Building OYO — Decacorn in the Hotel industry

Podcast Summary

Podcast Summary

In this edition of the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, we have the man of the hour, Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO, largest hotel chain of India that is now operational in more than 60 countries. Ritesh talks about the early days of OYO, how he always had grand plans for OYO and was able to execute them with his able colleagues to scale his company to today’s levels.

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Ritesh remembers his childhood self as being the kid who always wanted to do different things. At the age of 13, he was selling sim cards just for the heck of it; at 18, he dropped out of college to start his first company Oravel, and got selected for the Thiel Fellowship, receiving a $100,000 grant from Peter Thiel, Founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook.

Spending time staying at friends’ places for a few months opened Ritesh to an exciting opportunity in the hotel industry. On the supply side, most hotels were passive investments for owners and had a fundamental problem of yield generation, with the asset owner wanting to get away from the daily headache of managing the asset. On the consumer side, there was a clear gap in availability of clean, well-organised, and well-designed hotel rooms at an affordable price. Ritesh saw absolutely no reason to not invest himself into solving this problem, and there has been no looking back since then.

Whenever I have two opportunities, risking it versus regretting it, I would always invariably choose risking it, because I never want to regret that I did not pursue something that I really wanted to do. So that’s sort of what inspired me to start the first OYO hotel”, he says.

Building the right team

OYO today has expanded to beyond just budget hotels, with its offerings featuring upmarket luxury resorts, a chic mid-market accommodation brand (Townhouse), and others. The core principle though has remained the same: “bringing beautiful living spaces to middle income persons world-wide”.

Talking about things that he got right, Ritesh feels building a phenomenal team that gave him a competitive leverage when it came to execution and always doing right by the customer and other partners in the ecosystem helped OYO achieve much of the success we see today.

Having spent time in the Bay Area very early, Ritesh learnt the importance of thinking big. While OYO doubled down their efforts in India, expanding to other geographies like China and Europe, a first from a consumer-facing startup from India. “Nobody in the Bay Area thinks that I want to be the biggest business in California. Everybody has a dream of being the most impactful company in their segment worldwide.”

Leveraging technology to scale

Ritesh has always had a focus on leveraging technology in his business. His 700 engineers in China and 700 engineers in rest of the world are constantly building new products and features that help OYO break the boundaries of language and culture through a superior experience. This, along with access to large capital and resources that come along with it, helped Ritesh understand the challenges and opportunities while entering new markets. Local talent has been a game changer, he says.

One of the most distinctive thing about the OYO story is the fact that Ritesh is all of just 25 years old today, which makes his feat seem even more incredible. He credits much of his personal growth to the management team he spends most of his time with who bring in years of experience across venture capital, consulting and operations.

Always curious to learn

Continuing to be field-oriented by learning from people who’re on-ground has helped Ritesh stay true to his entrepreneurial self and bring value to the table. Having a common mission that everyone was working towards, a transparent work environment that held each one accountable, and empowering his team members helped Ritesh keep age out of the picture when it came to team management and decision making.

On a closing note, the OYO founder talks about how he considers perseverance as the most valuable learning from his journey so far.

“I feel that perseverance has no replacement. Remembering that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and continuously investing in the same direction for a long period of time is the most important.”

Shrrinesh Bala

Below, we’ve shared an edited transcript of the conversation with Ritesh.

Episode transcript

Anand: Hey Ritesh, welcome to the podcast, thanks a lot for taking the time to chat with me and on behalf of all the founders who are gonna listen to this and learn a lot from this, thank you in advance. Welcome.

Ritesh: Thank you so much Anand for having me over. This is a great honour. I’ve been hearing your podcast for a while, and on the other hand look we are building the company and very early stages of it, but I’m very excited to be speaking to so many founders. I’ve learned a lot from my co-entrepreneurs worldwide and I hope the people who listen to this will also share some of the thoughts, feedbacks and suggestions to us.

Anand: Awesome, Thank you. So maybe for the very few who don’t know much about Oyo, the scale of Oyo, give us a quick background of where Oyo is today and then we’ll jump back to the beginnings.

Ritesh: Sure. Oyo is today among the world’s top ten hotel chains. We manage roughly upwards of six hundred fifty thousand rooms worldwide. Upwards of over ten countries. We are primarily based out of China and India. We are the second largest hotel group in China and the largest in India and operate everywhere from UK in the west to Japan in the East. We ended December last year at, you know, a net realised value run rate of roughly one point eight billion dollars. We are growing roughly four point three times year over year. And, you know we are still in the very early stages of our company. Our mission is to make sure that we can bring better living places for the common people across the world whether it is hotels, living, or any of the other segments that we operate in. To end with, you know we recently added @Leisure which is a European company, into the fold. And along with them, we would be operating in upwards of sixty countries across the world

Anand: Wow! That’s quite some scale. Congratulations. So I wanna go back maybe to your story. Start from wherever you wanna start. Childhood or before starting Oyo, maybe a quick background of yourself and then we’ll just jump into the early days of Oyo, if you don’t mind.

Ritesh: Sure Anand. So, I grew up in the eastern half of India, in the Odissa — Andhra Pradesh border. As a young kid, I sold FMCG products, sim cards and what not so, my upbringing and experience has been slightly different from traditional, you know BnB founders. I started my life on the ground selling sim card, telecom products and so on and learned a heck of a lot doing that. Long story short… [cross talk]

Anand: What age was this?

Ritesh: I was thirteen.

Anand: Wow! Ok. What made you do it?

Ritesh: You know there was … I was always sort of that kid who wanted to do different things. So there was no really… One reason that aspired me to do this, so during summers, this is a small town. It’s in the Andhra-Odissa border, so very few people know this. I can speak Odiya, Telugu apart from Hindi and a little bit of Rajasthani, so, truly Indian from that context. So the place where I was grewing, growing up, it was so small that there were very limited opportunities and I always wanted to do different things, so this just one of those things I guess.

Anand: Got it. And then you went to School in that town and then you… The first time I met you, you were all of seventeen or eighteen and starting a company. But just walk us, bridge that gap from thirteen to when when you started, started Oravel, I believe Oravel at that time.

Ritesh: Yes, that’s right. Right after my twelfth grade, I came to the northern half of India to a place called Kota, Rajasthan. And you know, I was naive enough, this was the time when a lot of new age companies where getting created. And that’s the time I listened to some fantastic entrepreneurs and I felt that you know, I wish I could work with one of them. Now, of course I knew none of that was possible so the other attendees beside me, I tried to work with some of them, and learn from them, work on, you know, really small projects once in a while. Long story short, right after my twelfth grade, the six months between school and university, and that is the time when I came to Delhi and I said that let me try and build a company of my own. And that’s how Oravel came into being Anand.

Anand: Got it. If I remember right, you went through one of the scholarships or something to start a company or remind me what happened there.

Ritesh: Yeah, so right after, so I started Oravel. That didn’t do that well. So I had to shut it down. Right after that, I had the opportunity to become a thiel fellow. So Peter Thiel is this guy who started Paypal, early investor in Facebook. You he ran a program… I saw him first by the way in this movie called the “Social Network”, in which he is writing this hundred thousand dollar cheque to Sean Parker, as one of the earliest investors in Facebook. So I tell to myself, how amazing would it be if I ever get an opportunity to meet him. And then I about him online and I find about this Thiel Fellowship. This is a program where he gives hundred thousand dollars to twenty people under the age of twenty. The acceptance rates are lower than Ivy leagues. However, there is a condition. The condition is you’ve to stop out of university. I feel that was fantastic. You get paid not to go to university. So that’s how I applied for it. There were bunch of other interviews but I was lucky that eventually I got selected as one of earliest Asian resident fellows. And then that’s how I moved to the Bay Area for some period of time.

Anand: This is when you were seventeen-eighteen right? Around about that time frame, post Oravel, before Oyo. [FUMBLE] So how was it at home or the kind of pressure you were going through because in India this is not done right. So, even in the US it’s not easy. But How did you manage like, what was happening.

Ritesh: Yeah so I was lucky that my parents lived, still close to my hometown back then. And even now, they moved to Bhubaneshwar, which is the same state. So they really had not much to know what was going on. They felt this was a six months between school and university and the next thing they realised is that I’ve gone and signed a contract saying that university should never interfere with education and I don’t want to pursue formal education for the next two years. So, by the time they got to know, they were very unhappy. And, you know, I think, I guess it’s only, It’s of course gotten much better than then, but I don’t think it’s fully resolved yet.

Anand: I’m sure by now they are very proud of you. So, but that took a lot of guts at that time to say that I’m dropping off then starting OYO, So may be walk us through the early days, the beginning, how did you come up with the idea

Ritesh: Yeah, so you know I think, I must also share, I’m thankful to few people in the community who helped me. So, you know in the early days, I don’t know if you know Abhishek from TIL, Rishi used to be CEO of Times Internet then. They actually met my parents trying to convince them why should, why they should let me drop out. So I think people have supported me. I sometimes funnily say that I’ve gotten support in times when most people would have very little belief on a young teenager wanting to make a difference. But going back to the early days, I think, you know right after Oravel, I’d made friends with a lot of these homeowners. So almost everyday, I would wake up and stay with one of them and stayed with almost one of them everyday for over a couple of months or roughly three months. So almost a hundred places. It was then that I realised that there is a fantastic opportunity, that there are ninety six percent hotels across the world which are a hundred rooms or lesser. However, every hotel chain is focused on making a difference to the hundred rooms or bigger hotels. So I felt wow that is a very exciting opportunity. We should absolutely invest in this direction. That is what inspired me to sort of say that let me set up the first OYO hotel. Because look, my downside was going back to university and that’s not a very big downside after all. So I felt even if there is ten percent chance of success, I’ll take it. And I think the perspective behind that has been, from the very early days, whenever I have two opportunities, risking it versus regretting it, I would always invariably choose risking it, because I never want to regret that I did not pursue something that I really wanted to do. So that’s sort of what inspired me to start the first OYO hotel. And the first asset was a fantastic success. It went from nineteen percent occupancy to ninety percent occupancy in the first month itself.

Anand: And at that time, just to be very clear, who was the customer and what was the problem you were trying to solve and both supply and demand side.

Ritesh: Sure. So the occupancy of nineteen percent.. Yeah…the property was not run in an efficient manner. And invariably these asset owners in India, basically have a different full time business. So, this hotel is almost like a passive investment that they’ve had. On the other side on the consumer side, finding a clean comfortable place, there was either the sixty seventy or maybe a hundred dollar hotel room that you’d get or everything you’ve got was really broken. So you’d get, you know, unclean places, people are not willing to attend to let alone getting places that were beautiful and exciting and inspired emotion. So, on the supply side, there was a fundamental problem of yield generation along with the asset owner wanted to get away from the daily headache of managing the asset. On the consumer side, you know the consumer just wanted a space that was well organised and well designed at the same time at a price point that was, you know, fair and attractive for an Indian consumer.

Anand: Got it. And for people who know OYO now versus then, is that, was that a big difference, or is this same value prop still holding for the core business.

Ritesh: So look, I think while a lot of principles remain the same, the company has evolved significantly. The company has evolved because we’ve built real competency to be able to make sure that, you know we can do this at scale. We have multiple brands. So we have a brand like townhouse which stands for the sheek mid market accommodations. You would have palette resorts which is a upmarket luxury resorts. So the product differs, but the problem statements, you know, of course broadly remains the same. But you know, when you are talking about a resort experience, the challenges are slightly different. The challenges that people don’t fundamentally get an authentic experience in a place like Pondicherry which we are able to create in a price point that was never thought of earlier. But really the principle is better products at lower prices. That sort of the proposition for the consumer that has remained similar all throughout.

Anand: Got it. And the first few years, walk us through that, like both how did you get supply demand, what were the key challenges, just walk us through that phase. Because most of the founders who are gonna be listening to this will hit those same challenges pretty soon.

Ritesh: Sure. I guess [FUMBLE] few learnings in the process. The first one, I’m sure Anand, you know Bejul, so Lightspeed was one of our earliest investors and we were I think I remember as thirty or forty hotels in Gurgaon. And we were doing really well in terms of the occupancy etc. for those of you who are not from India, Gurgaon is a part of the Delhi NCR region. So funnily, when that assets occupancies were all growing up and so on, as an entrepreneur you do all the hard things right. You pick up phone calls, you respond to emails, you do everything under the sun. Which is what I used to do and I used to really enjoy picking up phone calls and so on right. So Bejul would host me for a monthly lunch. And that, that’s a lunch I really really enjoyed because my best lunches used to be Haldirams and Bejul’s office, as you know Anand, is in a five star hotel. So you get relatively, you know, luxurious lunches. So, don’t tell this to Bejul But I would go there primarily for the lunches. So anyways, Bejul feeds me and then starts saying ‘so Ritesh I hear that you’ve been picking up phone calls and that’s where you spend a lot of your time doing this’. I said, ‘Yes Bejul, I love doing that. I love answering as many customers as I can’. So Bejul goes, ‘That’s fantastic. We found the leader of customer service for OYO. Now hire a CEO’. That when I understand and I said, ‘Bejul I get it, I think you know building a strong management group is something I should do sooner rather than later’. And I think since then I’ve invested and so have our broader management. I am so thankful to Maninder, Abhinav in the early days for the support they’ve provided. We recruited sort of one of the smartest and one of the best leadership teams among young companies across the world. Whether this is the quality of leaders we’ve recruited in India, China, UK, you know, Indonesia, Latin America, Middle East and so on. I think we’ve been very happy about the results of the leaders that we’ve recruited. On top of that we’ve never really lost any single senior leader in the history of our company. That’s the second thing that we’ve been very happy about. So with these two context changes, I think, that is the one big learning I’ve had, building the company over time. Second is Competency based investments. I think you know in the early days, what I realised very early is that really growing without having a secret sauce or a competency that is truly special for you is very hard. And Invariably that would make sure, that would enable competitors to come to your market. So the only true competitive leverage is being able to have secret sauces and competencies of making sure that you can do the same thing better than anybody else. Just to give you some context, we are today opening upwards of seventy five thousand rooms a month and at that scale, we are opening over ten times quicker than the world’s top three hotel chains combined. So the reason we are able to do that is because there are some things that are truly special about what we do at OYO and those things make us better, smarter than anybody else can replace or respond to. So the belief of every overnight success is a five year old story. And being able to continuously invest on the same thing every day, just a little bit better than yesterday, is the second thing that I’ve learned over a period of time. And I guess the third one is basically making sure that you know, doing the right thing period. Whether it’s your customers, your asset owners, your team members, profits, margins regardless of any matrix, really sort of taking a decision basis, you know, all the learnings you’ve had over the last few years. And the deep amount of thinking you’ve done on your long term aspiration and then doing the right thing, whether it is sort of saying in 2015, we had complaints on our customer service, we stopped growing for four months, no matter what our shareholders said. And I feel one of the best things we did in distribution, I think, we partnered MakeMyTrip and we partnered CTrip and [FUMBLE] and a lot of other leaders worldwide. And I guess one of the best things we did, while making sure that our direct distribution continued to grow, still we have ninety percent distribution which direct in India while making sure that together we’ve grown the pie with our distribution partners. All whether it is in terms of doing the right thing for our enterprise customers or it is for our travel distributors, so really doing the right thing at that period of time, no matter what is something that we believed, you know, has helped us. So they were three sort of macro stories if I were to share Anand.

Anand: Got it. And these are from the initial phases I’m assuming right, figuring out you’ve to build a good team and right and building the competencies that you talked about as well as focusing on doing the right thing for customers as well as the whole ecosystem. And if you reflect back across the years, I’m sure there were some inflection points. Can you talk about a couple of these and what were these and what happened during those times and what were the learnings then.

Ritesh: Yeah, I think, you know, there were a few inflection points, I think the first inflection point may be, you know was the very early days when we were just in Gurgaon, and you know this discussion with Bejul happened and then we brought in a lot of these strong leaders and that’s what really led to our big growth in India. If you remember, towards the 2016 early period and 2015 end, a lot of people really said that hey, OYO is not growing as quickly as people think and so on. I feel that was the time when we were really investing. That was the second inflection point. Where we were willing to make hard decisions for our customers. And I think that’s what really led to the growth. But because you’ve talked about both of these and then you know, those customer service investments and competencies led us to become a leading player in India. So, by 2018 early, everybody really knew that this company is able to make a real difference here in India and is a clear market category creator and champion. But then, that was a time when we were really preparing for our early investments in China. So China was a very important part of the inflection point of our company because that was really when we stopped thinking of ourselves as Asia, South Asia, South East Asia sort of a company and China really made us believe that we could make a big difference globally and if not globally, at least across Asia. And the reason we were able to make that investment is one, the large amount of investment of travel and you know, learning that our teams has had in China. Because we were learning from China. But in that process, we realised that to the extent we had the resources and competencies, the skill set and the management, we’d be able to make a big difference in China as well. And look, the kind of leadership that we knew or got to know in China included who worked for us or who work for OYO today is the world’s, you know, the person who ran one of the world’s largest logistics company’s recruitments. So he recruited over a hundred thousand people called SFexpress CHRO, the chairman of Pepsico China, who managed hundreds of thousands of people, this is sort of the team that we put together, in OYO China. And I think, China was really the big inflection point to really make OYO as a large Asian player and I think the next one is when we launched in UK last year, which is really, it gave us a context about how Europe can be a large exciting opportunity. And today we are opening almost a building a day in UK. You can’t miss an OYO hotel if you are driving in London or Glasgow, or Edinburgh or one of these places. And that really gave us a context of OYO’s ability of being a large global brand to the extent we can do the few things I just mentioned was special. So that’s sort of the broader context about a few inflection points which had a geographic relevance to that as well.

Anand: That’s very helpful. So in software, there are a bunch of companies that’ve gone from India going global. But on the consumer side, not too many companies have stepped out of the Indian boundaries right. So, India itself is a large enough market and people are focused here. So, talk us through that, how did you think through that, what made you do that and some learnings from early days of that, doing that.

Ritesh: Yeah, I think, look from our perspective I’ve personally been thankful for two things. The first one is the time I’ve spent in the Bay Area very early. I think around that period of time, I think the one thing that I absolutely learned, was thinking big is very important. I think to the extent, thinking and having a big mission is concerned, no matter how small your company is or which corner you run your business in, nobody in the Bay Area thinks that I wanna be the biggest business in California. Everybody has a dream of being the most impactful company in that segment worldwide. I think that was one and the second bit was mission orientedness. I think from day one, OYO has not been a commercial endeavour. It’s been really a mission for all of us. And our mission has been that how do we really bring a beautiful living space for a middle income person in every part of the world, no matter what. And I think to the extent where both of these were true, you know, we were willing to risk it versus regret it. And the good news is, you know, while doing any of these, the lion share of our investments, time, efforts etc. we continued to put in India. We continued to believe that India is one of our strongest core markets and we’ll continue to double down our investments here, but while doing that the results that we saw in some of the other markets, made us very excited.

Anand: Got it. That’s helpful. So, tell us a little… talk to us, I’ve spoken to your tech team and all that, so I understand all that goes behind the scenes to a certain extent, love to understand what is it that helps you scale across boundaries here. Right so, talk to us a little bit more about that aspect.

Ritesh: So I guess technology is one of the strongest competencies there, one of the things that’s not talked a lot about is our engineering teams. We have a large group of engineers from India, Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe, which supports our large global organisation and then we have an equal number of engineers in China. So you think about, roughly, say worldwide seven hundred engineers, seven hundred for the world and seven hundred in China itself. And the kind of things these guys are building, to be able to ensure that you can grow almost seamlessly is very special. So for example, housekeeping guys receive a mobile app, which is able to make sure that a certain room needs to be cleaned as a notification leading to the room getting cleaned and then being able to predict whether the quality of the cleaning was good enough or not. Something like this is one of the hundreds of stacks that get created on a regular basis. That ensures, that regardless of language, culture, all of these are slightly different in all the markets you operate in, but technology is a very special leveller. And I think that’s been a very important investment that has been able to help us to break boundaries.

Anand: Got it. And how about understanding the customer, or the supply and demand. So India Itself is a microcosm of many different cultures and all that. So you’ve cracked that, but going to China and going to the UK, were there any differences there as you scale their?

Ritesh: Sure. Look in the… I think, it’s a very entrepreneurial perspective, where you need to as an entrepreneur, be able to spend significant amount of time and effort understanding the consumers and asset owners. So in India, we operate over four hundred cities. So we are among the most physically distributed businesses in India, that operating a business in four hundred plus cities with twelve thousand plus buildings under management, growing over three times year over year, is a fairly complicated business to build. And we were able to sort of build this with high quality of management along with high level of understanding of the ground and the field. So, we’d had enough understanding of how a city in the northeastern part in Arunachal Pradesh will create a certain value versus what that would be for Kodaikkanal versus what would be for Northern Punjab. Adding to the extent we are able to understand and appreciate that in India, I think a lot of other markets across the world become relatively easy. I think, those would be the two answers. I think the first one is you know, high level of entrepreneurial investment. The second one is being able to make sure that, you know, you learn and fix in your home market and when you do that, being able to execute in other markets is easy. And I guess the third one, which is something that, you know, is talked quite a bit about as well is these resources, I think having the resources that we’ve had as OYO, thanks to our shareholders, in Sequoia, Softbank, Grab, Didi, Airbnb, I think we’ve been very thankful to have that to be able to invest. And I guess the last one is just local talent. People in each of these countries who are very strong leaders, are able to make sure that they can bring unique value to the company and understand the challenges and opportunities.

Anand: Got it. This is very helpful. So, this gives an overview of the journey that you’ve been through with OYO in less than half an hour, as much as we can get. So I wanna switch gears and talk about you as a person, as a founder, and as a CEO. How have you scaled? Some of the lessons along the way. How have you personally scaled as a founder entrepreneur?

Ritesh: So, I think, from the broader perspective, personally for me, I’ve been very lucky to surround myself with the quality of management that is you know, the benchmark in the industry more broadly. So people such as Abhinav, Maninder, Kavi, Anil, Aditya, Rohit, these are some of the best people in the industry and the best people in, sort of, problem solving that you could effectively get. And I think, the opportunity to have surrounded yourself with all of them and then the opportunity to surround yourself with the kind of leaders who OYO gets to surround itself with, are two most special things which ensures that we are driving in a certain direction and everyday learning something new. So from my perspective, most of my growth has come from being surrounding myself with the right kind of people while making sure that I am very field oriented. I still spend majority of my time learning from people on the ground because I think that, that’s essentially what makes an entrepreneur’s value proposition unique. And to the extent I can keep bringing that value on the table, that would always remain a special value that is added.

Anand: Got it. So surrounding yourself with good people and at the same time being field oriented, that’s great. So, may be just, as you were scaling initially, walk us through some of, how did you figure out how to manage all these people? I’m sure many of them were much older than you, all kinds and you were lot more about certain specific areas and all that. And How did you go about doing that? Any tips for the first time founders who are listening in?

Ritesh: Yeah, look I think, you know managing and working with such a large group is generally a complicated task. But I think there have been two principles that have helped me in this direction. The first one is making sure that people understand that whatever we are driving towards is mission first. To the extent people understand that any decision that I take on any direction, or any communication, any conversation I have is all about the mission first. This is much easier for people to be able to appreciate why something is being said. Second bit is, specifically about, how do we think about making sure that accountability and meritocracy is very strongly upheld on a daily basis. Which means metrics and success is more valuable than that of anything else that could exist. I think these are two things which is making sure that high levels of accountability and metric driven success which is meritocracy, and high levels of mission oriented and mission first decision. This is something that a lot of board meetings, I’m sure Anand you’d say, that what’s right for the company. And I think asking that question at every level in the company make sure that operating and making decisions become so much more easier. And I guess, you know this is something that goes for everybody, I mean every monday morning we have a leadership meeting and I start preparing for it from sunday afternoon. Because I want to make sure that when I stand up and present what I have done for the previous week, I do a darn good job at it because that’s how people will understand that well if Ritesh doesn’t do a good job, he can be beaten up, which means that I gotta do that myself. I think these have been a few learnings about how do you operate together with such a group of leaders.

Anand: Got it. Maybe I’ll go through a few specific things. I was recently reflecting on some of the… what I call founder superpowers and I tweeted about it also recently. Love to hear your thoughts on some of these. This is… and then if you don’t have a strong perspective, that’s fine. But just wanted to get your sense for some of these, like we talked about ability to attract great talent, which you mentioned number of times. But the ability to empower and delegate right, so did that come naturally to you or you had to develop that?

Ritesh: So look I think, to begin with, you know, a lot of these things, first, I personally believe that there is an opportunity for an entrepreneur or a founder to create a superpower but I guess superpower only gets created to the extent that you build it with many other people who have the founders mindset. Sorry for the complicated perspective, I just meant to say that starting a company is not enough to be a founder. Being able to make sure that at every trench you’re problem solving and making decisions right for the company. I guess that’s equally important for an entrepreneur, which is why we generally call ourselves Oyopreneurs. Because we generally, fundamentally and genuinely believe that whatever we do, we do for the right well being of the company. I think the second is, you know, to the extent you are making decisions with that context and that principle in mind, I believe that you know those superpowers come with every failure, every success and every discussion, every meeting, every metric that you track. To the extent you are thinking like an entrepreneur in each of those places, I guess the superpower keeps getting stronger.

Anand: Got it. And some of the other ones, I’d love for you to pick one, any of these that you think make sense for you right, personally. [FUMBLE] there is this book called ‘Radical Candor’ which I really like, for a leader to be very upfront with their team members and people around. And be upfront about giving feedback also then and there, right. Any thoughts on that, as you scale as a founder?

Ritesh: You meant the founder’s mentality.

Anand: No. So let’s say you see [FUMBLE] something not going the way you wanted right. So and giving that feedback then and there, being candid about it, and just being upfront and addressing that issue headon without getting personal about it.

Ritesh: Yeah, No. Absolutely. This is exactly the way how great companies could be built, which is constant ability of being able to make sure that company and mission first. This is not just true for founders or founder mentality for any leader. You know, This is, if you go to the old Toyota factories, right beside that, they used to have what they call the ‘Kaisen’, where they’d always write how they have fundamentally improved something from better than last year. Because almost everybody had that mindset of saying that whatever we do, we gotta make Toyota a little bit better than what it was earlier. I think to the extent, everybody in the organisation can have the same cultural perspective, same mission, that can fundamentally make companies special and can bring founder superpowers to almost everybody in the organisation.

Anand: The continuous learning and improvement right, which you are talking about, right. [INAUDIBLE] Absolute. That’s great. And for doing that you’ve to be open to feedback, open to criticism and just continue like as a founder as well as hopefully inculcating that in the team.

Ritesh: It is the most important. As a founder, you should be the person who is most open to critical feedback and challenges because a lot of times, in case you are not yourselves making yourselves open to feedback and criticism, it is almost assumed that you are not okay. Because that’s what the standard culture in organisations is. So I guess it’s very important to push people and inspire them to be able to challenge you, ask you more questions, and remind people that it is not for people having a problem with you. This is people saying that, they believe and want OYO to be or the company to be as successful as you’d want to be and for that extent they want.. They need to be transparent. They need to be able to challenge and push you further. To make sure all of us are in the same direction of making this mission more exciting and more impactful.

Anand: For that the founder.. And for that matter any senior leader needs to be open to hearing views opposing to you right. And be humbled and be open to that kind of feedback. Yeah it’s great. So maybe just last couple of questions. Any other resources, techniques, mentors, whatever you wanna…. You talked about your board members, investors, but they are not… anything outside of that, that really helped you along the way as you scaled? Shoutout to books, anything that has helped you right. You already talked about the time you spent in the Bay Area, which is awesome.

Ritesh: So you know, I do the audiobooks a lot. Try to listen when I’m on the road. And I spent quite a bit of time between Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, which is all very highly traffic cities. So I get to listen to the books a little bit. I think the second one is just constantly being curious. I think I’ve learned that the amount of knowledge that resides around you is just unfathomable. The only question is are you looking at it and saying that I’ve nothing to learn or are you looking at it and saying that probably I don’t know any anything and I want to be as curious as I can to learn as much as I could. And I feel curiosity has been an.. And being intrigued usually is one of the things that has helped me quite a bit, I guess.

Anand: Got it. That’s helpful. Any other advice for first time founders? Just think back to your original days, like when you were starting out, and especially for founders who are still in school or colleges or at a crux.. Or contemplating starting up.

Ritesh: So, regardless of age group, I think perseverance is the single most valuable learning I’ve had. I’ve a short career. I’m still learning and am building my career. But I feel that in my short learning, perseverance has no replacement. Remembering that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and continuously investing in the same direction for a long period of time is the most important. And that’s something that I’ve learned in the short experience.

Anand: That’s awesome. And on that note, thank you so much for taking the time, this has been extremely helpful. There were lot of good lessons here for the founders to take away, who all listening. Thanks Ritesh for your time on this.

Ritesh: Thank you so much Anand. I look forward to seeing you sometime soon.

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Host

Anand Daniel
Partner, Accel

Anand is one of the partners at Accel India. He has lead investments in companies like swiggy, bounce, blackbuck and more. Investing since 2006, Anand focuses on investments in consumer technology, online marketplaces, and healthcare technology at Accel.

Guests

Ritesh Agarwal
Founder & CEO, OYO Rooms

Ritesh Agarwal is an Indian entrepreneur, billionaire and the founder and CEO of OYO Rooms.

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