A nightmare of checking into a hotel made 18-year-old college dropout Ritesh Agarwal four years later, the CEO of Oyo rooms, a network of 1000 hotels operating in 35 cities across India. The monthly revenue is $3.5m (£2.3m).
The bitter experience of encountering a sleeping receptionist, torn mattress, leaky bath and non-acceptance of card payment in the hotel he checked in, made him think and come out with a solution to make it comfortable for travelers in India. He started to work with unbranded hotels improved their facilities and trained staff, rebranded them with their own name. Finally, he earned a percentage of the hotel’s revenues.
Oyo’s branding helps the hotel owner with a higher occupancy rate. Mr Agarwal has also developed an app, which guests can use to book rooms, get directions to the hotel and once they have arrived, to use the hotel’s amenities, for example, to order room service. Initially, nobody believed him but when people started taking interest in him and his idea, he was awarded Thiel Fellowship by PayPal co-creator and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel which pays for 20 teenagers each year to set up a business.
He used the funding from the fellowship to start the business in June 2013 with just $900 (£586; €799) a month, working with one hotel in Gurgaon near Delhi. Then he drew the attention of investors by comparing his hotel with other branded hotels. Now the business has grown, and the firm recently secured $100m from Japan’s Softbank.
He grew up in Rayagada a small town in the eastern Indian state of Orissa and started writing computer code at the age of eight using his brother’s books. By the time Mr Agarwal was 13, he had started helping people in his town design websites. He also wrote a book on engineering colleges in India when he was 17 years old, aimed at helping students choose the right course and college in India.
Now, he plans to go global. He hopes to create the world’s largest network of hotel rooms. He feels optimistic about expanding the company at home, saying India’s increasing smartphone and internet penetration offers “huge potential”. “Start early” is his advice for entrepreneurs.