“If you have not failed, you have not hardened yourself.”
Coming from a 22 year old CEO, these words might seem a bit cocky. But when Ritesh Agarwal in conversation with Shruti Mishra at the recently held SURGE Conference in Bangalore, spoke these words, it looked like he did mean serious business. The recently concluded Zo Rooms acquisition under his belt, a budget room network with more than 45000 rooms, absolutely no foreign competitor breathing down his neck, and a staunch resolve to haul up customer satisfaction this year are some of the factors which keep Ritesh’s confidence going, who has apparently failed six times before he hit a homerun with OYO.
These are some of the things he spoke about at the conference, besides declaring, “We had competition in India six months back”, in context to the acquisition of Zo Rooms.
On Failing Six Times And Not Quitting
Ritesh confessed that given the fact that he hailed from a family which runs a small local business in Southern Orissa, business, at best, for him would have meant sitting at a shop. So even a software job would have been better than that. Hence there was no downside risk to his ambitions. So he decided to do something exciting. Said Ritesh, “Nothing would have gone worse from sitting at a shop-it would only be better. So I wanted to do something exciting. There’s a story about every entrepreneur. Normally, the first thing never works. First I started working with SMEs and giving services such as advertising, external sales for them. Post that I worked with guesthouses, helping them to advertise online as I was staying with them a lot. Then I realized that standardizing the experience would help them a lot better. So one thing led to the other. But if you have not failed, you have not hardened yourself.”He added,
“I knew if I had gone to college, I would not have done well. And then my family would hate me. So I felt if my family was to hate me anyway, I would rather do what I feel very excited about!”
“Everyone Thought Of Us As A Real Estate Business!”
As per Ritesh, the fact that something like OYO hasn’t been built before, presented its own set of challenges to him while he was talking to VCs. The first few months were a problem as every VC would ask if there’s a business similar to OYO, in China or US, and there was none. Says Ritesh, “In the first year everyone thought of us as a real estate business. No engineer would join us. So I would fly to Bangalore, tell people why we are a tech business, and then fly back with 3 engineers. That’s the reason it was difficult in comparison to other sectors. They started two months later when competition showed up. So it was easy to understand what’s going on. What we were doing was difficult to understand as people thought of us a real estate business, and thought the guy is very young, so he might not be that smart. Those times I felt helpless in some ways.”