I remember meeting OYO’s Ritesh Agarwal on the sidelines of the Fortune 40 Under 40 event in Bengaluru about a year-and-a-half back. I had first interacted with Ritesh and Maninder Gulati (Mandy) around two years ago when I was trying to raise capital for Innov8. Just a month after the Bengaluru event, I got a message from Mandy for possible synergies and the rest, as they say, is history!
Back then, we just had one centre. As of July 2019, when we formally announced the launch of OYO Workspaces, Innov8 had 16 centres across 6 cities. Things were looking up for Innov8. Our design, community, ability to raise capital from landlords and asset-light approach were hot topics of discussions in the country’s growing (and hyped?) coworking culture.
Stepping back to a few months before that. I have been working closely with the entire OYO leadership team since the end of 2018 (over 18 months now). While we were doing our due diligence & moving ahead with the process of OYO’s acquisition of Innov8, I was amazed at the decisiveness and razor-sharp focus OYO had in closing transactions. Despite routine challenges in such engagements, our journey was insanely comfortable. Just imagine passing through a rough road in a Mercedes-Maybach – the suspensions are so agile that you don’t feel any discomfort inside the car! It was a similar feeling.
So, the D-day finally arrived and Innov8 became OYO. Like every founder, I was insanely attached to my ‘baby’ and possessive about it. However, today, after being part of the OYO Workspaces leadership, I can confirm that there was never a single second when I felt that OYO Workspaces is not my ‘baby’. The respect, honour and entrepreneurial freedom that I have got from OYO is simply brilliant.
I always tell people how, five years back, I was at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital doing the ‘doctor stuff’ and how running startups has been an overwhelming experience in comparison. OYO has taken this feeling several steps further. Once you are an OYOpreneur, you love everything about your job.
As an OYO leader, and unlike in a lot of large companies, here you have the freedom to make decisions, take action, grow quickly, learn from your mistakes and move forward with fresh energy every day.
During the initial phase of the acquisition, I was naturally sceptical about my teams’ retention and how they would absorb the change. But it was comforting that each and every Innov8 employee was properly inducted, nurtured and happily welcomed into the OYO family. They, too, loved being a part of the ‘new’ organisation where they felt at home. In fact, as many as 85% of my old colleagues are still with OYO Workspaces and a majority of them are now managing enhanced portfolios.
Now coming to what we have achieved together. I truly believe that without OYO’s backing and expertise across Operations, Finance, Transformation and Leadership teams, we would not have grown the way we have in the past few months. Today, OYO Workspaces has 25 centres across 11 cities, and it is enabling multi-thousands of professionals to benefit from our ergonomically designed workspaces.
As a result of the acquisition, our leadership team also became a part of OYO, bringing together some of the industry stalwarts from various backgrounds. I still remember my first conversation with Rohit (Kapoor) on the way forward for the coworking business. He told me that we must continue to listen to customers and model our business in a way that enables increased access. His valuable input helped us revisit OYO Workspaces’ philosophy to ensure enhanced access to our beautiful and functional workspaces. As a result, OYO Workspaces is today one of the fastest-growing managed workspaces companies in India!
Coming to the work culture at OYO. I know that a lot has been said about it recently. I also know that it is extremely easy to judge a company from the outside. Perceptions can be faulty and negative when there is not enough context or accurate information. I live in East Delhi and my actual workplace is in the same area.
Still, I love undertaking a five-hour commute at least thrice a week to visit our corporate office. Not because my physical presence is required there, but because I love the vibe in that office and its employee-first culture.
Say whatever you may, there is no denying that in around 80 months since its inception, an Indian startup is today present in 80 countries, and serving millions of customers. This is unprecedented in the history of startup culture in India (or even global) and we must give credit where it’s due.
At a time when a lot of founders are liquidating their stock to earn monetary exits, there is one Ritesh Agarwal who’s doubling down his risk and investing back into the company because he is confident about its future and value proposition. As a founder myself, this is something worthwhile to learn from this 26-year-old founder!
Today, OYO is in the news for letting go of some of its team members as it charts 2020 priorities to commit to sustainable growth, operational excellence and profitability. Like for every organisation, the decision has not been an easy one for OYO’s management. I can also share it confidently that the company has gone above and beyond in ensuring the well-being of its departing colleagues in several ways. After all, for the world, these may be just numbers, but for all of us, they have been colleagues, friends and even more! These are people we shared meals with and bonded with on a daily basis. And while we may no longer share our workplace with them anymore, we will continue to stand strong with them.
Such decisions, however hard they may be, represent the basic truth for every organisation and startup wherever it is. If we keep emotions aside for a moment and think objectively, there is nothing wrong about an organisation’s decision to revamp strategies or learn from the past.
OYO is also not the first or the only organisation that has undertaken this exercise. Every business must continue to keep itself relevant at all times.
Today, repeat customers and word of mouth alone account for more than 90% of OYO’s business in India. Imagine how India was before OYO where there was a massive dearth of affordable and good-quality hotels in the unbranded budget hotel category. Today, thousands of guests across the length and breadth of the country do not have to think twice before travelling because they trust OYO to take care of their hospitality needs at jaw-dropping price points.
That being said, is OYO perfect? As we speak NOT at all yet. Time and again, its senior leaders have publicly said that they are learning every day and that they are ready to constantly evolve to meet the changing consumer demands. That inspires me. I would be surprised if any company says that it has found the perfect strategy. As an entrepreneur myself, I understand that taking easy decisions alone does not build a successful business. My dad always says that there are 4 kinds of people – first is the batsman; second is the commentator; third is the audience watching from the stands; and, fourth is the world watching on their TV sets.
It’s very easy to criticise the batsman by the rest. But it takes a lot to stand firmly on the pitch and help your team win.
My blog may be biased, but it is with deep conviction and authenticity that OYO has positively impacted millions of lives in the country. And as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, for the time that you spent reading my blog, over 2500 OYOs were booked around the world – including by those who could probably not afford to stay in a hotel before OYO.
And that’s what matters the most!