College Dropout to Billionaire: How Ritesh Agarwal Disrupted the Hospitality Sector
Many revolutionaries dropped out of college to upturn their respective sectors. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are some notable college dropout entrepreneurs. With India being so focused on education, dropping out of college is a distant dream for most, which is exactly why Ritesh Agarwal stands out, as he dropped out to build one of the largest groups of hospitality chains in the country: OYO.
👶🏼 Early days
Ritesh was born and brought up in the state of Odisha. He heard the word entrepreneur for the first time when he was just 8 years old. He wanted to be an entrepreneur at such an age despite not knowing what it meant. He was passionate about computers and technology and was also a passionate traveller.
🎒 The Journey
He went to college for two days thinking he’ll be back for the third but that never happened. He picked up his bag and went on to explore India. He would email hotels and resort owners to let him stay at their place for free or give some discounts. Some listened to his requests and others did not. During the journey, he travelled to around 100 locations and spent time at over 200 properties across India.
On his expedition, he realised there was a lack of affordable stays. To address this issue, he started a company called Oravel Stays which was India’s first marketplace for hotels, bed & breakfasts etc. However, it faced a lot of issues because the users would complain about torn bedsheets and owners not picking up their calls.
🤝🏼 The Thiel Fellowship
He didn’t see Oravel Stays as a setback but rather as a stepping stone. Ritesh applied for the Thiel Fellowship where Peter Thiel gives $100,000 through his foundation to college dropouts to work on their revolutionary ideas. The acceptance rate for Thiel Fellowship is less than most top Ivy League colleges. Ritesh applied for it and surprisingly got in and he was mentored by other successful entrepreneurs. Ritesh made OYO a reality and soon, it became the answer to people’s unsatisfactory hospitality experiences.
The boy who was once evicted from his rented apartment for not paying the rent, who slept on a staircase, founded OYO. OYO has more than 2,700 hotel partners and has a valuation of $9 billion in January 2022.