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Ritesh Agarwal: From Selling SIM Cards to Become Youngest Self-made Billionaire

Ritesh Agarwal: From Selling SIM Cards to Become Youngest Self-made Billionaire

Who is Ritesh Agarwal

Ritesh Agarwal is the founder and CEO of the world’s most pocket-friendly hospitality and app- OYO Rooms which is a network of 2,200 hotels operating in 154 cities all over India and has $3.5m monthly revenues and 1500 employees. He is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire after Kylie Jenner and got the award for the same in February 2020. For his efforts and achievement, Agarwal has received numerous prizes and medals, including the Business World Young Entrepreneur Award. He is a fellow of the Thiel Foundation and a regular speaker at entrepreneurial conferences and institutes throughout the world. Agarwal graduated from St. John’s Senior Secondary School with a high school diploma.

Early Life: Family and Education

Ritesh Agarwal was born on 16th November 1993 in Titilagarh, Odisha, India, in a Marwari family. Ritesh comes from a family that used to own and operate a small shop in Rayagada, Odisha, and he received his education from Sacred Heart School in Rayagada. At the age of 13, he took up his first project which involved travelling to various parts of the country. While travelling he examined closely how the hospitality industry functions. Even though his parents’ desire was to see him successful in studies, he had his heart in something better than that. Ritesh got a considerable exposure to the hospitality industry by travelling around the world.

Ritesh Agarwal who is running one of the most valuable start-ups in India was studying engineering when he dropped out of college. Once, to make his living and being scared of his parents that if they came to know he was not living in good condition, they would call him back, he began selling SIM cards. He was just thirteen years old. He finished his schooling from St. Johns Senior Secondary School.

He went to Kota in Rajasthan for the preparation of the IIT entrance exam. There he was more interested in travelling to Delhi and talking to people who were engaged in their own businesses and doing things in their own way. He went to Delhi for college in 2011. He was also preparing for the SAT to continue his education in the USA but that was just a side option.

He also liked to spend his time with computers and would try to learn something new by finding opportunities to make new mistakes. Being keenly interested in software, he borrowed programming books from his elder brother. He learnt some basic languages like Pascal from his school, and out of curiosity he learnt some other programming languages from google. Ritesh Agarwal also wrote a book titled- Indian Engineering Colleges: A Complete Encyclopaedia of Top 100 Engineering Colleges.” The book was a huge success on Flipkart and sold in great numbers.

Entrepreneur Journey

As he was an avid traveller and faced a lot of problems finding pocket-friendly hotels with basic facilities, he thought of starting a venture which could solve this problem. But before that, he did some groundwork. At the age of 19, he travelled for months and stayed in budget hotels briefly and even attended customer calls every day just to know the experience and expectations of the customers who visited the hotels. Being confident in this opportunity disguised as a problem, he launched his first venture in 2012- “Oravel Stays”. It was an aggregate of bed and breakfast. As a matter of fact, this would also benefit property owners who were looking for short- and medium-term rents.

After some time, he managed to get Rs 30 lakhs funding from Mumbai based start-up accelerator Venture Nursery in 2012. In 2013, he dropped out of college and had qualified for the Thiel Fellowship which gave him $100,000 meant for entrepreneurs below 20 years and who started their own businesses. Oyo is an abbreviation of ‘on your own’ which indicates that Ritesh could understand the plight of people who had to travel to different places but only get filthy and crappy places without basic facilities just because they are on a budget.

He turned to social media platforms and asked people’s ideas and experiences about all the places they have travelled. Taking the insights from the people and getting inspired from the business model of Airbnb, Ritesh Agarwal relaunched Oravel as Oyo Rooms in May 2013. Tata first dot award named him in top 50 entrepreneurs in 2013. Also, he was named as one of the 8 hottest teenage start up founders in the world by Business Insider in the same year. In 2014, he received the Tie Luminous entrepreneurial excellence award and the very next year won the Business world young Entrepreneur award.

Recent Achievements

The start-up had raised $1 billion by September 2018. Agarwal reportedly tripled his interest in the company by purchasing $2 billion in shares in July 2019. In February 2020, he became the world’s second youngest self-made billionaire. He is a member of Forbes’ Asia’s 30 Under 30 list. Under his guidance, OYO, based in Gurugram, quickly grew from India to Malaysia and the United States, and is now available in 80 countries and over 800 cities. In 2017, Agarwal made one of his greatest risks by launching OYO in China.

SoftBank, Hero Enterprise, China Lodging Group, and ride-hailing companies Grab and Didi Chuxing were among the investors. In July 2019, Agarwal announced a $1.5 billion stock repurchase and a $500 million investment in OYO, valuing the company at $10 billion. Recently, for the new year eve of 2022 Oyo had more than 1mn booking, generating Rs,110 crore.

Final Words

Ritesh Agarwal started very young and still he is just 28 and has lots of milestones to achieve. His inspiring story offers the learnings that can become a guiding light for other wannabe entrepreneurs. His ability to solve a problem and create a business out of it tells us his unique thinking and resourcefulness.  

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