History is always written by victors and victors only.
This statement has been embedded unto us from ancient times.
The story of Ritesh Agarwal is one such story.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ritesh Agarwal, he’s the CEO of the popular Delhi-based startup OYO. Born in Bissamcuttack, a village in Rayagada district of Odisha, Ritesh started coding when he was eight years old. By age 16, he was amongst the 240 children selected to be a part of the Asian Science Camp held at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai. When he was 17, Ritesh authored a best-selling book, The Encyclopedia of Indian Engineering Colleges. Ritesh became India’s youngest (aged 17) CEO when he was appointed as the CEO to the company Growth Partners.
Things changed once Ritesh found Oravel, an Indian version of the online rental site Airbnb. With a funding of Rs.30 lakhs from VentureNursery, his company grew. he was then selected for the Thiel Fellowship, a global contest in which he was the only winner from India. The fellowship is intended for students below the age of 20 and offers them a scholarship of $100,000.
Ritesh then discarded the idea of ORavel and changed his business to OYOstays, a marketplace for budget hotels. Thanks to the fellowship, Ritesh’s repetition as a young entrepreneur and a ‘coder’ spread rapidly and he was able to claim multiple funding rounds. His company is currently valued at $60 million.
In the year 2015 Kunal Pandya, CEO of a Gujarat-based startup NCrypted, said his company had licensed its vacation rental product Bistrostays to the founder when OYO Rooms was called Oravel. Pandya called Agarwal out on Twitter for his alleged coding skills. Pandya believes that the media is over-hyping Ritesh Agarwal. He elaborated further on how Ritesh carried out his saga of events which paved the way for OYO.
Pandya says he met with Ritesh Agarwal, and Agarwal asked Kunal Pandya to develop a website, an Indian version of Airbnb, (Indians have a habit of finding Indian versions of some popular American startups). Thus, Oravel was created. Agarwal didn’t have any money to pay Pandya for his services, hence he offered him an equity partnership. Somehow, in meantime Ritesh managed to secure investment for his venture. One thing led to another, he was soon able to bag the Thiel Fellowship which came in a with a scholarship of $100,000 and a Silicon Valley approval for his startup. With the funding coming in, Pandya claims Ritesh cut him out and bought him short and kept all the money for himself
Long story short, Ritesh Agarwal is a pure opportunist, he saw the opening and he seized it and today he is the CEO of a very successful startup. Sure, many consider the ways he’s achieved his goals to be unethical or a bad example for the ever growing startup environment in India, but every coin has two sides, perhaps his contenders are jealous of his recent success and are trying to paint him in a negative light. Many people look for shortcuts, though its not encourage, there is an uncertain certainty in shortcuts, one can never comprehend when he/she might get lucky. Shortcut or not, today Oyo is on the forefront of Indian Startup ecosystem while no one’s heard of Pandya.
The story of Ritesh surely teaches us a lesson. It teaches us to be true to ourselves and come out of the perpetual bubbles we build around ourselves trying to find a way out of our ordinary and mundane lives. Perhaps Ritesh is a coder and all of the fiasco was a well orchestrated lie or perhaps he isn’t a coder and he is a pure opportunist, but whatever he is, he sure has put OYO in the front.