Ritesh Agarwal, 30, is the newest and youngest addition to Shark Tank India 3. The OYO Rooms founder and CEO, in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, opened up about his experience on the show Shark Tank India 3, and termed it ‘fascinating.’ Ritesh who has been following the show for years, shared how it is as real as it could be, amid funding allegations and claims of show being scripted. Also read: Shark Tank India 3, Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal joins panel along with OYO Rooms founder Ritesh Agarwal
How would you define your experience on Shark Tank India with other Sharks, especially being one of the youngest?
Fascinating, because essentially people feel through the show that entrepreneurship is as much appreciated as any other art or skill. I remember my first pitch. Right from there on the show, Amit Jain (co-founder and CEO of CarDekho) gave me feedback. Of course, with Vinita Singh, Namita Thapar, and Piyush Bansal, it has been an amazing experience. They are not only brilliant entrepreneurs, but great co-Sharks.
This is your television debut, What was most challenging about about the show?
I think it wasn’t easy. We, as entrepreneurs, are used to taking our time. But here, someone comes to pitch, and you have instantly made a decision right after asking the right questions. It’s almost like mental jogging. I think it’s really a huge deal for entrepreneurs, especially financially, whether you invest or not. Regardless of whether I and other Sharks invest or not, our focus is always on how we can add some value to the entrepreneur. Of course, the goal is to try and see if we can invest and make a deal.
Was there any quirky pitch that you remember fondly?
There were quite a few quirky pitches. But in the spirit of the show, I will try and keep all the excitement for you, so you can see it on the show. I think it ranges from an entrepreneur from Bihar, who was quite inspirational to an entrepreneur, who was a teenager with an incredibly personal story from the northeast. There was, of course, a pitch in which I was made to wear a saree. I did not know there was a male saree. I have learned quite a bit from all the quirky experiences so far.
One pitch that really touched my heart… there was an entrepreneur, a woman, over 50 years. She came to Mumbai from her village for the first time when she went to Shark Tank India for the pitch. She did a fantastic business with revenues running into crores; huge profits. It touched me because I could relate. I come from a small town in the South of Odisha. I could relate to how it feels when you come to a big city. I watched 12th Fail. Vikrant Massey (as Manoj) goes to Gwalior from Chambal, his eyes lit up. I always felt that way.
You met director Vidhu Vinod Chopra and gave a glorious review to his film. Tell us about it.
I had the great opportunity to watch the film, while it was still in operation before its potential release. Vidhu sir was kind enough to offer me to watch the film in his office. I learned so many things about his life. What I liked the most about him is that he came from a small town in Kashmir, did not have any professional training but built himself as probably one of the excellent filmmakers of our country, and, he has remained close to the roots.
He said he wanted to meet me after he heard my mom saying to me ‘Jo pair sabse bade hote hai woh pair sabse jhuke hote hai (the one who can bow down to everyone is the greatest of all). I saw that in him. He was very down-to-earth and humble. Along with him, everybody in the cast has done a great job. Both Vikrant Massey and Medha Shankar are one of the most underrated actors in the industry today.
You relate to the film. Everyone’s story of struggle becomes inspiring only when there’s a success. People don’t talk about failures. What is your thought?
When you leave your small place to fulfil your dreams in a bigger city, you will find 50-60 people on the same bus or train with you; they will be just like you, looking for that opportunity. People say there are high chances you might not be successful. In my experience, I think if you try, there is a fifty percent chance that you might be successful. If you don’t try then there is a hundred percent chance for you not to be successful. I try to take that chance.
What about your share of challenges when you started off?
My perspective is that I am in love with failures and challenges. I try to embrace them as much as possible. For example, when my second hotel opened, first-day customers came to my property. There was a floor where water wasn’t available and they wanted to stay there. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to let them in. And then, they wanted to take a shower at night. I thought that I will transfer the water from another tank to another myself. We, all in the middle-income family, know how to transfer water from one container to another by sucking out the air from a pipe (siphoning) and moving the air.
I was doing that, and then on another side, I got a call from a New York investor discussing how much million dollars they would like to invest. I felt so hard to believe. (laughs) I believe in life, every failure pushes you down, but it somehow sets you up for success as well. Those you know, how to fail, they eventually succeed very well. Somebody who has gotten their hands dirty, the probability of their success is more.
Tell us more about your early life…
Earlier, when I was starting up, there was nothing to inspire people to pursue start-ups. For a long time, people in my family also thought, ‘Why is he doing it?’ I have three elder siblings, and all of them are doing great jobs. My family thought that why am I not doing a job? For them, if I had gotten an entry-level job at an IT company, it would have been a huge success. They would have been very happy.
But things changed in 2016. Just a few years ago, an initiative was launched for startups by the government of India, and that made my family believe that it was a big opportunity. Of course, thanks to the honourable PM Narendra Modi. I remember he said ‘Listening to Ritesh makes me feel like why I did not start a hotel chain.’ I think things like these can inspire lakhs of entrepreneurs.
Shark Tank India has been a popular show since its launch. But, there are also claims of delayed funds. Many still wonder if the show is scripted…
There’s a line in 12th Fail, ‘Ye sirf tumhara ladai nahi hai, hum sab ka ladai hai (This is not only your fight, it is our fight)’. I think for me to join Shark Tank is to see what I can do in my own way to try and support the next generation. I believe founders should not be judged by how big or small their business is but also by the difference they can make; they should all support each other. I try to do the same.
My aim is to provide high transparency about the investments that we make. It is critical to make sure that there is a very high level of detailing about the investments we make. Maybe because the entrepreneurs changed their minds or the estimates of their financials are different… I think our intention is to transparently communicate that. My job will be to see how much transparency I can bring in terms of start-up investment so that there’s even more excitement among founders.
And what would you like to tell those, who question whether the show is scripted?
I have myself been in the tank now. The first time I see the company is when I am on my seat. When the door opens is the first time when the viewers see the founder, it’s also the first time I see them. I get to hear them and then ask questions before making the decision. This is truly how it is done.
They work hard to make sure no way in which the sharks even know who is going to be the founder. There are different places from where they come in. I am not allowed to go places in the tank where founders come and the other way around. There is a lot of effort that goes into this to truly ensure it is authentic. I think the best way is to ask an entrepreneur themselves. Last but not least, I would encourage everyone, regardless of their views on the show, show try and support these founders because they come with significant challenges. It’s their dream to come to Shark Tank India. I think it’s authentic, and I have experienced it.