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10 Things I Learnt As A Thiel Fellow

03/07/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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I am today a strong believer of the often-heard advice that "the best education often happens outside a classroom". I dropped out of college within days of joining because I felt that attending classes would slow me down from doing what I really wanted to do - building my own start-up. This journey began with Oravel in 2012 and I later pivoted to OYO Rooms in 2013; this was the same year in which I was selected for the Thiel Fellowship, a two-year program that every year admits 20 people under the age of 20. I received a support grant of $100,000 and access to mentors while I went about pursuing my start-up dream.

The Thiel Fellowship is a school of learning like no other. I learnt so much from spending time with a number of US-based start-ups, famed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, investors, thinkers and visionaries. The mentorship I received and the quality of ideas I was exposed to were easily on par with the best business schools, but the icing on the cake was that I got to learn everything while actually pursuing my dream. Learning by doing, that's what Peter Thiel wanted each of us fellows to do.

"May 2015 marked two high points of my life -- OYO Rooms grew to become the largest budget hotel chain in India, and I graduated from the Thiel fellowship program."

May 2015 marked two high points of my life -- OYO Rooms grew to become the largest budget hotel chain in India, and I graduated from the Thiel fellowship program. Building and scaling a disruptive start-up, while simultaneously pursuing the fellowship program, were two intertwined journeys that were also life-defining experiences for me. Moreover, I would rate my stint as a Thiel Fellow as one of the biggest contributors to the success of OYO Rooms.

The simultaneous experience of the Thiel Fellowship and building OYO Rooms taught me many important lessons and I am hoping to preserve them through this personal reflection.

  • Start small, nail it and then make it big: Companies that want to start doing everything end up doing nothing. It is far wiser to just start small, crack a specific market and only then start scaling up across regions, product categories and customer segments. Also it is important to evolve with time - set new targets on achieving previous ones. For example, when I started OYO Rooms, I just wanted to have an active user base for my hotels. Today we are aiming to build OYO into the world's largest hotel chain.
  • Be humble: Some of the most influential and successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are also the most humble people I have ever met. There is so much to do and learn that being arrogant about what you have done or have achieved will eventually create a barrier between you and new opportunities and new people who can probably help you more. Being humble is not only a virtue, but is an essential quality that everyone should possess.
  • Focus on your organisation's culture: As companies scale up, the only way employees can collectively work towards achieving a common goal is to have a great culture. Teams that share a strong camaraderie and are bound together by the same vision will enable a start-up to grow and sustain. I could understand this all the more as I was mentored by someone like Peter Thiel, who has, in turn, helped shape the organisational culture at many highly successful ventures.
  • "It is extremely important to build something that a 100 people absolutely love using rather than make something that a 1000 people would just, kind of, like."

  • Recruit only the best: A really important lesson I learnt was that it is very important to have the smartest people around you -- those who can be great leaders too. Bringing people on board who consider themselves to be the CEO of whatever work they do is the foundation of building a brilliant company.
  • Look for details and keep the big picture in sight: It is very important to pay attention to the micro-details. At the same time it is also important to have a bird's eye view on how different parts of the business and diverse decisions interconnect towards a common vision.
  • Stay agile: Once you are committed to scaling up fast, it is very important to keep teams nimble and agile. In order to do this, we have created many micro-teams within a single team, all of which work together collaboratively to complete tasks with agility.
  • Set processes early on: Just building things fast and at the same time setting up processes which would help in building those things again much faster in the future are two completely different things. At OYO, we have invested a lot of our time in designing, building and perfecting our processes and systems. We like to call it "creating science out of art".
  • Challenge the status quo: Companies naturally build or accumulate some kind of inertia over time. They get satisfied with the profits they are making and incremental innovations they are doing. Every once in a while, it is very important for business managers to challenge the status quo and dare to do something new. It also helps to keep the enthusiasm flowing through the company.
  • Work with investors you respect: All start-ups require capital to seed, run or scale. While it is critically important to find and secure the necessary capital to run your organisation, it is absolutely vital to bring on board those investors who you admire, trust and would like to work with. This creates a great foundation for any start-up and has been a major factor for OYO's success thus far.
  • Gun for a great product: Last but not the least, here is one lesson from my fellowship that I can't emphasise enough. It is extremely important to build something that a 100 people absolutely love using rather than make something that a 1000 people would just, kind of, like.

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