And the jury’s still out on Agarwal. “I was listening to Ritesh at an event in Bangalore and he appeared to remain rooted and still lost sleep over firing employees,” said Nigam. “It’s got to be a combination of all of these things that would go on to contribute towards such a success.”

Marching on

Despite the hurdles, OYO has broadened its horizons beyond India and even beyond hotels. Its next big challenge appears to be China.

The opportunity is big, especially in mainland China. “(The hospitality market in) China would be twice the size of India i.e. in excess of a $1 trillion market,” KPMG’s Nigam said. “That said, the penetration is still low and they have 4 rooms per 1,000 people as compared to 10 rooms in the UK and 20 in the US.  So despite a large market already, there’s headroom for growth.” Tourist spending in China already tops $500 billion and will reach a whopping $1.2 trillion by 2020

But it will face stiff competition. “(It) has to go up against Jin Jiang, the world’s fifth largest hospitality company,” said Anindya Ghose, the Heinz Riehl professor of business at New York University’s Stern school of business. “There is also Airbnb and their big rival, Tujia.”

Still, ten months after its China stint began, OYO China has created a presence in 171 cities with over 87,000 rooms. Luckily, the company has a godfather there—China Lodging Group (renamed Huazhu Group in June 2018), the multi-billion-dollar hotel management firm that pumped in $10 million into OYO in September 2017. “The investment and guidance of China Lodgings is helping it (OYO),” says Everest Group’s Joshi.

Diversification is also a priority for the company. In early 2017, it launched OYO Townhouse, a hotel-community hotspot-cafe-shopping destination fused under one roof. Some months on, OYO began adding vacant homes to its network, sprucing up people’s dormant properties and managing them in exchange for a cut from the revenues.

More recently, the company forayed into India’s $40 billion wedding management industry with the acquisition to breathe new life into a “fragmented, low-yield, broken customer service” banquet and venue management business, Maninder Gulati, OYO’s chief of strategy, told Quartz.

Behind the burgeoning growth is the company’s use of technology to streamline its products for customers, employees and property owners. An app helps manage visibility, bookings sales channels, customer requests, housekeeping, finances; another one allows asset owners to have complete visibility of cash flows, business performance, pricing, customer reviews and recommendations; and so on.

Currently, OYO employs 700 technology experts to drive these innovations. By 2020, it wants to hire another 2,020 tech professionals and “continue to invest in technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IoT (Internet of Things),” the company said in a press release dated Sept. 21.

“What OYO does is beyond the typical platform and tech-centric models,” says Joshi. “Yes it has platform but it’s as much an offline business of helping property owners evolve their assets as well in addition to earning from the asset.”

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