Our anti-portfolio is a forgotten name, Oravel. Later it became Oyo Rooms, and has been responsible for changing the entire travel landscape of India.
The company was incubated in Mumbai and I found the rooms listing service to be a complete rip-off of Airbnb of those times. More importantly, I was convinced that any such aggregation play in India will need a lot more of a high touch approach, something that we now call ‘Full Stack’. We thought that we knew more about the market than the founder, which perhaps was true. Indian homes and guest houses did not have the kind of beds, hygiene, and linen that would make the experience of staying in a room consistent and reliable.
While I personally liked Ritesh (Agarwal) and kept in touch with him to give feedback on the various things he tried in Oyo Rooms, we were also a bit concerned about his ability to do a lot of heavy lifting. The company had been using an outsourced tech team in those days, if I remember correctly. But we all had not read Marc Andreesen thoroughly by that time: ‘In a great market—a market with lots of real potential customers—the market pulls product out of the start-up.’ Market matters most. Also, funding momentum in India usually follows the first start-ups to go after a large market.
And every time I use Oyo today, we use it a lot, it’s a reminder of how we need to overcome our inherent biases and look only at the big picture, the market. Market did not just pull the right product, it also brought in the right team and investors. The market basically pulled Oyo out of Oravel.
That has fundamentally changed our approach as a seed fund: we like to research large markets that seem untouchable, unaddressable and just fund teams with a broad plan. Because the early product just doesn’t matter as much.livemint