“It is very important to find a calling and pursue it,” says Ritesh Agarwal, Thiel Fellow 2013.
As its website says, “The Thiel Fellowship is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.” More importantly, this isn’t for the faint of heart. It entails dropping out of college and working for a full two years on a project that will make an entrepreneurial difference. While the idea of not having to go to class might seem appealing, remember it also means no graduating with a degree.
Ritesh Agarwal, the winner of the 2013 Thiel Fellowship from India, is ready for all the challenges coming his way.
Agarwal started Oravel.com at the age of 17 to bring affordable accommodation for travellers in the country. Oravel (www.oravel.com) is a marketplace where comfy and affordable rooms can be searched from a listing of over 3,500-plus options comprising apartments and rooms in at least half the price of hotels in the same area with same amenities.
The company also runs OYO Inns (www.oyohotels.com), a low-cost no-frills chain of affordable hotels. The company recently raised its first round of Investments from Venture Nursery, an angel-investor–backed business accelerator.
“I went for two days to the Delhi Campus of the University of London and did not go back again,” he says. He is not proud of this but his entrepreneurial instinct did not make him suitable for sitting in classes.
“I wanted to work on my project on this issue that I had identified,” he says. He always wanted to go back, but then business demands took over.
Born in Bissam Cuttack, a village in the Rayagada district of Orissa, he knew all about a balance sheet when he was in Class VI all thanks to his dad.
“Till about last year my business situation was pretty humble. Things have really looked up since then,” he says.
The Thiel Fellowship almost did not happen. “My friend Apoorv Mishra, TED Fellow encouraged me,” he says.
“December 31 was the deadline and we had just raised our first round of funding. I had to decide between filling out this application and celebrating the new year.”
The application as Agarwal says, “was long and tedious” but “it made me rediscover and reconnect with myself.” There were many questions demanding in-depth answers like: How do you think you change the world? What is your contrarian idea that is not so contrary and Why are you the best person to do this?
“They made me think and showed me a future I had not thought of before,” he says. Then Skype calls with senior Facebook executives and travelling to San Francisco followed. “It was very exciting being a part of the community of very young people. No one was in it for the money,” he says.
“It was all about solving a larger problem.” Having mentors like Elon Musk, Sean Parker and Silicon Valley Executives is simply “phenomenal.”
As part of the Fellowship, he will work to scale up his idea of making comfortable accommodation available to travellers more easily and faster.
He may not have attended college but Agarwal says, “Education is very important and there phenomenal ways of learning. I love Mark Twain’s words — ‘I’ve never allowed college to interfere with my education’.”