It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a startup in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of expansion.
Jane Austen’s timeless words about a man with a fortune looking for a wife (from her novel Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813), when tweaked to fit today’s startup realities, sit well with hotel business OYO’s ambition and growth story. Except, OYO is no mere startup and its idea and method of expansion are unlike anything India has seen before.
This includes Indian e-commerce maverick Flipkart, which was eventually acquired by American retail giant Walmart, taking it out of the race. Once India’s biggest startup, Flipkart was valued at $15.5 billion in its heyday (circa 2015). But now it’s well out of the race.
OYO, which is arguably the biggest startup in India today—with a fresh round of funding in the offing—sits on the promise of a $12.5 billion valuation. To get this number in perspective: Payments company Paytm*, which was the leader of the Indian startup pack last year, is valued at $10 billion.
That’s a remarkable difference. OYO, which claims to operate “23,000+ hotels in 800+ cities in 18 countries” as per its website, is growing at an unprecedented rate. And it’s apparently doing so in three distinct ways: 1) In terms of valuation, 2) In geography, and 3) The sheer spectrum of businesses it is involved in.
But while everyone can hear the SoftBank-funded startup making all the right noises—such as its claims of American hospitality company Airbnb investing over $100 million—nobody really knows what exactly is going on with OYO.
Look at its China expansion, for instance. According to Chinese media outlets, OYO laid off over 1,000 employees from its Chinese subsidiary OYO Jiudian last month. The company, however, rubbished this, further stating that it had hired 1,500 employees.
Two completely opposed narratives. And the incongruence doesn’t end here.
Alexander would be proud
OYO claims to be in 18 countries, of which The Ken has been able to locate 14—via OYO’s blogs and media reports—including India. The company doesn’t feature the names of these 18 countries on its website and didn’t share a list of countries with The Ken, despite requests.
OYO’s empire, as evidenced by the maps above, lacks a clear pattern. The company has grown to “developed” nations such as the UK and the US as well as smaller, developing countries such as Nepal, Vietnam or the Philippines.