How An IIT Graduate Had Offered To Work For Oyo Without A Salary In 2013

Most people try to negotiate a salary that’s as high as possible when joining a new company, but the exact opposite can sometimes work as well.

Oyo Rooms CEO Ritesh Agarwal has recounted how an IIT graduate had offered to work for the company without a salary in 2013. He said someone named Anuj Tejpal called him when Oyo was just started out, and it was still called Oravel. “Most people don’t know Anuj,” he said on the Nikhil Kamath podcast. “Anuj and I started Oyo together. When I was running Oravel, it was just me and an intern. Both of us used to run the company,” he said.

Anuj Tejpal, meanwhile, had graduated from IIT-BHU in 2012. He also also spent time at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in the US. There he’d learnt about Airbnb, and had heard that a company named Oravel was attempting something similar in India. He decided to call the call center of Oravel.

When he called, he found Ritesh Agarwal on the other end. The duo spoke for 50 minutes. “I took copious notes,” Ritesh Agarwal remembers. “At the end, I said dost, it’s been great talking to you, but I can’t afford you. But I learned so much, the day I can afford you, we’ll chat again,” he told Anuj Tejpal.

Oravel was a brand new startup that at point. Ritesh Agarwal had dropped out of college at the age of 19, and at that point couldn’t have hired a high-flying IIT graduate. But even though he told Anuj Tejpal that he couldn’t hire him, Tejpal persisted.

Tejpal said he wanted to meet Ritesh Agarwal. “I said, if you want to meet after hearing what you have heard, be my guest. Please come. So he came, and again we spent an hour. I learned more. At the end I again said, bahut accha laga, but I can’t afford you,” Agarwal again told him.

At this point, Anuj Tejpal offered to work for Oyo without a salary. “I don’t need a salary. I’ll, in fact, put some money if required. But you give me ESOPs (Employee Stock Option Plan). I want 3.5% or 4% ESOP,” Tejpal told Ritesh Agarwal.

Ritesh Agarwal said that he was very happy that someone was willing to work for his company without a salary. “I had heard about ESOPs for the first time. So I thought, this is fantastic. I agreed (to his offer)” Agarwal said. “Later, I recognized that this is probably one of the best decisions he made,” he laughs.

And it was probably a great decision. Even though Tejpal had started off working without a salary, Oyo went on to touch a peak valuation of $10 billion, so 3-4 percent ESOPs would’ve been worth hundreds of crores. Anuj Tejpal has stayed with Oyo for more than a decade, and currently serves as its Global Chief Merchant Officer.

“Entrepreneurial success often hinges on taking a chance,” Tejpal recently posted on X. “More than a decade ago, I was convinced that Ritesh Agarwal had a game-changing idea that had the potential to become big. The fact that he was so forthright about not being able to pay me left a lasting impression…The last 10 years at Oyo Rooms have been an incredible journey. And perhaps Ritesh is right: teaming up with him is the best decision I’ve ever made!” he says.