SoftBank-backed lodging start-up Oyo files to raise $1.1bn in IPO

India’s third most valuable start-up is the latest unicorn in the country to file its intent to go public

India’s Oyo Hotels & Homes filed preliminary documents for an 84.3 billion rupee ($1.1bn) initial public offering, joining the rush of technology unicorns seeking to list on the country’s exchanges after a world-beating stock rally.

The hotel-booking service, backed by SoftBank Group and Airbnb, plans to raise 70bn rupees through the sale of new shares, according to the filing. The rest will be secondary shares or those sold by existing stockholders.

The start-up was last valued at about $9bn, according to CB Insights, making it India’s third most valuable start-up.

Founder Ritesh Agarwal, his holding company RA Hospital Holdings and SoftBank Vision Fund – the three largest shareholders – are the promoters, according to the prospectus. SoftBank held 47 per cent while Mr Agarwal and his holding company have a combined 33 per cent stake in the company.

The filing of the draft red herring prospectus of Oyo, which is officially known as Oravel Stays, marks a dramatic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic buffeted the travel and hospitality industry.

The start-up has refashioned itself, moving away from a business model that brought financial stress, soured its relationship with hotel owners and brought on court battles.

Oyo has stopped offering minimum guarantees to its 157,000 partners – hotels, homes and resorts on its marketplace that it calls storefronts – and no longer invests in upgrading the standards of the hotels. Instead, the company forges revenue-sharing pacts with partners and gets full and exclusive control over the hotel owner’s inventory.

The company has made progress in moving to profitability despite the pandemic. Its loss for the fiscal year ended in March narrowed to 39.3bn rupees from 128bn rupees the year before, despite a sharp decline in revenue because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company said its adjusted gross profit, which excludes certain costs, rose to 13.2bn rupees in the latest fiscal year, up from 12.8bn rupees. Adjusted gross margins rose to 33 per cent from 9.7 per cent in March 2019, the filing showed.

Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO Rooms based in Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi, India. Just over two-and-a-half years after its launch, OYO now has about 5,000 hotels as part of its network in 175 cities across India. Courtesy OYO Rooms
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Oyo is the latest Indian unicorn to file its intent to go public after food delivery start-up Zomato became the first to list in July.

Digital payments start-up Paytm and Nykaa, an online retailer of beauty products, are among others that have filed initial documents. Edtech Byju’s, the country’s most valuable start-up, is also considering an IPO in the early half of 2022, Bloomberg News reported.

Mr Agarwal established Oyo in 2013 after dropping out of college. Now 27, he will be worth billions of dollars if Oyo has a successful listing.

The high-profile entrepreneur was part of a rarefied group of SoftBank-backed start-up founders coached by Masayoshi Son himself. In 2019, Mr Agarwal invested $2bn, mostly borrowed, to triple his stake in the lodgings start-up and take his ownership to nearly a third.

Mr Agarwal does not plan to sell any shares in the offering, while SoftBank will offload a small stake. Other prominent investors Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Ventures and Greenoaks Capital Management do not intend to sell.

Kotak Investment Banking, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup are the global co-ordinators and bookrunners for the IPO. ICICI Securities, Nomura Holdings and JM Financial are the other bookrunners.

India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Europe account for more than 90 per cent of the hotels listed on Gurgaon-based Oyo’s platform. The budget lodgings marketplace also offers stays in China, the US and dozens of other countries, although its global expansion was curtailed by the pandemic.

The app has been downloaded 100 million times, according to the filing, making it one of the most popular travel apps in the world alongside Airbnb and Booking.com. It has more than nine million users in its loyalty programme, generating direct demand from customers.

More than two thirds of its workforce, including its technology team, are based in India, according to the IPO filing. In its home market, more than 92 per cent of hotels are unbranded, standalone properties that fall under the “unorganised” hotel category, according to the filing.

Updated: October 1st 2021, 9:30 AM
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