SoftBank backed Oyo is sacking staff across China and India

Oyo’s downsizing is another setback for Masayoshi Son‘s SoftBank

(FILES) This file photo taken on May 9, 2019 shows the Softbank Group logo on a podium during a press conference to announce the company's financial results in Tokyo. Japan's SoftBank Group on July 26, 2019 announced a new 108-billion USD investment fund, the long-mooted successor to its blockbuster Vision Fund, with partners including Apple and Microsoft. / AFP / Charly TRIBALLEAU
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Oyo Hotels is firing thousands of staff across China and India, people familiar with the matter said, adding to growing signs of trouble at one of the largest startups in SoftBank Group’s portfolio.

The company has let go of 5 per cent of its 12,000 employees in China partly due to non-performance, while dismissing 12 per cent of its 10,000 staff in India, one of the people said. It plans to shed another 1,200 in India over the next three to four months, the person added. Oyo is undergoing a restructuring, trimming redundancy in China and India, leading to thousands of dismissals, according to the people, who requested not to be named because they aren’t authorised to talk to media. An Oyo representative had no immediate comment when contacted.

Oyo’s downsizing is another setback for Masayoshi Son‘s SoftBank, whose portfolio has been buffeted by recent trouble at WeWork and slumping share prices at Slack Technologies and Uber Technologies. The billionaire has called for greater financial discipline among the founders in his portfolio, spurring job cuts at smaller outfits like Zume Pizza. Other SoftBank investees, including Getaround, Wag Labs, Fair and Brandless, have had to cut staff or change business models once it became apparent revenue and profits were not living up to their once-grand ambitions.

Adding to Oyo’s challenges, hotel owners in China have been protesting in front of the company’s offices, accusing the startup of violating contractual agreements. The growing turmoil may complicate SoftBank’s efforts to raise a successor to the Vision Fund, the world’s largest pool of startup investments.

“Oyo is one of SoftBank’s current crown jewels,” said Michael Norris, research and strategy manager at Shanghai-based consultancy AgencyChina.

“Issues in China, Oyo’s largest market, continues the Vision Fund’s woes.” It would make raising a similar-sized second Vision Fund a challenge, he added.

Mr Son has been a keen supporter of Oyo founder Ritesh Agarwal, helping fund the hotel company’s fast international expansion. Oyo had been growing at a rapid clip, but its reputation has suffered due to customer complaints about bad experiences along with grievances about poor or unfair treatment from several of the over 20,000 hotel owners in its chain.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund has so far invested about $1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) in Oyo, pushing its valuation to $10bn. The company also counts Airbnb, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners as backers. It promoted its real estate business chief, Rohit Kapoor, to chief executive for India and South Asia in December to shake up the business.

In its aggressive effort to acquire market share, Oyo offered hotel stays for as cheap as $4 a night, according to one person familiar with its practices. The company also stocked up on rented room inventory by signing exclusive deals and guaranteeing income to hotel owners. It’s now allegedly reneging on those guarantees, the cause of the protests outside its Chinese offices, one person said.