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BW Businessworld

An Ode To The Millennials

The writing on the wall (FB wall that is) is very clear. Shape up or ship out. Welcome to a brave new world.

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While flying back from Goa recently, I had finished reading the book that I was carrying and quickly devoured the sandwich and the beverage that the very helpful airhostess had served. With nothing else to do I started browsing through my messages and found many comments on the current slowdown in my school Whatsapp group.

After reading all the messages just on a whim I thought of jotting down some thoughts on my experience of working in a startup and my observations on the shifting choices and preferences of the millennials. Here goes. 

The last 3.5 years at OYO have been hugely educative for me. I am twice the average age at OYO. Therefore, for me it was doubly challenging to survive in a startup. I soon realised after joining OYO that seniority/ age / hierarchy counts for nothing here. Just because you happen to have a fancy designation doesn't mean anything. These millennials are smart, confident and very much unlike what I was at their age. To my utter surprise I found out that at OYO, IIT / IIM background were par for the course. There were also plenty of guys from the top schools globally - Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg’s, Stanford, Booth, Sloan,........ And not just that. I was in for more surprise. These very young 20 somethings inevitably made the move from a big established company like McKinsey, Citibank, J P Morgan, the big 4, Samsung, Philips etc to OYO. And I would often wonder why??? 

They seemed to defy what I had known in all of my 25+ years of work ex. When we started off after our basic degree the attempt was to get a "stable" job. Those of our friends who made it to Govt, PSUs, large corporates like the Tatas were the envy of all of us. We always thought his / her life was made. And those of us who started from a small establishment/ company gradually moved up the chain to make it to bigger companies and more "stable" jobs. Here what I was witnessing was exactly the opposite of my 25+ years of learning. Not only that, those who moved out of OYO went to even smaller startups in esoteric areas such as cloud computing, analytics, AI, big data, social media etc. I must confess here that I only know of these terms and beyond that won't be able to write even a proper sentence on any of these. These young guys sometime try to explain to me what they are getting into and I also pretend that I am understanding what they are saying. And that's that. So? The belief with which I had grown up that you need to have a "stable" job with almost guaranteed earnings has completely gone out of the window. The motto or theme now seems to be "my ability is my stability". Rest I don't care. Higher the risks, higher the uncertainties, greater the thrill or adrenaline rush. 

So how have I managed to survive so far? Simply by opening up my mind to this new way of working / doing business and telling myself that don't go by your age and give up on your ego. You are in the company of people who are way smarter than you can ever hope to be. Observe, absorb and morph into this new being. And there are plenty of examples of that which I don't wish to labour here with. After a year of my joining when my then 23 years old boss Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and Group CEO OYO did my appraisal he told me that "we all commend the way you have blended yourself with the young team here". And I said to myself “Mr Dasgupta you have managed to pass / scrape through”. I have survived thus far but in classical disclosure style "the past is no guarantee of future performance". At a startup like OYO you have to earn your living on a daily basis. As Ritesh is so fond of reminding us always, "it is still day zero for us".

These millennials have also very different consumption habits. When we began earning, we started with first buying consumer durables and then when we had more steady levels of income we took a large loan to buy a house which we repaid over the next 20 years or so. With a house we would consider ourselves "settled". These days the millennials are light footed and extremely mobile. House, car, durables etc is not anywhere in their reckoning. They are willing to pay for the "experience" rather than the "ownership". So everything comes on hire / lease basis for them. Just a few weeks back a boy who had worked for about 3 years at OYO quit. He and his wife are both grads from a top B school. Again he was quitting OYO to join a smaller start up in down south in the area of social media analytics. I commented that he must be now busy packing up. His answer surprised me "arre nahin Sir. Aaj  kal kaun kuch kharidta hain? (Oh no Sir. Who buys anything these days?). Everything you want is available on hire. We have just some clothes which we will put in 2 - 3 bags and move. And whatever still remains we will hand over to Goonj or some charity". Again going against the grain of my conventional wisdom and belief.

We all have heard of huge buildup of housing inventory in all cities. But have we ever wondered how does it work alongside the booming business in long stays / serviced apartments of which OYO is also a player? Do you know that there is an association also of these players called "Rental Housing Association of India" (RHAI)? Having worked at an industry association for donkey years, I can tell you that an industry or lobbying body or an association doesn't get formed until and unless there is sufficient traction in that industry / business. So what does it have in store for the housing industry? Could it be the case that going forward instead of despairing about unsold inventory they will have to invent newer avenues of business? May be instead of trying to clear the unsold inventory and booking the income at one go they will have to get into tie ups with the likes of RHAI and look at monetizing their assets over a period of 20 - 25 years? What if even after interests rates being lowered by 25 / 50 / 100 bps the market fails to stir? What if the usual and traditional marketing tools of increasing ad spends, deeper discounts fail to move the inventory because the consumption habits have irrevocably shifted? But I suspect the newer ideas won't come from a CXO with 25-30 years of "rich and varied" experience. Some young guy in the 20s, who isn't scared of experimenting with crazy ideas and can risk failure, will crack the code and make a profitable business which the world will then follow. The CXO in the 50s will be loath to go against the conventional wisdom and put his / her reputation at stake so assiduously built up over the years. 

Having spent these past few years at OYO, I believe we are witnessing some tectonic shifts taking place all around us. We are in the midst of major upheavals. Traditional thinking and tools of management are already obsolete. Having 20 - 25 years of work experience is now a liability rather than an asset. At Cognizant there have been massive layoffs in the 8+ years’ experience group. Same thing was reported to me by a youngster from the US a few days back about their company. Employees with 8+ years of experience have been laid off. Just pause and think for a moment. 8 years into work and you are already obsolete!!!! My daughter who graduated last Dec is already talking to me about which course she should enroll herself into to stay relevant. Yuval Noah Harari's "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" is already playing out right before our eyes in its full form. The writing on the wall (FB wall that is) is very clear. Shape up or ship out. Welcome to a brave new world.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Siddhartha Dasgupta

Mr. Siddhartha Dasgupta, President Corporate Affairs, OYO.

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