Alum Ventures: Treebo Hotels – Sidharth Gupta, PGP 2009

Treebo Hotels is an Indian Premium Budget Hotels chain conceptualized and founded by Sidharth Gupta, which has revolutionized the hospitality industry. Treebo has made a mark for itself and created a whole new category in this segment. The brand name has become synonymous with a high-quality experience at affordable prices, without compromising on hygiene, comfort or service.

Treebo has become a trusted brand among families, corporates and frequent travelers. It seems like Sidharth has struck all the right chords with the target audience and given a facelift to the Budget segment in India.

How and when did Treebo come into being? How did you get the idea? 

We launched Treebo in June 2015. My co-founders and I quit our respective jobs in early 2015 and decided to start something of our own. We did not know at that time what we were going to start. But we were clear that we needed to take the plunge and then figure things out from there. We spent two months just studying different spaces and opportunities, before finally narrowing down on this idea. We were looking for three things in deciding what we work on – a large pre-existing market, applicability of our strengths and skill-sets, and a personal connection with the problem. As avid travelers from middle-income families, we had often experienced the pain of staying in poor quality hotels where hygiene, safety, and dignity were regularly compromised, all supposedly justified by low prices. We wanted to change this by building a professional brand in this segment. Hence Treebo was born.

What is the story behind the name Treebo mean, what does it have any signify?

Treebo Founders (L-R): Kadam Jeet Jain, Sidharth Gupta and Rahul Chaudhary

Treebo derives its name from “Bo Tree”, the fig tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. The fig tree family – banyan, peepal among others – has inspired not just our name but also what we do.

In many ways these trees were the earliest form of budget hotels, offering shelter to travelers without discriminating between the rich and the poor. We too are obsessed about offering quality accommodation at affordable prices. The soothing shade of these trees allowed several interesting conversations among fellow travelers. While serving our guests dutifully, we too love to strike up a conversation or two with them.

And finally, we also aspire to emulate the vast reach of the banyan tree. With a presence in 100+ cities (and counting), we are making sure that we are available to serve wherever your travels take you. With the same obsession for quality. With the same penchant for conversations.

What value proposition gives Treebo a competitive edge?

At Treebo we use the 3E prioritisation framework to guide us in our decision making and execution. 3E stands for Experience > Economics > Expansion. For us, the Experience we offer to guests is of paramount importance, followed by building a business with sustainable Economics, followed by the need to Expand. Many startups get this prioritisation wrong and focus overtly on expansion, often compromising experience in the process. We did not fall into this trap and rather we take pride in the fact that we are the highest rated hotel brand in the budget segment as per independent customer review portals. We extensively use a combination of technology, process innovation, and most importantly plain old execution discipline to drive high-quality experiences even at an affordable price point of Rs 2000/night. I think in the long run this is what matters the most. 

The hospitality industry is one of the hardest-hit segments in the current crisis, what will be your strategy to combat the crisis?

Ours is indeed one of the worst affected sectors in the COVID crisis. We have learnt from the past crises that we have lived through (all internal, company-specific ones rather than macro crises like the current one but major crises nevertheless) that in order to be resilient in challenging times you need to do 3 things. These are  – I) humbly accept the crisis you are in without delusions, II) have a credible beacon of hope that you can hold on to, and III) continuously innovate and improvise. This was originally captured in a beautiful HBR article by Diane Coutu.

These are the three things we are being guided by in the current crisis too. In our context this means the following –

a) We can’t have any false hopes of a quick recovery and turnaround of our fortunes and should rather be prepared for a long, slow grind because it won’t be until the discovery of a vaccine or a proven cure that people will truly feel comfortable traveling.

b) We still strongly believe in our core value proposition and are confident that once people resume travel, brands like ours would be even more in demand as customers would be even more particular about quality and hygiene. So this is a long but temporary disruption for us and not the end of the road.

c) We are using the crisis to innovate across multiple areas – we are finding new sources of revenue, we are building new lines of business, we are doing things more efficiently and cutting costs so that we can survive this crisis and be ready for the rebound as soon as the opportunity is available.

What are some must’s for taking the entrepreneurial journey?

– Commitment to invest at least 10 years of your life

– Humility to learn and to do the boring grunt work

– Maturity to cut out the noise and focus on what really matters

– Support system that can let you go without a paycheck for 1-2 years

Any interesting incident/s that you fondly recall from your entrepreneurial journey.

We recently completed 5 years and invited several of our alumni to be a part of the celebrations. They shared stories of their journeys after Treebo. Without exception, all of them spoke about how Treebo played a vital role in their development, how they found Treebo’s culture unparalleled in terms of the autonomy and transparency they saw here, and how they remain deeply emotionally invested in Treebo’s success. Many of them mentioned how it would be unimaginable in any other company to have the alumni participate in an event like this with a great sense of camaraderie. It was heartwarming to hear these stories. They filled us with pride about the culture we have been able to foster and about the ‘institution’ – and not just the ‘company’ – that we are building. 

Your key learnings as an entrepreneur?

– Focus on the long term. All good things take time. Don’t get carried away or distracted by your own or others’ artificial short term wins

– A great culture is ‘built’ not ‘bought’. It’s not about freebies. It’s about your commitment to invest in every individual’s development and success

– Resource consciousness is an entrepreneur’s greatest skill. No young business can succeed without having a DNA of frugality.

Your memories of your days at IIMB.

I remember wondering in my first few days at IIMB how I was even allowed to walk through the gates of this place! Everyone I met, in my batch or our senior batch, was a remarkable individual, with multiple accomplishments to their name, unique skill sets and interests, and a rich and interesting perspective. This peer group has been my biggest source of learning and my most precious take away from the institute. 

A favourite book.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things. If there’s ONE book you should read as an entrepreneur, it’s this.