When Bhavish Aggarwal told his parents he wanted to start Ola, they replied, “why don't you open a travel agency?”

  • Ola is today reportedly worth $10 billion, and is one of India’s biggest unicorns with presence in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
  • At a recent event, Bhavish Aggarwal, Ola founder and CEO, looked back at how the company started.
  • Aggarwal’s parents are both doctors based out of Ludhiana, Punjab.
Fresh out of IIT Mumbai and working in the plush offices of Microsoft, Bhavish Aggarwal wasn’t happy. He knew he wanted to do more. A bad incident while travelling in a cab and Aggarwal knew that he wanted to do something in the car rental space. Along with his friend from college Ankit Bhati, the 23-year-olds started Ola – a ridesharing service.

“I was in the research division of Microsoft, it’s not really the day to day engineering but thinking about the future kind of a job. I really enjoyed my time there and then after two years, I felt I needed to do something different, a new business. I was young enough, just 23, and had nothing to lose,” Aggarwal said at a recent event.

Today, Ola is reportedly worth $10 billion, and is one of India’s biggest unicorns with presence in Australia, New Zealand and UK as well.


But when the Ludhiana boy Aggarwal wanted to start the company, his parents, who are both doctors, had asked him, “Why don’t you just start a travel agency?”

“Today, with the internet, the startup industry has really matured. But in 2010, it was still very, very early. As a society, especially in a relatively smaller town like Ludhiana, it wasn’t typical for professionals whose son has studied engineering, would actually go on and start companies. So, it was a very interesting phase and kudos to my parents to give me the room to do what I wanted to do. They voiced their concerns, but I believe that would be the concern of any middle class parent,” he said.

Aggarwal set up Ola in Mumbai in 2011, and they didn’t have much working capital.


“The early days we had no money, there were not many VCs or angel investors and whoever was there didn’t want to fund a 24-year-old running a taxi company. So it was me and my co-founder running around in our shoestrings savings,” he said.

Today, Ola is based out of Bengaluru, and is backed by investors like SoftBank and Tencent. It also runs subsidiary companies like Ola Electric and Ola Foods.

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One of India’s youngest billionaires, Ola’s Bhavish Aggarwal, is talented⁠— but he was also in the right place at the right time