In a recent interview, the founder of Ovolo Boutique Hotels, Girish Jhunjhnuwala(GJ), shares highlights with Upround Ventures of his entrepreneurial journey beginning with his family watchmaking business. His keen observation of the developing Hong Kong start-up scene led him to develop a chain of hotels aimed at satisfying the global entrepreneur.
Upround: Can you explain how Ovolo began--did it start as a hotel and morph into a designation for entrepreneurs?
GJ : Ovolo began as a serviced apartment destination, tailored to long-term visitors of Hong Kong back in 2002. We started with our flagship property in the heart of Central, Hong Kong and evolved over the last 14 years into one of the city’s top hospitality brands.
Upround: So, do you consider the building of the Ovolo concept to be similar to a startup?
GJ: I definitely consider us as a startup of sorts. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole professional life, taking advantage of unique opportunities to create business that meet market demands. It’s this passion that fuelled my appetite for taking a risk and leaving my families watchmaking business to enter hospitality.
Upround: What was the impetus for creating an entrepreneur focused/friendly hotel?
GJ: I started looking at the growing startup scene in Hong Kong not too long ago, and saw the need for both accommodation and workspace among entrepreneurs. Real estate in Hong Kong is very expensive. And for a would-be entrepreneurs, you don’t want to spend a good deal of your seed money just to have a place to sleep and another place to work. From this, I realised that we had a unique opportunity creating Mojo Nomad. With our success in serviced apartments and our inventory of hotels, our highly-praised all-inclusive amenities offers, we already had properties that could meet the living and working needs of entrepreneurs. Mojo Nomad is the first live-in co-workspace in Hong Kong and increasingly among one of the best of its kind in our properties in Sydney, Australia.
Upround: How do you see Hong Kong playing a role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?
GJ: The business culture, the open-minded and cosmopolitan structure of the city all act as fuel for building a great entrepreneurial environment. Hong Kong has all of these features and so much more. The city has and continues to be one of the best places in my opinion for the growth of the world’s next big startup scene.
Upround: How did Australia come to be included in your hotel locations? To which countries are you extending?
GJ: We made a plan to focus our expansion on mature markets that already understood the concept of boutique hotels. When we saw Australia and the increasingly demand for room nights in its capital cities, it seemed like the perfect next step in Ovolo’s evolution, and we look forward to furthering growing the Mojo Nomad programme in the country. As of now, our main overseas expansion plans is within the Australian market, with long-term future possibilities in Western Europe and North America.
Upround: What type of entrepreneurs has Mojo Nomad attracted since it started the campaign?
GJ: We’ve had a lot of entrepreneurs from the tech sector as well as medical and even environmental science. In 2015 we had such Nomads as a German entrepreneur designing a new programme for managing municipal waste, as well as a group creating new wearable tech that helped monitor ones health and give expert trainer advise on keeping healthy.
Upround: How did you come up with the name Ovolo?
GJ: The name for our brand, Ovolo (deriving from ovo meaning Egg in Italian), came from discussions with the designers of our hotel. Ovolo classically means a convex moulding in classical architecture. Every mould is perfect but not two are exactly alike. They bring harmony to their environment while representing a world of diversity in their structures. This embodies our vision for the Ovolo brand, as well as defines the unique, yet equally passionate individuals who a part of the company.