Started in 2013, goSTOPS is a full-stack youth hostel startup. In a conversation with HerStory’s 100 Emerging Women Leaders, Pallavi Agarwal takes us through her journey of starting up.
When Pallavi Agarwal travelled across Europe for the first time in 2011, she ended up staying in hostels. “I had never been in a hostel before. We spent a lovely 21 days in Europe, staying in different kinds of hostels,” she recalls. Agarwal realised that hostels were an “excellent” concept for young travellers. “In rooms, you have dormitories and you just go there to sleep. In hostels, one can meet other travellers, like-minded people, and interact in the common areas,” she says. Even upon returning home, her experience with hostels and her newly developed interest in them never left her thoughts. “I kept making business cases, kept trying to see how to start,” she shares.
In 2013, she started GoStops—a full-stack youth hostel company, with her husband, Pankaj Parwanda, joining her a year later. They opened the first goSTOPS hostel in Varanasi. Today, the startup offers hostel facilities across India at Agra, Mumbai, Amritsar, Udaipur, Bir, Jaisalmer, and Dalhousie, among others.
Agarwal’s journey of switching from a well-settled corporate career to entrepreneurship has been challenging. “I am from a consumer behaviour research background, and I’ve done about 10 years of that before starting goStops,” Throughout her career, she has researched businesses, rural finance, and consumer behaviour. “I started travelling independently in college, and I have been passionate about travelling since the very beginning. The travel bug was planted in me by my parents,” she narrates.
Looking back, she says, “Every entrepreneur has to deal with the unknown. Improvising on the spot and being hungry for information is extremely essential.” Agarwal also had to face the reality of gender biases—something many women founders have had to face. “Every woman who’s stepped out of what is traditionally expected out of her is breaking the bias in one way or the other. It may not be just professional but even in the personal realm,” she says. Agarwal says she had to deal with prejudices when she had to interact with people in the real estate industry while starting goSTOPS. “If a man was sitting across the table, I know it would have been slightly different in terms of the tonality. As a woman founder, there are a lot of expectations around you. You can easily be labelled as a temperamental angry boss because you’re assertive, but you’ve got to stick to your guns,” she shares. Agarwal made it a constant habit to interact with other women founders and it helped her navigate through challenges and biases. “One just realises that there are so many women who are feeling the same way. So if all of us are feeling the same way, then clearly the problem is not with us. The more you interact and network with other women in the workplace or, as founders, it allows you to figure out that you’re not alone, and how to cope with these situations,” she says. She advises women leaders to believe in themselves and emphasises seeking good mentors. “Learn or do something with somebody else in another organisation. Before you start out on your own, be independent,” Agarwal recommends.