9 Jan 2018, 07:50 — 7 min read
Coimbatore based entrepreneur S. Manikandan wanted to start a business that would help with a cause that was very important to him - fighting climate change. He realised that the manufacturing of electric bikes was a business where he would have first-mover advantage, with the opportunity to scale and the ability to make a difference. His company, called Spero Mobility and Energy Solutions Pvt. Ltd, has advance orders that will keep the production lines busy for another 36 months at least. Though he sees B2B clients as a natural path to growth at this stage, he envisions scaling up and becoming a B2C company and dreams of building an electric car in the future.
In conversation with GlobalLinker (GL) S. Manikandan (SM) shares the story of his company.
GL: Tell us about your business.
SM: I’m a postgraduate in management science. I’ve been part of a family business that makes innovative textile machinery. We’ve always felt that doing something for society is important. Climate change is a problem that will be affecting us and is a worthy cause to take up. The thought process was to be prepared for the energy revolution to take its next step. One of the areas we explored was renewable energy. We realized that solar and wind sectors have a lot of people working on them. We needed a product to tell the world who we are and that would make a difference. E-bikes made the cut.
After extensive research, we realised that we had to make bikes that had electrical assisted pedaling. We started to explore the lithium ion and its applications as a battery. When we developed prototypes, we had family and friends test it. One of them suggested we work with a startup who could get us crowdfunded in India. In 90 days we had the campaign online. The result was a tremendous success. After the first campaign, we went up three times in value and the next day we had to open a new campaign as there were still many people who wanted to buy the bikes. We raised about INR 79 lakhs with both campaigns.
Last mile connectivity is our major client focus. India Post could probably become our biggest customer. At any age, people who can pedal a few minutes form our target audience.
GL: What is the USP of your business?
SM: We are the only company making the pedal assisted electric bike which can give you a mileage of 100 kms on throttle. On pedal assistance we’ve gone up to over 200 kms on a single charge. The test was done on the road linking Pune to Nashik.
We believe the market for electric bikes is going to evolve in India. There is a fantastic opportunity in B2B. This will drive our volumes.
GL: What are the challenges you have faced in establishing your business?
SM: Sourcing materials is a problem. Lithium ion batteries are not sourced in India. The market is unregulated - the rules are not there so it is hard to define the product. We collaborated with the authorities and help frame how our product would be defined. We chose to have it defined as per international standards. The most important fact is, however much the government wants to push electric mobility, the business will be niche for a long time until charging stations come up. This held us back in the beginning.
GL: What are some of the milestones of your business?
SM: The transition of business from my father to me was a significant achievement. Keeping the flock together was critical. Everyone who worked with my father still works for me. Some of them worked with my father before I joined the business. That is a way of knowing that I have not deviated from the whole thought process. My team has an additional respect for me because I have turned around this organisation. I came in to handle a recession. Now, I have handled three recessions. My employees have faith that we can turn around any scenario and work as a team.
We are a team of 16 including me. We would like to keep it as lean as possible going forward. We have a weekly review and an informal WhatsApp group, and my primary role is keeping the team motivated.
GL: Do you believe that the ‘ease of doing business’ in Coimbatore has improved?
SM: The term startup is new to the world. For Coimbatore it is not so. Even before the word startup came into prominence, there would be a startup every day in the city if not more. This city is a breeding ground for entrepreneurs. Every house would have an entrepreneur in it. Also, the people who work in Coimbatore never give up. When we came through the textile recession in the nineties, people thought Coimbatore would be finished like other textile-focused industrial areas.
Emerging industries came out. Foundries came up and started producing grey cast irons. Machine companies came about saying we can produce precision components. The electronic industry and the automotive ancillary industry started to evolve. The city started developing brands when earlier it used to be in the back end. Today we have brands we are proud of.
GL: What role do you feel GlobalLinker plays in connecting & assisting SMEs?
SM: There are quite a lot of trade bodies that claim to promote SMEs and their businesses. Trying to do fantastic matchmaking is missing. GlobalLinker is enabling this matchmaking.
GL: What is your big business dream?
SM: We know that a lot of things are left to be done with our electric bike. But the dream that we have is to have an electric city car.
GL: What is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs?
SM: Never give up. I never gave up. In the last 17 years, I worked for my father for 13 years. New proposals were turned down. The reason was ‘why take the risk?’ My philosophy is always ‘never give up’.
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Posted byGlobalLinker Staff
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