Episode 7 Making EVs easier to adopt

On this edition of Business & UX Story, Divanshu is joined by Akshit Bansal, the co-founder and CEO of Statiq. Akshit and his team are into the EV space, but not in the way you may think. Statiq is India’s largest EV charging network. Functioning on a hosting model, similar to franchising, Statiq allows any landowner to host an EV charging station, providing for a totally unique and innovative user experience for hosts, and consumers alike. To hear all about Akshit’s journey as a founder, and the impact he wants to make in the world through Statiq, be sure to tune in-to this episode of Business & UX Story.

Episode Transcript

Divanshu Thakral [00:00:00] 

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Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of business and UX story. 

Before starting off today’s episode, I like to share a small story of how I, who this guest is and how I met him.   I’m a big EV enthusiast and I keep learning about what is happening in the industry. And I believe it’s the next, I think it’s the biggest step to kind of,   work on, you know, improving our environment in improving how we live on and take care of planet earth. And I was out,   for, you know, test driving an EV. I won’t want to name them because it’s not a sponsored post [00:01:00] and,   Oh, and near my office. And I got that car back to the office.

[00:01:06]   and,   you know, we were just kind of figuring out and talking to the salespeople of that brand. And I saw Akshit, who is our guest and I’ll tell you who he is, and his co-founder were walking, passed by and, you know, they stopped and they asked me if that’s my car. And I said, no, I’m just test driving it. You know, only an EV fan can, will stop and talk about an EV because otherwise these are cars people walk past and, they don’t get to create conversation as such, right. And that’s when we got talking with Akshit and his co-founder Raghav and that one thing led to the other. We met for coffee and we chatted a couple of times and I figured that these guys mean business in what they’re doing and creating something to impact the environment around us but that story, I want to welcome you worksheet who is co-founder and CEO at Statiq, and which is India’s largest charging infrastructure platform that they’re building.

And, they’re creating a network of charging stations across India. And I think the biggest problem that we have right now is picking up an EV or figuring out an EV versus an IC engine, I think that’s the charging network. I think Akshit and his team would create a larger impact in coming years to solve this problem.

So welcome to the podcast. I hope you’re doing well. 

Akshit Bansal 02:48

Yeah. Thanks a lot Divanshu. Thanks a lot for talking to me today. It’s been wonderful to talk to you as well. It was a great conversation and it was supposed to see people [00:03:00] buying EV and it was very surprising that it is into the mainstream.

That is why I stopped. So it was very interesting to me and thanks a lot for having me.

Divanshu Thakral 03:11

Great. So, I know you were young, you started off very young, and I think that’s a great thing to do.   you don’t get into that whole rat race. First working, figuring out what to do, and then you straight off jumped to your startup.

And I believe it’s doing really well. Tell me a story. Why EV? Why did you pick up this industry, which is, so low in penetration right now, and adoption will take time. Tell me more about it. 

Akshit Bansal 03:44

Yeah, definitely.  So why we started Statiq was because of two reasons. One was the personal reason and when it also made a lot of business sense. 

So on the personal front, I’ll give you some background. So I’m an electrical engineer. I’ve previously worked on building solar vehicles as well. And I’ve done some research on wireless electricity and I have been working internationally on that as well in different countries. So I was always interested in the EV space, given my background, and   I really care about the environment.

So, that was the personal reason. And then I met Raghav. He was also very passionate about climate and we wanted to do something about it. So we wanted to get into the EV industry and it made a lot of sense for us, a business sense for us as well, because we believe that like, this is the future of Indian oil like oil is a trillion dollar industry, right?

So we see auto automobiles shifting to, like the energy sector in the automobile sector are merging and we see electricity being the new oil.  And, we saw a lot of business opportunities there and that is why they got into it. And there was a huge gap in the market of people, bigger companies were making  cars like Mahindra, Tata.

They’re making cars in India. But there was no one’s solving the problem of infrastructure. Right. So that is why. 

Divanshu 5:27

No, I think that’s great. If you think that young, that environment is something that we need to start working towards to improve the quality of life for our future generations.

[00:05:39] I think it’s a great step in that direction through this startup. And if you can turn that startup into an idea into a business model, nothing like it. So, we all know that there are challenges in EV adoption, they will get improved and while you’re building it. We see from a consumer side, however, there would be challenges that you see from a B2B side that you must be facing, especially in a country, like a developing country, like India.

Can you throw out some of those challenges that you faced or you’re facing in growing your startup, your charging network and the base? 

Akshit 06:25

Yeah, I think the biggest challenge is the poor electrical infrastructure that we have. India is a  developing country. And a lot of places in India today don’t even have electricity.

Right. And we are building a startup on, on, on the poor electrical infrastructure that India has. Right. So that has been a big challenge working with the DISCOMs and a lot of regulations that are there. So navigating through them has been a challenge. 

Divanshu 6:54

Interesting. Interesting. And,is it too bureaucratic?

Is it too lengthy in the process in terms of getting approvals and all that? 

Akshit 7:07

Yeah, it is such a new market that even though there are regulations and rules., But people on ground actually do not really understand what these regulations mean. So we do have to educate like people from the DISCOM and that takes a lot of time and effort on our part.

Divanshu [00:07:26]

Interesting. Right. I mean on ground, we don’t know what happens behind just setting up one charging station. I remember I saw one of those challenge station, that Galleria market, and I got really excited and I sent you the picture, but I believe that there would have been a lot that would have gone behind just getting up that that charging station created.

So Akshit, so I’ve always wondered about this, as you said, electricity is a new oil power will be new oil now. There are two ways to generate power. One is the renewable way of generating power. The other is a non-renewable way of generating power, right?  Putting together thermal power plants and even building up a dam hydro electricity. It’s maybe not, maybe renewable, but ultimately it requires certain kinds of trade-offs with a kind of tweak with nature.

Right. So how do you see that changing? Would more electricity mean thermal power plants? That again would cause a dent on the environment. Is that a good trade off to have? Have you thought about it? 

Akshit 8:35

Yeah. What we think is like the world is moving towards renewable energy. If I talk specifically about India as well, somewhere around 35% is renewable energy in India today already.

Right. And the plan is to go up more than 50% in the next seven, eight years. Right. We see that shift already happening and, when that is translated [00:09:00] to transportation, it makes a lot of sense because already, we use gasoline cars and the cars are less efficient than electric vehicles. So, just think of it like if a gasoline powered pass station gives the energy to an electric car, it will be, it will be better in efficiency and we’ll be producing less carbon emissions than a normal car.

[00:09:29] So when you translate both, like when you do both of these things you move towards a renewable energy battery, you change your mode of transportation to electric vehicles. This combination gives you a lot of carbon emissions savings.

Divanshu 09:43

So the overall way of generating power has to shift and it’s shifting towards renewable.

Akshit 09:54

India also leads the International Solar Alliance. So there’s a huge push from the government to go towards renewable energy  and the world is shifting towards renewable. 

Divanshu 10:06

Interesting. Interesting. Great. So, tell me about the unique business model that on both ends how it benefits the consumer and how it helps you in expansion?

Obviously because it’s a real estate driven business somewhere how do you keep your costs low in that sense? And in terms of scale, where have you reached and where do you plan to be if you would like to put some light on that. 

Akshit 10:41

Okay. So we are building a marketplace model for EV charging.

Okay. We do have ancillary products. Like we build our EV chargers and our other software, but the main idea is to build any recharging marketplace, right? Like CPOs can come share their charging services and where EV owners can come and use them. So it’s a marketplace model that we are building.

Yeah. And the reason is that what we want to do is we want to build a unified platform because in the world as well. There are problems like different people have different networks and it is different to use. It is difficult to use different networks, right? Because you would have to have 10 apps, there’s a roaming problem, like the best network, internet roaming problem in India.

It happens in other developed countries. So we are building a marketplace where we can aggregate all of these people. There’s a single platform to do it. How it would benefit the users is they have a single platform from there they can buy all the services and the sellers also have a platform where they can sell all these services and we are democratizing this whole place.

So any person in India can just have one charger and they can start earning from it. It can be a side income for them. So we are empowering a lot of entrepreneurs throughout India who can just start like the future of petrol pumps. Right, right. So that is why we are doing it. And in terms of scale we are present in five major Indian cities as of today that is Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai, and next our plan is to do it pan India.

And go into tier two and tie three Indian cities as well because we see a lot of two wheeler and three wheeler coming there and we build products for both of them as well. So that is our next step. 

Divanshu 12:41

Nice. Nice. And are you more city focused or are you more highway focused? 

Akshit 12:46

Oh, no, it’s a mix of both because more and more cars are concentrated in the cities, but we see that fast charging utilities are more on the highways because people want to drive their car intercity.

So that is the main use case of your car. And it is a mix of both so that we enable people to drive intercity and if they want a fast charge, they can fast charge a car in the city as well. 

Divanshu 13:12

Right. Interesting. 

Right now this industry is obviously taking shape, right? And the way, the reason that gasoline or diesel is such a highly used fuel is also to do with and it’s very standardized in terms of how you, you know, kind of go to a petrol pump,   which is very standard.

I know I have to pay this and get the fuel out. How is this whole industry standardizing itself? How are they building those standards in terms of various components or are the charging setup? How universal is this domain becoming? 

Akshit 13:53

Right. In terms of EV charging, there is still a lot of standardization that needs to be done still, like there are different plugs charging connectors with different cars.

There are different voltage levels of different battery packs. So, that is a problem especially in  two wheelers. It is a huge problem because even the government has not regulated it. Now, in terms of four wheelers and the cars, the industry is moving towards a standard on its own.

It has led to market forces, but they are coming to consensus. Makes it easy on the four wheeler part. But the two wheeler is like completely unstandardized every manufacturer’s making their own standard. 

Divanshu 14:43

And is it something to do with, because there is a lot of battery swapping into wheelers? 

Akshit 14:49

No, that’s not the case. I think there is no consensus built there. What would be the right model? So there is battery swapping, plus there is charging. But in terms of battery swapping all the battery swapping stations need to be compatible with the manufacturer. So different manufacturers should have the same form factor of their batteries to work in that charging/ swapping station.

And in terms of charging, they need to have a similar connector. So that is a problem. Not a lot of manufacturers agree on the type of connectors and the type of form factor for the battery that they have. 

Divanshu 15:27

Right. Got it. Interesting. So there is room for things, standards for this to scale in a better manner.

Right. I mean, you know, especially when a growing industry can take care of it once it becomes large, it’s very difficult to kind of bring in that standardization. And I think the government will have a huge role to play here.You are the second startup that we are talking to, we spoke to Jani earlier in one of the episodes,   who’s part of the Y Combinator.

Tell me your experience at Y Combinator. How did it help Statiq, and how do you think it’ll help Statiq in the long run? 

Akshit 16:09

Yeah, I think Y Combinator gives you a lot of credibility. So getting into Y Combinator, people do recognize your efforts and it gives you that credibility and it opens up a wide network of people that you can directly reach out to.

So all the YC alumni are closely knit together, and they are just a call away and not just in India, but worldwide. So it opens up that network and helps you a lot. Right. And also the credibility of Y Combinator helps you raise a lot of funding. It gets easier. So that way it helps a lot. 

Divanshu 16:44

Interesting. So,the Government, as I said earlier, has a huge role to play in this space. And I think there is a bit of traction you keep reading news here and there and with registration charges being kind of spoken about that will be taken off with the government pushing EV as a concept or as a main line vehicle. There’s still time for it to be the primary vehicle,   and you’ll receive a certain kind of support from NASSCOM. 

Why don’t you help us understand what that support was all about and what do you think how the government should kind of involve themselves or build policies for this to grow faster than what it is right now?

Akshit 17:33

Yeah, definitely. So there are two, two questions and I’ll answer them one by one. One is in terms of the government. They are really bullish on EVs and there are a lot of incentives that the government is giving out in terms of subsidies.

Then the government has waived off their road tax and other taxes. 

The GST on EVs is reduced from 18% to 5%. So there’s a huge push from the government. Then the government is making rules where buildings have to have 20% of the parking and new buildings to be reserved for EV charging.

That’s a huge push, but what the government needs to do is regulate the industry more in terms of standardization and having clear cut policies. And, in volume a lot of the stakeholders, because what I think is the government is not involving all the stakeholders involved be it manufacturers from the EV. 

Like EVOMS or charging station operators or the consumers. So it is more of a one-sided policy. That is why I feel that the market is evolving faster than the government can build rules for it. So that needs to be done. So in terms of NASSCOM, so we were in NASSCOM before Y Combinator. 

NASSCOM helped us get office space at a very, very low cost. They do not take any equity for it. And they help you. They help you mentor. They help you connect with a lot of entrepreneurs in the industry. So, it helps you and they do a lot of industry connects where you can find a lot of  customers, big clients and you can directly talk with them and maybe sell your products.

Divanshu 19:32

So that is all. That’s great. So I understand how the government needs to kind of play a role and I hope the bureaucracy reduces, and we can move to a more EV oriented space soon and see more EVs on the road. 

Akshit, you are one of the people I know who adopted and thought about design and design thinking in your product early in the day. What was the reason? And if you could share some impact if the product is live or during the usability testing if you’ve observed something that’ll really help.

Akshit 20:17

[00:20:17] Yeah. I think design is very, very important in what we are building because we are not competing just within the Indian market. Our ambitions are to go global as well. And there are already incumbents there and we see design as being one of the major factors that we can move past the incumbents in all of these industries.

Plus we want to give Indian consumers as well. Something that is really easy because the charging process is also very new to them. So we want to incorporate good design changes, good UI UX in our design. And that is why we started to go ahead with it. And we are also impressed by a lot of products that have good designs.

We follow up with clean design, minimalistic design like Tesla. So, we are following in their footsteps and I believe that a product which works and which looks good, sells on its own. 

Divanshu 21:24

Amazing. No, I think product experience is something that kind of hooks on the customer to you.

And it’s not just offers and value, cash backs and all that. I think it’s something to do with experience as well in the long term. And I think it’s a great investment to make. And you’ve thought about it in the early days of your startup. Akshit tell me, are you an Elon Musk fan? 

Akshit 21:48

No, not that much.

Divanshu 21:52

If not, why? I think in the EV space, isn’t he considered one of the people who have kind of build something that is so magnificent. And so. He’s producing at a scale that nobody could ever imagine back in the day. I mean there are new Chinese companies who are coming into the space, so there’s XPeng, NIO, so our Tesla is there. 

What inspires you in him and what you think he should do better? Maybe he is listening. It’ll be great. 

Akshit 22:24

Yeah. Definitely I think he’s a great leader.

He has taken the EV industry to where it is today. I can see he’s one of the main reasons for that because Tesla is. He took Tesla from there it was.  But fun fact. I did not know it. If you know this, Elon Musk was not the founder of Tesla.

Divanshu 22:48

I know I’ve read the book. 

Akshit 22:53

Yeah. So he was a Series investor in them, and then he took over the company and, and scaled it. So I really admire him for scaling the company and bringing EV to where it is. But, a lot of recent factors like his Bitcoin. So I just feel all those things. I’m not very impressed with that.  

Divanshu 23:19

Those are things that you see recently that have been done. I mean, yeah, questionable maybe.

Yeah. Yeah. But I think EV space is definitely, They look at Tesla as how OEM manufacturers and mobile space look at Apple. Right. So there’s definitely that I would draw those similar kinds of analogies in their product for Tesla is doing in there’s. But, it’s good to have a leader that is ahead.

And then a lot of companies can play challenger’s role. So it’s great. So, Akshit, I always ask this question to all the startup founders and I know it’s a very tough journey. Tell me the emotional part of things that we don’t see in your posts or in the conversation.

What we want to know is what happened behind the scenes emotionally and mentally, that you had to go through during the building this. 

Akshit

Yeah, correct. And what I would say is we are still building this and every day is like a roller coaster. Running a company is not a straight line.

There are big lows. And then there are big highs as well. It’s a roller coaster that we go through every day and, and people don’t understand it well, like people know it. But people who have not been on this journey do not understand it that there’s a lot of responsibility riding on the back beat like the money of the investors or maybe responsibility of the people who are working for you and the other stakeholders like consumers that we have to take care about.

[00:25:15] So. I think this is a big responsibility and we need to navigate through the scaffolding and take into account all these stakeholders. And when you built this company like I’m a young guy, you have to suddenly become a leader. And you would have, you would have to go through that journey in a very short span of time.

  so yeah. That is interesting. 

Divanshu 25:43

Interesting. So, at a very young age, you have to make decisions that you never thought that you have to, right. If you were in a job it’s too easy, I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but there’s less decisions to make maybe.

Akshit 25:57

The decisions you take are not that impactful. They’re impactful, but they affect a lot of people.  The decision that I take today, maybe impact a lot more people than it would have been in a job. So,   so that is the responsibility I was talking about.

Divanshu 26:14

Interesting, interesting, great.

So I know you’re I would say environmentalist, you love and we’ve spoken about it. Why did you choose EV, focusing on building or something directly getting into renewable energy. That’s the source, right? EV is something that consumes that.

Why did you pick EV?Are you an auto enthusiast? 

Akshit 26:43

Yeah, definitely. So I have a background as well as as I told you I was working into building a solar vehicle as well and I’ve been an automobile fan since my childhood. We had an electric car. 

Divanshu 27:58

Okay. Yeah, really? Rewa? Oh, nice. So I want to tell my listeners this, Akshit and I come from the same hometown. And, we got to know this very recently, and now I remember if the Rewa that you’re talking about, I saw in back home, if that’s yours.

I always saw it and I said, what car is this?

Akshit 27:23

Yeah small mini car. I wanted to go into EV since then and have been really fascinated by it. 

Divanshu 27:34

Amazing. Amazing. I know, you know, you’re kind of helping EVs go run longer miles, right? So there is something definitely out there. So Akshit, my last question for this episode is you’re young, you’re highly energetic. You’re building something for the future. Leave us with a nice note that our listeners should know if they’re building. 

Akshit 28:03

I think to start is very important. There’s no need to be perfect. And even YC says this build fast, fail fast, and then learn fast from it. So I truly believe in this and I feel the market will give you feedback.

Don’t be a perfectionist, just go out there and do things. 

Akshit 28:24

Nice. Nice. I think, and Akshit, I don’t know why. I wrote this on one of my LinkedIn blogs, I think. I don’t remember. But I believe perfection is a myth and execution is everything. And I think we synchronize in thoughts there.

 Great. Great. Akshit, it was a wonderful conversation. 

Akshit 28:44

Thanks. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot for having me Divanshu and it was wonderful to talk to you.

Divanshu 28:50

 Thank you.

That was such an insightful conversation. Businesses and products get impacted through design [00:29:00] in ways more than more than we can imagine. If you would like to listen to such conversations, stay tuned, subscribe to business and UX Story. Until then stay safe and keep listening.

 Thank you.

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