Ranjita Ravi, co-founder, Orxa Energies, in an exclusive conversation with Mukul Yudhveer Singh, sheds light on how the company conceptualised and built India’s first performance-oriented electric bike called Mantis.
Though this electric bike is the company’s newest addition to its product portfolio, and the final prices are yet to be announced, Orxa is already generating revenues by retailing battery packs to aerospace and electric vehicle players. Here are some interesting excerpts from the interaction.
EB: How did the development of Mantis happen? Why did Orxa Energies switch from the B2B to the B2C domain in electric bikes?
RR: We started working on Mantis in 2015. Initially, we wanted to craft a completely electric performance-oriented motorcycle. The first two years were all about experimentation as the battery packs that we had envisaged for Mantis had to be powerful and dependable. Unfortunately, there was nothing of that sort available in India.
The Orxa team then decided to design and manufacture these battery packs on its own. So we went underground in 2017, worked on a lot of combinations and, finally, the Mantis is here.
With respect to the switch question, it was the other way around…we started out as a B2C company and then switched to B2B. While developing Mantis, we found that like us, a lot of other companies were also looking for performance-oriented battery packs. So we started pitching these packs to other businesses. Now, we provide these batteries to some of the big names in the business.
EB: Tell us more about the battery packs.
RR: Like in the case of the Mantis e-bike, its batteries too have been entirely designed by Orxa Energies. We import cells from the top cell manufacturers of the world. The rest of the process, from blueprints to the final stage, is taken care of by Orxa Energies.
Batteries, as I mentioned, posed the biggest challenge when creating the Mantis. We worked on many possible battery chemistries to make these packs as powerful as we could, since they had to complement the beautiful design lines and the beast-like performance of the Mantis. The hunger to create these battery packs led us to explore the B2B side of the electronics manufacturing domain.
I must add that these battery packs have been tested in harsh summer conditions — electric three-wheelers operating on NCR roads were a part of some pilot projects. We have carried out drop tests and other standard tests too.
EB: Did you get help from any China based company in terms of technology, design or electronics?
RR: I am proud to say that Mantis is a ‘made in India’ electric bike. The cells that we import are from Korean or Japanese players. But the battery packs and the Mantis motorcycle are completely designed, developed and assembled by our team at Orxa in Bengaluru. We work with many vendor-partners from India’s automotive hubs.
The team at Orxa Energies consists of hardcore bikers, and a lot of them experiment with other projects like custom bikes in their free time. We want to ‘make’ all our future products ‘in India’ as well.
EB: Now that Orxa will operate in both the B2B and B2C domains, what will you focus on more?
RR: The focus will be on both the domains. We started as a company that wanted to build the best electric bikes in India. This approach helped us to explore the B2B part of electronics manufacturing as well. Now, it will be impossible for us to be in the B2C domain without being in B2B, and vice versa.
An electric vehicle has a battery pack at its core, and the development of both must be synced at every part of the process. We are going to focus on the B2B and B2C domains, equally!
EB: Which domain do you think will generate more revenue for you – B2C or B2B?
RR: Both these domains are going to grow in the future. At the same time, they are completely different in terms of the business done in them. The go-to market strategy, the marketing take, etc, are completely different as well. We are in the process of creating two different teams for these two different domains.
The motorcycles have a much longer life cycle than the battery packs, which can be fitted into any electric vehicle. We have tested them successfully on 1 tonne vehicles as well.
EB: What kind of support did you get from the government of India?
RR: We are a startup registered in India, which comes with quite a few advantages. The business applications suite that we used was free for a year because of ‘Startup India’. Orxa Energies also won an award from Invest India, and Schneider Electric picked us as one of the startups that would receive support from it. As a matter of fact, one of our institutional investors also has funding from the Startup India programme.
Being a technology-oriented startup, filing patents is one of our biggest requirements. I must tell you that the fee associated with patent filing is not at all small. This is one more area that the government’s policies have helped us a lot. Being registered with Startup India gave us access to legal services at subsidised rates and made patent filing comparatively easy for us. Though we are filing these patents slowly, the number has already reached 24! So the subsidised costs involved have made a huge difference!
EB: How content are you with the overall support from the government?
RR: A startup should never be built around one policy. Change is the law of nature, and this applies to policies and products too. The key to building a startup or a new product lies in how resilient it is. The team should be able to adapt to changes that are taking place constantly, improve, and keep functioning as if nothing happened.
The government’s policies have already benefited us a lot. We also understand that the electronics manufacturing and startup ecosystems have started to take shape. The support from the Central and the state governments has been tremendous. If we can collectively work on speeding up the timeline of EV manufacturing, that would
EB: How has your company’s connection with Airbus and being a supplier of battery packs helped you in creating Mantis?
RR: My co-founder and our chief technology officer have been a part of the aerospace sector for a long time. Aeroplanes and motor bikes have similar requirements of low weight and volume, high performance and superb strength. Like aeroplanes, electric motorcycles must deliver a high performance with a lower weight!
We work with Airbus in the energy management domain. This connection has helped us craft improved battery packs and translate that to better electric motorcycles.
EB: How many units of Mantis are you planning to sell in the first year?
RR: Mantis is squarely a performance-oriented vehicle. It is not meant to be positioned in the mass market. Though Orxa Energies will have products in the future catering to other markets, we want to target hardcore bikers for Mantis.
We are already generating revenue by delivering battery packs to automotive and aerospace players. The earnings that we generate from these battery packs are funding the further improvement of Mantis.
To us, Mantis falls in the premium segment of motorcycles.
EB: What is your launch and marketing strategy for Mantis? Will it be different from the approach that you follow in a B2B domain?
RR: We are going to take leads from what we learn in the early adopters’ stage and launch Mantis in Bengaluru first. The follow-up cities will be decided based on their enthusiasm for bikes. We have Mumbai, Pune, Goa and some other cities on the radar, but all that is still being finalised.
The business approach in the B2B and B2C domains is completely different. We do not need to have a public presence (social media, etc) for the B2B domain, but do need to have one for the B2C domain. The retailing business will be completely different as well.
For B2B, we depend on face-to-face interactions with business houses, but for B2C, we will be setting up and training a sales network, and relying on it to some extent. However, we will be equally focused on the two domains, and our efforts in both will be synergised.