Pune: Digital-first multi-brand electric vehicle (EV) platform ‘BeLive’ is addressing the issue of awareness, access and affordability of all EV products and after-sales services. The startup’s founding duo Sandeep Mukherjee and Samarth Kholkar met in Pune a few years ago and their friendship turned into an entrepreneurial partnership. Started as an EV experience tour offering in Goa, ‘BLive’ now lists more than 20 brands on its platform and offers an omnichannel experience to its buyers – e-commerce store and premium experience stores in India.
Originally from Jamshedpur, Sandeep Mukherjee came to Pune for his graduation and MBA. In his corporate career spanning 13 years in sales and marketing across global brands, Sandeep gained exposure to electric vehicles and their positive impact on the environment and mobility while working in Finland.
Originally from Goa, Samarth was in Pune for his engineering education and later started working in a multinational technology company. At the end of his corporate career, Samarth was setting up cloud businesses for startups that opened his mind to entrepreneurship and doing something on his own. But before BLive, Samarth had a short stint in the food and beverage industry with his friend’s startup.
“Though we met in Pune as aspiring MBA students, our entrepreneurial journey began in early 2018. Back then, EVs weren’t that popular, but Sandeep could see what a ripe ecosystem there could be for EVs. We thought of building something that would help the adoption of EVs. Pune and other cities are facing the problem of vehicular pollution and electric vehicles are the solution to this problem. But one problem was that people were not aware of EVs as the ecosystem was not mature,” recalled Samarth.
EV Experience Tours
While brainstorming the problem statement and its solutions, Sandeep and Samarth concluded that three problems needed to be solved. According to him, these problems still persist. Sandeep says, “People don’t know much about electric vehicles due to these three issues of incomplete information (awareness), where to buy or take a demo ride (access) and financing options, availability of insurance (affordability). So, we started with the first issue of awareness and thought about how to build a proposition to create awareness about EVs.
Samarth said, “We created an interesting use case called ‘EV tourism’. We noticed that people in tourist destinations don’t mind having new mobility experiences. A person who drives an SUV back home is happy with a scooter in Goa because it is part of their experience. Similarly, no one in India travels by bus but is happy to hop on a bus in London. Hop off buses. So, we started with EV tourism offering in Goa.
“We felt this would be a great platform to showcase our offering. As I am a Goan, we knew the geography etc. We used to conduct EV trial tours on electric bicycles across Goa. We have entered into an exclusive partnership of 20 years with Goa Tourism to be their EV Tourism Partner. People try electric vehicles that are quiet and smooth to ride. This increased awareness about EVs. Later, we made similar offers in nine states and 15 locations in just two years. So far, we have done more than 25,000 trips in this part of the business, which no one would have thought of,” said Samarth.
“With the right process, people and everything in place, we made it easily scalable. Today you will find us as one of the leading activities among travel consultants across destinations. This helped us create our brand ‘Blive’, which is basically an acronym for ‘Be Alive’. It means you are renewing, refreshing and recharging yourself, said Sandeep.
In 2018, most Indians have never tried an electric vehicle. But the big revelation happened when they were actually driving or sitting on top of an electric vehicle. The use cases and benefits that come up are amazing. This helped the founders of BLive to have tremendous learning in their product category.
Another learning, according to Sandeep, is that after experiential trips to various tourist destinations, consumers want EVs delivered in their hometowns. “That made us think of what is a seamless platform we can build through which any consumer across India can connect to an EV. Our dream of ‘EV in every home’ started from there. We thought of making a digital platform where you can watch, learn and buy,” he said.
“People wanted to try EVs but needed handholding while choosing the best product. Even today there is no real neutral platform available to help consumers choose the right product that suits their needs. Even during the Covid lockdown, people were having online consultations with our EV experts. Demos are being organized and people are buying online. And delivering the EVs directly to their homes,” Sandeep said.
While launching EV tours in Goa, Sandeep and Samarth took care not to antagonize the local rental taxi business and associations.
Samarth says, “The unit economics are not good, the earning potential is very low in the rental business model. So, we have packaged this whole thing as premium tours. For a 3-hour ride, it costs approx ₹2,000. Because of the premium tag, the crowd is filtered and we can handle it better in operation. We haven’t lost a single bike or hurt anyone. Because of the business premise, it does not conflict with the rental vehicle business. Actually, the rental car operator brings the customer to the starting point of our tour. How we managed the entire ecosystem. Apart from higher operational utilization and better customers, we used technology to make this business model scalable.
After solving the first problem, Sandeep and Samarth moved on to tackle the next one. It’s actually about access to buy an electric vehicle and get a demo.
Samarth said, “People who enjoy experiential tours come back to us and say the experience is good, the guide is good and the electric vehicle is also good. But where can we buy it? Basically, we have created a target customer group who are willing to buy e-vehicles.
“We created the first online marketplace for electric vehicles. It is a multi-brand platform built in 2020. It not only offered multiple choices to the customers but also provided advisory services regarding the purpose of use and the right product for each customer. Within the platform, we have created a community of EV experts who advise customers over online calls, offer face-to-face demos and inform them which product is best suited for them,” he said.
Experience store model
With the tourism and marketing model for EVs, BLive started to attract more attention in many cities in India. However, while doing so, Sandeep and Samarth were careful not to ‘burn’ less.
Explaining this strategy, Sandeep said, “We always started with a proof of concept and identified gaps. In the first year itself, we sold to customers in more than 50 cities through our online channel. It’s a great recognition of the hard work we put in and the fact that there is an audience looking for something in this space. Then we started looking more deeply into it. Since this is a new category, we realize that people need experience and demo before making any decision. That is where we conceptualized this experiential store concept.
“People get information about EVs online, they can compare different products, but for a demo they can come to a BLive Experience store. Unlike any manufacturer’s dealership stores, BLive Experience stores offer multi-brand, great experience with EV expert interaction, zero percent EMI, Buy Now Pay ( Easy financing options like BNPL), exchange offers etc.
A multi-brand tie-up
Samarth said, “Our experience and connections helped us open a lot of doors. We have gone to all the top brands. One of the brands has agreed to showcase their products on our platform. We work with them extensively on the B2B enterprise side where we sell to fleet operators and they give us the product on the backend. A major EV player had not previously done any tie-ups with any other platforms, but we made a unique use case for them. We did their test rides and pre-booking before launching their store in Goa. We played the role of EV experts for them and that took our relationship to the next level.
Sandeep, “Our focus is on the South and West Indian market. These markets are slightly better in terms of response and awareness, education, purchase and adoption of EVs. We are first opening stores in metro cities like Hyderabad and then expanding in nearby smaller towns like Karimnagar, Warangal, Nellore. Also, after Pune, we are expanding in Nashik, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Ratnagiri etc.
“We basically have a marketplace model. Apart from multiple brands and service providers, we have a tie-up with SpareIt, a company that provides after-sales services, accessories, spares etc. They have a pan-India presence and customers can purchase their services on our platform. To locate the nearest charger, its BLive has tied up with charging companies to check availability, charging cost etc,” he said.
BLive primarily serves as a platform to offer all electric vehicles and EV-related services to its franchise partners and ultimately to consumers. Explaining the arrangement between the manufacturer, BLive and the franchise partners, Sandeep said, “We have tied up with supplier partners to provide electric vehicles, best price, after sales service and support mechanism to our franchise partners through us. OEMs take responsibility for product quality, timely delivery, partner training, after sales services. Also, franchise partners do not run for any marketing, awareness or service needs.
“Going forward, all the last mile logistics, third party logistics, ecommerce delivery segment will contribute about 50 percent of our business and the remaining 50 percent will come from personal use vehicles. Even in the experience stores, most of the inquiries are from small businesses, restaurants, hotel chains because they are big for business. Looking for stores to buy in. Next Electric 3W and 4W will also be available at BLive stores,” said Sandeep and Samarth.
“We are coming up with some financial services. Soon, the BLive app will be launched which will be a one-stop shop solution for EVs. The charging station deployment can also be accessed through our stores,” he said.
‘EV Tours Franchise’ is coming soon
BLive is launching an EV Tour franchise model soon. Sandeep, “We are looking for EV enthusiasts with local city knowledge. BLive will provide 10 electric cycles and will handle marketing, customer acquisition and booking. Franchise partners implement it, accompany customers on tours, operate electric vehicles and help BLive build local experiences. Electric bicycles are available in outright purchase model or on lease. Revenue is shared with franchise partners. EV Experience tours are themed around local culture, flavors, food, history, houses etc. It will be an immersive experience.