Interview: Manesh Jain

Co-Founder & CEO at Flo Mobility

Govt Needs to Make the Regulatory Regime Friendly for Startups

July 15, 2021. By Manu Tayal


Though the ecosystem has matured a lot over the past few years, there is a long way to go to make India a preferred startup destination. The on-ground impact of various large-scale initiatives is still very limited. Especially for deep-tech startups, there has to be an impetus on R&D and tighter IP protection norms to make India a global R&D hub.

In an exclusive interaction series with startup companies in the energy and mobility space, Manu Tayal, Associate Editor, Energetica India, interacted with Manesh Jain, Co-Founder & CEO of Flo Mobility. Here’re the edited excerpts from that interaction:

Que: Shed some light on the idea behind the formation of Flo Mobility.

Ans: We started Flo Mobility with a vision to build a smart, sustainable, and most importantly, safer transport solution for everyone. Our road conditions are terrible, and our traffic is chaotic, which leads to a large number of accidents on the road every day. We need to change that.

We also strongly believe that smaller and compact forms of the automobile will take precedence over current large and clunky cars. Cars are a very inefficient way to travel around. We are using a 1-tonne vehicle to move an 80 kg human being, and more so as 70% of rides are with a single person.

Currently, we are a team of 8 great hand-picked wizards from different backgrounds who are working to achieve this mammoth goal.

Que: Who will be your target customers and what is your plan of execution?

Ans: Our primary target markets are the US and Europe. We will sell our technology to mobility companies who offer their vehicles to riders for last-mile commutes. The hardware cost to enable autonomous driving on a vehicle will be charged upfront, and recurring revenue will be generated through charges for offering teleride-as-a-Service. Our unit economics are positive from day 1 as we will make money on every tele-trip that we execute.

Global micro-mobility companies will be our clients. There are more than 50 large companies with over 1 million scooters deployed on the streets. This includes few players who have a fleet as large as 50,000 scooters. Some prospects are Bird, Lime, Spin, Razor, Beam, Tier, Bolt, Skoot, Wheels, Dott, etc. We are already in conversation with a couple of fleet operators in the Middle East and Europe and we shall start our POC with them soon.

Que: In which regions Flo Mobility’s electric two-wheelers will be deployed first? What will be your plans?

Ans: We were about to deploy our fleet in April 2021 when the pandemic struck. Now, we will resume roll-out once the situation stabilizes. Over the next 8-10 months, we plan to deploy autonomous tech on e-scooters in large residential, educational, and industrial campuses in India, the US, Europe and the Middle East.

The future roadmap is evident to us. We will deploy our fully autonomous technology on form factors like e-scooters and e-cycles. Initially, these will be monitored by a human operator who will take control of the vehicles immediately in case they need assistance. Going forward, once our algorithms are trained with enough corner cases, our dependence on human operators will decrease, and the system will start becoming more and more autonomous.

Eventually, we will extend the deployment to other form factors like delivery bots, warehouse bots, rescue bots, etc.

Que: Kindly shed some light on your educational background, achievements, and experiences across sectors, along with other founders.

Ans: I am co-founder and CEO of Flo Mobility having 16 years of experience, out of which the last 10 years are in startups. Have founded 2 startups before Flo Mobility and have got successful exits from both. The previous startup was an ed-tech venture acquired by Reliance Jio-Embibe. I am very passionate about green energy. I believe we need to relook at the way we design our cities and vehicles, to provide quick and comfortable commute options to people across all classes of the society.

The other co-founder is Angad Singi who is also the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the company. His automobile journey started when he first built a car for competition in the 2nd year of his college and has never stopped making automobiles after that. In 4 years of his college, he was responsible for building five cars for competitions and one foldable electric bike. He, then, went ahead and started Lithos Motors that built electric bikes for food delivery companies. Later, he had a successful exit from Lithos Motors. With an itch to create something more intelligent, connected and futuristic, he joined hands with me to build Flo.

Que: How do you plan to market your product?

Ans: Initially, our focus is on large private premises like Universities, Factories, Townships, Resorts, etc. There are more than 100,000 ultra-large campuses across the globe where commuting in-and-around the campus is a challenge. Studies suggest that riders drop off 67 per cent of the time if the vehicle is more than 200 meters away from them. Moreover, the clutter that results from people not leaving the vehicles at proper parking places, is a huge concern. Several large cities across the globe have put penalties and banned fleet operators for not being able to manage the fleets. Moreover, vandalism and vehicle misuse are also a matter of concern. Our tech can address all these issues and help fleet operators improve utilization, increase revenue, reduce operations costs and address vandalism.

We intend to partner with micro-mobility companies who have existing fleets as well as relationships with the campuses and deploy our tech as a seamless mobility solution for an in-campus commute.

As we progress and extend our tech on other vehicles, we will cater to other use cases like last-mile delivery and warehouse automation.

Que: As an entrant what kind of challenges have you faced?

Ans: Hiring and Supply chain are the primary challenges that we encountered. There are not many people who are working on autonomous EV technology in India. Restricted movement of people because of Covid has also hampered some prospects. On the supply chain side, there is a significant dependency on China and lead times are unbearable. Especially at the research stage since processes are iterative, a small modification impacts timelines by weeks. We have moved whatever we could to indigenous components but this, still, remains a concern.

Que: What are your views on government support for the start-up ecosystem in the country? Any suggestions?

Ans: Though the ecosystem has matured a lot over the past few years, there is a long way to go to make India a preferred startup destination. The on-ground impact of various large-scale initiatives is still very limited. Especially for deep-tech startups, there has to be an impetus on R&D and tighter IP protection norms to make India a global R&D hub. Several MNCs already have their research center here. There is no dearth of talent and you would see Indians in almost all domains where cutting-edge innovation is happening. Secondly, the government needs to make the regulatory regime friendly for startups. We still hear cases of notices being slapped on startups for seemingly unfounded reasons. As a result, several founders have started incorporating companies outside India.

Que: Share details about Flo Mobility’s investment and funding?

Ans: We are boot-strapped at present and raising the seed round of funding. The funds will help us in building a fully autonomous stack faster and execute pilot projects.
IP is our biggest differentiator and we would continue to focus on building an innovative stack that is efficient as well as cost-effective. Also, the 3D maps and meta information that we get from our data will deepen our moat and make our tech more accurate and reliable.

Que: What keeps you motivated?

Ans: The impact that our tech can create in disrupting the urban commute landscape is our biggest source of inspiration. When we imagine a traffic-free urban city landscape, where everyone gets a safe and comfortable mode of travel, and people reach their destinations on time and without hassle, it prompts us to relentlessly work towards building the technology that will power every vehicle in the future.

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