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On The Move

Bengaluru-based urban mobility start-up Yulu Bikes provides bicycles and battery-operated two-wheelers to solve first and last-mile connectivity issues
Rukmini Rao | Print Edition: July 14, 2019
On The Move
(From left) Hemant Gupta, Naveen Dachuri and Amit Gupta / Photograph by Lantern Camera

Yulu's journey started when Amit Gupta was about to turn 40. As a first-time entrepreneur in his 20s, he co-founded India's first unicorn start-up InMobi. But that just happened, he says. "There was no logic. I wanted to be an entrepreneur when I turned 20 and I thought I will retire when I turn 40." But retirement is far from his mind now. When he was searching for the next big idea, India's plentiful problems threw up many options, but traffic congestion and pollution was what drew him. "Irrespective of profession or financial status, we all take the same roads everyday and if hurts me, I'm reminded of the problem every day."

Amit thought a last-mile, short-distance, electric mobility solution could be an answer. When he began to think about this seriously in 2016, he first sounded off the other co-founders and board members of InMobi. After initial reluctance, they parted ways.

Then came building a new team. Amit turned to his friend and a senior from IIT Kanpur, R.K. Misra. To get a person with a strong understanding of data analysis and AI, he turned to his batchmate Naveen Dachuri. For operations, Amit turned to his childhood friend Hemant Gupta.

The company came into existence in August 2017. With seed funding and angel funding of around $7 million from Joe Hirao (Japan), 3one4 Capitals (India), Blume Ventures (India), Wavemaker (Singapore), Incubate Fund (Japan), Binny Bansal (Flipkart), Naveen Tewari (InMobi), Amit Ranjan (SlideShare), Girish Mathrubootham (Freshdesk), and Amit Singhal (Google), Yulu started its bicycle rental operations in Bengaluru in January 2018.

Mobility as a Service

Bengaluru was a natural choice given its traffic congestions. "Yulu's vision is to provide a shared, smart and sustainable urban micro-mobility solution, which is seamlessly integrated with public transport. The objective is to drastically reduce (vehicular) congestion and pollution, and improve economic productivity," says Misra, President, Ecosystem Partnerships, Yulu. The city already has two-wheeler mobility providers such as Rapido, Bounce and Vogo, but they have conventional petrol-run two-wheelers that they rent out. "We were very clear from the beginning that we will not get into scooters, because we believe that if we have to leapfrog , we need to do it with a mobility first approach, and with an ecosystem approach," says Amit. That's why the founders decided to go all electric.

At present, Yulu has two offerings: 'Move', which is a bicycle, and 'Miracle', a single-seater, battery-operated micro two-wheeler. Both operate on a time-rental model. While most electric vehicles come with a charging option, Yulu's 'Miracle' comes with swappable batteries that are docked at charging hubs where the company places portable charging stations. Using IoT technology to track battery strength, Yulu replaces the low-charge two-wheelers with charged ones from the nearest available charging station. This not only eliminates the time taken for charging but also the downtime of each vehicle. The company has created 'Yulu Zones' every 200 metres in high-density areas to ensure adequate availability and also track demand and supply.

Amit says that the cost of the asset is nearly half of a conventional petrol two-wheeler: Rs 30,000 for a Miracle versus around Rs 60,000 for a petrol two-wheeler. The service model approach ensures higher revenue productivity as return on investment per vehicle is higher.

In the pipeline is a chargeable version of Miracle, which the company plans to roll out this year on a lease model. In Bengaluru, Yulu has partnered with Uber and Bengaluru Metro Rail Corpn. for integration of end-to-end mobility.

"We experimented with over 25-odd vehicles from across the globe," says Amit. Realising the unique preferences of the Indian consumers, prevailing road conditions and maintenance costs, the team came up with the models they use. While the bicycles are manufactured in India, the company gets CKD (completely knocked down) units of the Miracle two-wheeler from Chinese suppliers to be assembled here. The company will shortly launch Magic, a half-peddling, half-battery operated vehicle, this year. With one million-plus users on the platform, Yulu is present in Pune, Mumbai and Bhubaneswar. It has a fleet of over 8,000 bicycles and 1,000-plus two-wheelers in Bengaluru, which is where they want to test the market thoroughly. They plan to expand to Delhi-NCR in 2019.

@rukminirao

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