Home / Companies / Start-ups /  We’re just scratching the surface in terms of potential: Lithium’s Sanjay Krishnan

Bengaluru: Sanjay Krishnan, co-founder of Lithium Urban Technologies, says it was gumption, not confidence, that led to the birth of India’s first electric cab service. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What gave you the confidence to start India’s first electric cab service, especially when the infrastructure is so poor here?

I don’t think it was confidence. It was just gumption. You could wait till all the pieces kind of sort themselves out. It is almost like saying (you could wait till) pieces of a jigsaw position themselves and you just put them together. And the other is to say is there an opportunity today. It stemmed from the belief that we all know that natural resources are finite. It’s a question of when they will run out. Two is the maturity of technology. (So we asked,) can you pull these both together and see does it make sense today? India is a very unique country in which there is a huge energy arbitrage between hydrocarbon and electricity.

Why did you decide to target corporates rather than the general public with your cab service?

(Using) electric vehicles meant availability of uninterrupted power and charging stations, and infrastructure for EVs has always been put up by governments. When we started, there was none of that. So, we said who has 24x7 power? The autonomy of an internal combustion engine vehicle is almost infinite, because you can go to a petrol bunk, and in say five minutes, fill it and go, right? Here, you have to charge the vehicle, and charging would take an hour or an hour-and-a-half. And therefore, you have to plan your journeys completely. So, first we said business-to-consumer (segment) is out. (For B2C to work), there has to be a large fleet. Access and availability are key to B2C, which without a fairly large fleet size, you can’t provide. Then, you have got to put this infrastructure all across the city, right? So, who’s going to pay for it? How are you going to provision power for it?

It’s like solving the world’s hunger problem. (So, we asked) who has power, where is world-class infrastructure already there, where are schedules made in advance. And then we said if all of these three things have to be met, then it’s corporate employee transport. We realized that in cities like Bengaluru or Chennai or Pune or NCR or Hyderabad, almost a million people in each of these cities work in this segment, and it works 24x7. Of course, the viability of an electric vehicle is highest when it runs that many more kilometres.

What is Lithium’s USP?

We didn’t want people to buy it because it was green because that means the audience would always be limited. Therefore, it meant maybe curate a service that addresses the key buyer values of that segment, which essentially means cost-effectiveness, transparency, safety, security and compliance. So, it had a technology layer, a process layer, a policy layer, whether it meant how do we recruit drivers, how do we train them, how do we certify them, how do we manage our whole planning process, what is the transparency of data. Because one thing we realized when we started talking to all these corporate transport (executives) is that it’s also a very opaque area. Also, companies spend more on transport than on real estate. So, therefore we said, if we have to break (into) this, it can’t just be EV. It can’t be just the technology layer but the proposition itself must be so compelling, and it must disrupt.

ALSO READ | Lithium Urban Tech paves the way for EV revolution in India’s cab market

So, a lot of things were game-changers that we wanted to do. So, we said we will remove this whole bean counting thing of kilometres, trips, this that. So, we said unlimited mileage. We really propositioned ourselves on productivity. So, the more the trips, more kilometres, it becomes cheaper for the client. So, (it is) very counter-intuitive. So, we said that’s how we do it, and based and backed (it) with a lot of transportation analytics.

Who were some of your big supporters when you started out?

A lot of people have supported us— OEMs, our first set of customers, our first set of team members-colleagues who joined, first set of drivers. We are still in the beginning of the journey. We are just scratching the surface in terms of potential.

Where do you see your drivers’ strength in a year from now?

I would say a thousand. Obviously it depends on how quickly it adds up. We are trying to do a lot of things here.

Are we going to see you in just Bengaluru and NCR?

We are in conversation with clients in other jurisdictions, both in India and abroad. 

What gives you the confidence to consider taking your concept abroad?

The idea actually came from Anand Mahindra (chairman and managing director of Mahindra Group). Ashwin and I met Mr Mahindra a few months ago, and he said rather than doing too many cities in India, why don’t you do a city outside (India)?


It is easier to do it (abroad). Here, there is too much noise in the system (in India), right? Transport is a state subject. Nothing works here... Outside (India), there are gatekeepers for each of these businesses and there are regulators and all of that, but I think it’s a cleaner cut. Once you pass through the gate, then it’s for you to operate your business rather than constantly looking out what’s changing around you.

So, are you taking Lithium to a developed country?

May not be. It’s definitely east of Suez (Canal) is what I can tell you.

Is it going to be the same concept that you take there?

Might be a little different. Obviously here it’s B2B because that kind of an industry exists here. There are some markets we are looking at which have a similar kind of profile. But I think this will be different. What might be similar is the energy arbitrage. The service might be curated differently, but essentially the common theme is energy arbitrage.

Is there any possibility that you might think of B2C in India as well?

We will look at it from a very niche perspective. That’s another opportunity. People always ask me how do you compare with Ola and Uber? I’m saying everybody is required (to solve the problem of sustainable urban transportation). An e-auto is required, a normal auto is required, a bus is required, a shuttle is required, a Ola, Uber, Meru. Everyone plays a particular role.

There is too much of a challenge right now (to enter B2C): charging infrastructure, electricity provisioning, availability of real estate (for putting the charger), access. Suppose you are driving through arterial roads and you run out of charge, where do I go and charge it? Those classical infra issues (are there). (Governments should) first make (proper) provision for public transport. Then let us evolve from there.

You will see us in B2C, (but) not competing against Ola and Uber. I think we will wait for that bloodbath to get over.

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