Podcast Details


Anand Shah | CoFounder of Ola Electric

2022-07-29
Mr. Anand Shah is the co-founder of Ola Electric, which is India’s largest electric vehicle company. As a leader on the Ola Electric team, Anand Shah helped formulate Ola Electric’s Mission Electric initiative, which seeks to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2021. Through this interview, we explore Mr. Shah's perspective on social entrepreneurship, the importance of energy storage and how EVs and renewable energy will shape India in the decade to come. Hope you enjoy my conversation with Mr. Shah! ​

Topics covered in this podcast: ​

[2:24] Key learnings from interviewing 2000 people as a BMW executive, on the future of mobility
[7:49] Which social entrepreneurship qualities are pivotal according to Mr. Shah?
[11:34] Is the entrepreneurial problem solving process linear or exponential?
[13:14] What led Mr. Shah into social entrepreneurship?
[15:39] What was his role in Ola Electric’s vision “Mission Electric”?
[19:28] Importance of a combination of both clean energy generation and storage capacity
[22:01] What are Mr. Shah’s views on battery swapping?
[24:34] Will renewable energy and electric vehicles serve as a platform to help more firmly establish India's leadership position on the world stage?

Transcript


Karan Takhar

Hello everyone. This is Karan Takhar, and welcome to the Zenergy podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix. For this Fullbright podcast series, I sought to investigate the enabling factors and potential of India's global leadership in renewable energy, with the focus on solar. This Fulbright series is broken down into Four Seasons. In this season, through conversations with leaders who have been instrumental in developing the Indian renewable energy sector, we will highlight how India has managed to integrate 35 gigawatts of solar in just a span of 10 years. We will also explore what these leaders believe the key challenges to be as this sector further develops. In this episode, I'll be speaking with Anand Shah, who's the co-founder of Ola Electric, which is India's largest electric vehicle company, as the founder of Oval Electric, Mr. Shah helped lead the efforts on developing Ola electric vehicle strategy through its Mission Electric initiative. Hope you enjoyed this conversation with Mr. Shah or resource perspective on social entrepreneurship and how evzen renewable energy will help shape India in the decade to come.

Hi, Mr. Shah. Thank you so much for taking the time, and I want to start with asking about an experience you had as an executive with BMW, and I read online that while you were working with BMW you engaged in an initiative to try and understand what the future of mobility looked like, and during this process. I could be wrong about this and would appreciate it if you could clarify, but I read that you interviewed 2000 people around the world inquiring about what the future of mobility would look like. I'm really curious as someone who loves to interview people and feels like interview winning is a great way to learn. If you could just talk a little bit about what that process looked like, who you interviewed and what were some key learnings from this experience?

Anand Shah
Yeah, you know, I can't say that I love interviewing people, but I did find that having conversations with people who have different vantage point about a particular topic is really a unique way to build your own, and you know, I don't know if the number was actually 2000, but it was a significant number of people over a fairly long period of time, and it was highly varied and their questions. We were asking were around where is the future of mobility be going obviously people in the car industry have a view. They have a view on cars and ownership. They have a view on electric versus gas. They have a view on infrastructure that exists, inconvenience. They have a few on how people buy things and the emotional connection the people that don't believe in cars of a very different view, the people investing in the future, we're looking for young sort of rabble-rousers trying to break the system. They have a view on where they think there's growth and demand and opportunity, and the product that we had to create in that stream of work was a presentation to BMW's leadership that needed to be convincing but very well thought through, understood, and rigorous on where we thought the business of moving, whether it's people or goods, was going, and there was no way. It's such a vast topic, right? I mean one of the things that none of us really recognized like pretty much every town and city in the world is organized around, and how people get around it, even the width of a road decides the value of the property next to that road and there's all kinds of laws about being able to turn in the tree height and how much building you can build without enough parking. It all ends up coming down to something like that. So it was incredibly enriching anybody who thinks that you can capture the breath of the topic, like that, like mobility or energy or something like that by creating a novice position and believing that that's true, maybe they can, but I think that these things have a lot of embedded wisdom in them there's a lot the things that we see around us were are that way for a reason, especially in industrial segments that have evolved over decades or 100 years or 200 years, and it's worth understanding why it is that way, even if you're trying to disrupt it. So, I found it to be quite a big learning process, and the more open the mind you have, the more that you're able to grow through something like that.

Karan Takhar
I see. So Who exactly were you interviewing? Just people around the world who had an understanding of mobility.

Anand Shah
I mean it. I can't name them, but I mean it. Yeah, it was people who had invested who would have invested in some of the big names in the mobility early. It's people who were in the automotive industry. It's people that weren't completely different industries. People who had been disruptors had started things that are famous now, and they have a view on how those thing we evolve and grow like it was really up to us to decide what we thought was relevant to how the world was thinking about mobility and in the case of mobility, the argument that I would have, I was making, and I made publicly was that my boss at BMW that said, this all-time said that the car industry is going to change more in the next 20 years, 15 years, than it has in the past 100, and that's because you have this converge on new attitude towards ownership of things amongst young people, and you have this changing attitude towards climate change. Lots of stuff that is happening together, It's almost perfect storm, whatever you thought was relevant to that you pursued because it's not a simple thing. It's not that the car buyer is changing the topic is quite significant. Like, you know, people don't value freedom, the way that I did when I was 16 in the car meant that I could go see my friends and not tell my parents what I was doing I needed a driver's license to do that today I can do that without leaving my room on my phone, right? And so people want the next phone over the next car or the next phone over drivers license, and those things have really significant changes. So yeah, I mean, I think that that list wasn't it wasn't like, you know, I could stretch, strategize and put on a map and hear all the people I need to talk to we ran into somebody had an interesting perspective he listened to.

Karan Takhar
It was around what, like, 2012, right? Yeah, it worked—those covers the 2002- 2013 to 2015 issue. Interesting, and I also was watching a talk that you were giving online at I think it's the Chai Convention. I'm not sure if you remember this is in 2009, especifically, you're talking about like social entrepreneurship and discussing some of the qualities that you believe are pivotal in a social entrepreneur, and specifically, you mentioned how one important quality is that a social entrepreneur needs to be willing to commit themselves to a certain area of interest or to solving a certain problem and a lot of young people today are more impatient, and they want to they expect really short-term results, whereas you're saying how like if a social entrepreneur to come to you and ask for help, you would look for someone who would say I'm willing to work on this for 10 - 20 years. Please can I have some guidance that was really interesting to me and you also, another quality you said is just the willingness to solve problems day in and day out, and I just wanted to ask since this was back in 2009. You still view these, there's like two really key qualities.

Karan Takhar
Yeah, I mean, I still very strongly believe in those things. I think that there are many problems in the world can solve entrenched problems, things that have existed for large amounts of time.

Anand Shah
And many of the young ones come with idealistic views of looking. No, this hasn't been solved because of, Max and I welcome that, But it takes a lot of grit, and it takes a lot of time to solve things that everybody has known that needed to be solved but didn't, which it took a couple of months, and it was a matter of peeling piece of technology. Someone would have done it. They would have found out how you win it. I think the thing that people don't value often is really how big the mountain you have to climb is in order to move the needle when it comes to insurance. Social issues and that doesn't mean you have to like stay in the same job in the same role for the next 20 years. This is clean energy like that's not something that you write a book about, then expected, you know, everybody change in mind tomorrow like that requires a lot of effort. So I still believe in that very strongly. I think that the question about solving problems, I mean it's part of my own philosophy of life like I mean, I think that some of the best entrepreneurs you know the entrepreneurs are people who want to solve problems, and it's not the big problem only opened a can of lots and lots and small problems that get to the big problem and now you have to like doing that could be an entrepreneur, and I think honing that skill makes people into even better entrepreneurs wearing the ability to identify a problem, break it into the smaller problems as they emerge, and then just sort of hammer through them is what gets you, gets you through it, you know, user, are you using example, someone else and shared you know a member who, but saying that you know if you, if you're climbing up a mountain in the dark, you can't see the top of the mountain, that you have a flashlight, and that flashlight lights up that makes 5 feet, you know, how to walk those next my feet, but every foot that you walk. Lights up the next foot. Right? because the flashlight keeps showing 5 feet and I think that really an analogy in my world when entrepreneurship brilliant.

Karan Thakkar
Interesting. Oh, so each problem you solve will then help you solve the next one. Essentially, you keep going and then and if you.

Anand Shah
If you, use the mountain as an example, that next one is a foot higher than the previous one. So it's like you keep going like you set a goal, you know, but.

Karan Thakkar
I see.

Anand Shah
You gotta take, you gotta take the steps to get there so something.

Karan Thakkar

I've always believed in terms of, like, entrepreneurship. As you're solving problems, there's always an Inflexion point where once you solve enough problems and you have enough small successes, then usually it's like an exponential curve, do you believe that is true, or is that just something I mean, I've always thought that, like where if you put enough. I'm interested, and then it's not like incremental progress up to some point it is, but then at some point, it will just inflect, or did you stop on that?

Anand Shah
It's not linear, right? I mean, if it doesn't inflect, right, like then if the effort you're putting in to solve the problem doesn't build on the other solutions you've had, it might not even be the right entrepreneurial journey for you, right? Like it is exponential, right? And then there's many different angles to that, but that doesn't mean there aren't problems. It's all even in the high parts of an exponential curve, right? That's the nature of, I think, it is the best entrepreneurs I've seen not like you think of folks regardless of their personality, you know, whoever, Steve Jobs or Henry Ford or Thomas Edison or whatever, like they reach success and they create new problems to solve, and that's what makes it a never-ending story, and so each one of those journeys has an exponential curve too, and some of them, you know, have an exponentially negative curve, but you fall down, you get up and keep going.

Karan Takhar
How did you get into social entrepreneurship, like those will doing research and watching your videos, and then you started out with India Corps directly after graduating from Harvard in 2000. I think you launched in Eclipse in 2001. Was that part of the plan, or did it just unfold as time went on? 

Anand Shah
No, I mean, it was never part of the plan, which I didn't know what my plan was like day. I graduated from college. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. Most people around me thought I'd be building flying cars or something like that, and they just don't know, but the. But it really evolved as it was, right? I mean, I think, that in my world like. You want to live a life without regret. You want to be able to use your capability that the human being and the personal knowledge, keeping educated well to do the most you can, and so for me, it's about chasing the things that I think I can do and proving to myself 1st and proving to the Western world after that I can actually do then, and all of these things were things that I saw a vision for in my head, and I believed I could achieve that vision just keep going, and so, in the case of India court like, this is something that was needed. I saw appears that wanted something like it, and you know, I knew that if I could create something like it that other people would want to do it, and that's been true of everything that I've attempted to do, and not all of them actually worked. Many of them didn't work the way I thought they would, but that's OK, and so today like the only person whose life journey makes sense to his meat, and that's OK. I know why they strung together to me. It's one long story that makes a lot of sense, and somebody looks at me from the outside. They probably think I've done a bunch of random things, you know, from one perspective I have. But for me, it's been a sort of organic, evolving journey.

Karan Takhar
I see. That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. Just wrapping up, can I ask you a few questions on this last roll of yours with Ola Electric?

Anand Shah
Sure, of course.

Karan Thakkar
So Electric launched 200 EV vehicles in May 2017 in Nagpur and then in March 2018. You joined, and were brought on board to lead EV strategy And then, in April 2018 is the launch of Mission Electric with the aim to have 10,000 EV's shows on the road in the next 12 months and 1,000,000 each by this is 2021, but I've also said an article where it's 2022. So, so essentially, a month after you were brought on board, this vision came about was, did that come from you and the team you were on to get 1,000,000 EV's on the road by 2021 or 2022?

Anand Shah
Yeah, I mean, look, so the answer to this is, like, Ola had experimented with electrification in Nagpur. It was, and it was a difficult thing. If you've read the report like, you know Ola is well placed, that delivers, you know, lots of rides every day they use vehicles. To get people to one quickly. Other they're heavy user or vehicle. If you can electrify them, theoretically, you can make it cheaper, but there's a lot of pieces that go into that the cost of power, or the costs and lands or charging stations, the time of day that's available, whether it's convenient for drivers to get to it, whether the vehicles are good enough, all of these solar had done. This experiment and had decided that look, electrification had some comments, and decided that you know. It was in the back of their head. But maybe we can do something larger in electric. That's what Nagpur proves to them. I joined. Ola, to build to build out the what does he like and what does electric mean till 2020. Let you know, Mission Electric was part of my work in the team that I was on, and the leadership of Ola, we launched Mission Electric, you know, we decided to build an electric vehicle business. We looked at where the shortages were and where we thought there were shortcomings in the market and decided to put together a vision for how. We could deliver a solution that come reasonable scale, that was ambitious, and we raised money against that, and I was involved in all of that. So from its inception post-Nagpur and figuring out what to do, I, you know, I had a very key role in the business of this sort of entrepreneurship requires a really significant track record, and Ola has more or less leadership. The CEO Ola publish ever has raised significant amounts of money to build a business at scale that is solved really intractable problems and put millions of people to work and build technology and that track record speaks for itself. So the 1st piece of advice. Do you look at somebody like publisher Glaude realize that when people have given you money in the past, and you have a track record of delivering and being able to grow that that makes the next thing you do a lot easier to do the first thing to recognize is that like with all that being involved and Ola own track record of having built a business from 2010-2009 to the time that you're talking about in 2018, don't underestimate the value of that, secondly, there's a vision for what the future looks like. That's something I contributed to directly that needed to make sense. They needed to recognize the problem that you are facing, and you know the world is facing in order to achieve. This vision and have a plan on how you tackle some other those problems and challenges and bind that together with the credibility of being part of a company that have delivered in the past, and that creates a recipe. That people are willing to hear you hear you out about right, and so now the rest of it's on how well you execute, and then I think that's a no ola electric has the resources in the bank to get to where another milestone, and I think that it's an exciting road ahead, like there's a lot to do and a lot of opportunity. India is a country that imports all of its fuel in towards its oil refined some of it and give but the rest of it comes from the outside. But it is also a country that has made really big strides in renewable some of the other people you interviewed probably can talk about that some of the most ambitious goals reduce the cost of power, and one of the interesting things about clean energy, especially solar, is if you want solar to replace coal, you have to have a place to store it.

Karan Thakkar
Here, yeah.

Anand Shah

Otherwise, baseload will continue to operate as coal or gas or whatever it might be, so storage is really critical to a renewable energy future, and there are different types of storage, but one thing that people need to get from one place to the other, that could also be storage in the vehicle like in India, cities are dent getting, you know, there are very few people like in America that drive hundreds of miles a day. Real possibility for India to be a leader in electric vehicle, small electric fields and two wheels, three cars that don't need to go far, or in taxis where lots of people in India use mobility as it circuits whether it can travelled vehicle. Taxi your thoughts, whatever it might be, there is a real, real opportunity to store all of this energy that all these solar panels with India is going to put on the ground in battery that people used to move, move themselves around that's where the real opportunity is, and if you can think that large, there's a lot of money to be raised.

Karan Thakkar

I see. So essentially, use the vehicles as a the vehicle to grid connection, where the batteries in the cars can then store that.

Anand Shah
Step to ground. The first one is that you're generating electricity. You need to put it doesn't have to be two-way vehicle to grid just yet, and 1st, just put the energy in the batteries in vehicle but the demand for energy. That and you can do simple things like price it when you have plenty of. It and you need it to be stored you probably cheaply, and people will automatically start coming and taking it. The second version of that is when you need more power, and these vehicles can be plugged in. You can pull power from them, right? And you we've seen examples of how that's work the Tesla project in Australia up, you have like we can actually solve the economic problems of, you know, a peak demand if you had storage in between so there's a lot of complex, entrenched issues that can get resolved if you have a fluid system of clean energy generation, and storage of clean energy, and now a large number of vehicles on the road is effectively, effectively moving storage of clean energy, right? That's what even petroleum products or storage of energy it could be the store of energy.

Karan Thakkar

That makes sense. So what about battery swapping? What is your view point take on battery swapping.

Anand Shah

I think swapping has promise, and I can't say that I don't have like a hard view of like it's swapping. That's going to win.

Karan Takhar
Yeah

Anand Shah

Right, there are certain situations in which swapping makes, so swapping makes a lot of sense, right? If you're a small vehicle, you don't. Travel long swapping can make a tonne of sense. You took a large vehicle, and it requires robots and big infrastructure to lift the battery and put. It out, it doesn't make a lot. But the thing about. Flops is that. The key thing is you can separate the vehicle from the battery, right? You know electric vehicles today, right? 35%- 40% of the cost of that vehicle is often the battery itself. If I can sell you an electric vehicle without a battery, let's imagine. I could sell you a scooter. It comes without a battery, and you only pay for the battery as you use it. That's great. That's what we do with cars today, right? Like a car. Today I buy a car, and then I put in gas, and I don't. Pay for the gas, the oil, the oil. Shift and I don't pay for the oil refinery, I just pay for how much gas I use well, in an electric car today I'm asking you to pay for. The battery in advance, right? It's your real ship Many, paper energy. So when you take the battery away from the vehicle, you can make the vehicle really cheap. That only works for two Wheelers. 3 Wheelers in dense markets like India where you have so many of these small vehicles running around that you could actually make the economic slide so. I think swapping has Thomas. Promised in small vehicles in ultra-dense markets, especially in emerging markets like India, Brazil, China, and to some extent Mexico. There are countries where, you know, lots of countries with large numbers of people who, you know, still have a long way to go on the economic staircase that they are going to want to move around. They use two or three Wheelers and small 4 Wheelers quite extensively so. For them, I think swapping came for larger vehicles, I'm not so sure it makes sense, and I think there are other forms of storage. That also might. Make sense like hydrogen and other things that could go but It's not a monolithic market.

Karan Thakkar

That makes sense. In my final question, thank you so much for your time and really nice conversation. What would you say or something like the key priorities? In terms India's development over the long term, do you think Eaves and also renewable energy could these two areas really help India assume a leadership position on the global stage like what are your views around?

Anand Shah
That look, I think that we live in a very interesting time. A lot of good and bad happening all around us, but there are some really big megatrends you have climate change is undeniably real. People get it. Consumers and young consumers are highly informed and highly connected to digitalization and still have a long way to go. We've come a long way in the past 20 years 25 years. But like, there are so many things yet to be imagined. It's an exciting time to be a country coming of age because you can adapt things and technology and attitude that other markets. Did before when things weren't the way they were. So first things first. India is developing in a very interesting time, right? Yeah, very young population that is hungry and ambitious and there are tools that India has during development that other people did not right, and we see things like Aadhaar, for example, you know, is unlocking a lot of you know a lot of potentials that when the US went through its financial revolution and inclusion revolution didn't have, and so that's a big opportunity in the case of renewable energy and electric vehicles or alternative fuel vehicles, I think it's very similar, but in the other country, that does not have that many car owners. Sure, it will increase as people get wealthier, they want to move more. One of the biggest users of fuel and oil and fossil fuels in the world is transportation. Whether that's a good, which is a very significant component of it, or its people, which is another significant component of it, you know these are big opportunities to makeshift right and It's the world. I'm thinking that way. Yeah, America is trying to convert people from fossil fuels to electricity. China is trying to convert people from fossil fuels to electricity. India is trying to get people into cars and they don't have to convert some sort of tool to anything. If they start electric, they'll be electric, right? So I think India got the opportunity to do it right. The first time died in March, and I think that's also true on energy, and then he has made enormous progress on energy solar cheek. Now there are ups and downs with that, that's a really big deal, and they've done that with LEd lighting, right? They use their purchasing power but go all in the butterfly for six years, and they've done a lot of energy and, therefore moment import money. In order to be able to do that, I think they can be back to metric vehicles as well. Yes, climate change economy where the next set of businesses and next set of opportunities, the next set of big ideas are going to be a world that uses resources, right? I think India's got massive potential.

Karah Thakkar
I hope you enjoyed that episode, and do check out the show notes For more information on my guest. See you next time.

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