If you’re walking at an average speed of 5 km/hr per hour, your heartbeat is normal and you don’t feel any different. But if you’re late for, say, a meeting, you’ll start running, and your speed will jump to 10 km/hr. This means your heart rate is elevated and you’ll feel an adrenaline rush.
“You feel the same with electric bicycles,” explains Raj Patel, founder of the Ahmedabad-based EV bike company Svitch Bike.
“A normal bicycle runs on the streets at 15 to 20 km/hr. Electric bicycles can run between 20 and 40 km/hr. You’ll eventually feel that thrill,” adds the 30-year-old.
With a passion for electric vehicles and bringing about a change in people’s mindsets and habits, Raj launched Svitch in 2019 after two years of research and development. With sales starting in January 2020, Svitch has sold over 7,000 units across India, as well as countries including Dubai, the US, Netherlands, Amsterdam, and Australia.
Svitch was bootstrapped by Raj and got a shareholder with an 11 per cent stake on board in 2020. With over 250 employees today, the company has grown to a revenue of between Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 crore every month with an annual growth rate of between 25 and 30 per cent.
Among its key features are the bike’s look, as well as the fact that it is lightweight, foldable, and easy to use, explains Raj.
Understanding the market
Passionate about entrepreneurship, Raj started his first company at age 16, and has since been growing in the business world, launching a branding agency and a protein powder company.
After doing a double masters in marketing and finance from Australia, he returned to India looking for new opportunities. The idea that guided him through the early days was that “if you build something new and create a market for it, you’re on your way to creating history”.
Back in India, he noticed that the electric vehicle market is not as fledging as in some other countries. “If we calculate China and India in terms of growth, we have similar challenges like population and lack of education. However, China has grown remarkably in electric vehicle use,” he says. A Mint report states that China presently has 3.4 million electric cars, i.e, 47 per cent of the total number of electric cars in the world.
This, coupled with the fact that South Asian countries like India have a huge two-wheeler demand, meant he found a gap in the market that also aligned with his personal interests. “I was always driven towards fitness and products that can make a change,” he says.
Added to this was the fact that EVs have a much smaller carbon footprint, are economical, and convenient for daily use.
He also noticed that back in 2017, when he was thinking about electric bicycles, most other sellers in India were white labelling instead of manufacturing products themselves and developing brands. This seemed to him like a great time to start working on a brand that developed products made in the country.
“Initially, we were going to set up in China, but we decided to make it in India,” he says.
He began by setting up an infrastructure that included finding the right people — from graphic designers to automobile engineers, social media managers, and back end developers.
The next step was designing the product and purchasing the various parts needed. “Any automobile or bicycle brand doesn’t reinvent the whole wheel. They have their basic design language and the parts are outsourced.”
From the beginning, Svitch’s way of setting its product apart has been through its design language, says Raj. “Any other electric bicycle you see on the roads look like bicycles, they don’t catch your attention,” he opines.
For this, he made sure that Svitch bikes are sleek and dependable, and stand out from the other electric bicycles on the road, he says.
The bike’s chic and smart look is also what attracted Nayan Shah to a Svitch bike. He uses it every weekend, primarily as a ‘hobby product’. “It has an absolutely stunning look. Better than whatever else is available in the market,” he says. “They’re a little bit more expensive than others available in the market, but they look much better.”
While other vehicles have engines, EVs have software. Svitch’s vehicles’ softwares are developed in-house, says Raj, adding, “That’s another thing that’s proprietary about our products.”
He also says that Svitch bikes are foldable and easy to transport, making them more user-friendly. They can be charged on normal plug points and don’t require added effort on the part of the user. “The battery is removable and can be switched easily with a powered battery. In about 2.5 hours, the battery is fully charged and gives a range of between 80 and 100 kilometres,” he says.
Raj has invested $5 million of his own money to grow Svitch.
An uphill path
He says he has faced several challenges along the way, including a lack of infrastructure for EVs in the country, with not enough charging outlets available to users, and a lack of awareness about EVs’ environmental benefits.
Added to this is the fact that most Indians today are living fast-paced lives and “if they forget to charge, the next day the vehicle is of no use,” a hassle that many customers don’t want.
Technologically as well, he found that only low speed EVs were functioning in India at the time of his research, with a speed range of about 25 kilometres per hour. “Everyone wants something that will give them a thrill. A product needed to be designed that satisfied customers’ needs,” he says. Svitch bikes can go upto 45 km/hr.
The biggest challenge, he notes, was reaching customers who would use such a product. This meant their target audiences are now those in the income bracket of Rs 25 lakh, from doctors to IAS officers and influential businessmen, positioning the products toward the luxury segment. Once Raj had found them, sales followed. “Out of every 10 people who test drove Svitch Bikes, eight were buying it,” he says.
Raj firmly believes that within the next five years, there’s going to be major disruption in how people travel, with more and more adapting to EVs. “Companies like ours are shaping the electric market now, bringing about the change from fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles,” he says.
Today, the company works with over 125 dealers and has over 10 exclusive showrooms, with a presence in 29 states, from Leh and Ladakh to Andaman and Nicobar. Svitch sells four models — XE, XE+, MXE for children and shorter users, and NXE, a non-electric bike. Prices for these range from Rs 34,999 to Rs 1,09,000.
Svitch is now in the process of developing its first electric motorbike CSR762, which will launch in the market within the next two months. “This is targeted at the aam aadmi (general population), the day to day commuters,” says Raj about his upcoming product.
Edited by Divya Sethu