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We never discounted. We charged a premium: Ather Energy CEO Tarun Mehta

Ather Energy CEO Tarun Mehta shares his thoughts on building a great team and a brand story, and the EV industry

Rajiv Singh
Published: Sep 18, 2023 11:23:53 AM IST
Updated: Sep 18, 2023 09:12:51 PM IST

We never discounted. We charged a premium: Ather Energy CEO Tarun MehtaTarun Mehta, Co-founder and CEO of Ather Energy Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India

It’s hard to resist a temptation. And if the temptation happens to be too tempting, then it’s all the more difficult to stay away. But this is what Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain have done. “We always said that we will never launch a scooter below a price tag of Rs1 lakh. We never did,” says Mehta, co-founder and CEO of Ather Energy. Most startups in India, he underlines, might have started their product journey with discounting. “We started by saying that we will charge a premium,” he says. Indians will pay a premium provided they get a high-quality product. Edited excerpts:

On Staying Away From Controversies

We don't like picking unnecessary fights. We don't like controversies. Once in a while, a friendly banter is okay but nothing beyond that. We have had our naysayers. I'm sure we have a lot of naysayers even today, but do I know them? I don't. Do I have public fights with them? I don't. Have I tried to score brownie points with somebody? I haven't. We do our thing, we build our thing, and we have absolute fun doing it.

On Why Upgrading Is The Future

There are still a lot of people who think that the market lies in building the same old thing at the same old prices and selling low-cost scooters. I've a firm belief in a different and bigger picture. Wait for another eight years, and you will see the market constantly migrating upwards. The future is Indians buying better quality vehicles and paying a premium for it. I'm not saying Indians will buy a Rs5 lakh scooter, but I think Indians will pay over a lakh for quality scooters. We're still in the process of convincing people but it will happen.

Also read: Ather Energy has survived so far by scripting a differentiated play. Can they continue creating magic?

On Why Indians Don’t Love Cheap Products

India is not a demand, but a supply-constrained country. We don't have great products. We don't have brands trying to build great quality. We don't have companies trying to do the right things. Do it, and consumers will pay. Indians don't want to pay for luxury. We don't want to pay a $1,000 premium because it's hand-stitched leather. See what is happening in smartphones. Entire population is moving from Rs5,000 phones to Rs15,000-20,000 smartphones. This is happening now with two-wheelers.

On Building A Great Team

Having a really great team around you solves a lot of a founder’s problems. If the team gets motivated by the challenge, then the storytelling job becomes easy for a founder. One thing we did correctly for most part of our journey is that we gave confidence to our team members, especially in design and engineering. To good engineers, it’s an amazing thing to know that if they build something magical, the company will ship it. I think a lot of cultures don't do that. A lot of design, engineering cultures are a lot less decisive. I think the ability to say we'll only launch this means that we only have to build it.

On Why Founders Must Be Decisive

Founders should veto things more. It’s a founder's job to keep the company focused. At times, when you start bringing in experienced folks in the company, the instinct of a lot of founders is that maybe now it's time to step back and let management take more decisions. At times, most founders overdo that. I don't think founders should step back and let the new management make a lot of mistakes for too long a time. The founders must find the right balance. We had a phase when we went from 300 people to around 2,500. And obviously, a lot of external leadership had to come. The leaders, though, were not the problem. The problem was we stepped back a bit too much.

Also read: Exponent: Solving a two-sided problem of fast charging

On Why Founders Must Build A Brand

My biggest realisation is that we should tell our stories a lot more. People want to buy a brand story. It's incorrect to think they are only buying products. So figuring out their brand story and talking more publicly about it is a great idea.

On Subsidy & EV Players

I think subsidies should never be the underlying business case. Yes, subsidies should be ramped down or increased gradually because they change underlying dynamics of the market, products, technology, directions, and investments. So the changes should be gradual and not instantaneous. Even if they were instantaneous, it does not change the final outcome. It doesn't mean that what you're building is incorrect. I don't think I would be surprised if there was any company hoping for a perpetual subsidy regime.

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