Narain Karthikeyan, India’s 1st F1 Driver, Constructed a Profitable Startup in Simply 3 Years

In November 2019, Narain Karthikeyan, the primary ever Indian Components 1 driver and a standout determine on this planet of Indian motorsports, was competing in Fuji, Japan, on the Tremendous GT x DTM Dream Race for the Honda-backed Moduko Nakajima Racing staff. 

After profitable the race, Narain thought he would come again to the staff and compete the next 12 months since he had one other 12 months left on his contract. 

However quick ahead a few months and the COVID-19 pandemic struck which resulted in all the things getting shut down, together with the prospect of racing in Japan the next season. Though Narain would compete once more on the Asian Le Mans Collection for Racing Staff India in 2021, the pandemic triggered an extended held need—to change into an entrepreneur. 

“The journey restrictions have been fairly tough and racing got here to a untimely halt. What competing in high-level motorsports like Components One has executed is assist me get linked with your entire automotive ecosystem. And if I ever ventured into placing a enterprise collectively, it needed to be associated to vehicles,” Narain explains in a dialog with The Higher India

For Narain, the main target needed to be on inexpensive mobility because it was the necessity of the hour. As this 2020 KPMG report said, “With the necessity for social distancing and hygiene, coupled with monetary constraints, shoppers are anticipated to want inexpensive private mobility modes.”

“Reasonably priced mobility was the necessity of the hour. Backed by this imaginative and prescient, we began DriveX Mobility, a brand-agnostic mobility platform within the pre-owned two-wheeler class that caters to totally different wants of the inexpensive mobility sector in India. Since founding it, we’ve constructed a strong tech platform and are in all probability ready to change into market leaders within the phase,” he says. 

Included in April 2020, DriveX Mobility claims to offer “fine quality refurbished two-wheelers to clients and permits them to purchase two-wheelers at affordable costs”. In August 2022, Indian two-wheeler big TVS Motor Firm acquired a major 48.27% stake within the pre-owned two-wheeler platform for a hefty INR 85.41 crore.

Elaborating on their resolution to purchase a stake in DriveX, Sudarshan Venu, Managing Director at TVS, mentioned in a press launch, “The pre-owned two-wheeler market is essentially unorganised at the moment. Narain and his staff have constructed a singular platform that may scale up rapidly. DriveX has a imaginative and prescient to deliver a change on this phase by constructing belief, assurance, and transparency via end-to-end, high-quality merchandise and buyer expertise via modern options.” 

Using round 250 individuals, delivering 2,500 models a month (from 15 in August 2020) and buying exterior funding of about $11 million over two rounds, DriveX has risen in a short time. Late final month, they even introduced the opening of 10 new dealerships throughout India. 

Narain Karthikeyan Formula 1 race car driver and now founder of DriveX
Narain Karthikeyan, the entrepreneur

Love for vehicles

Born and raised in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Narain grew up amidst individuals who share a singular love for vehicles. “There’s an enormous tradition of racing and rallying in Coimbatore. It’s a metropolis the place engineering appears to be one of many hallmarks. Lots of people modify their vehicles and that tradition nonetheless exists. So, I believe it was pure that rising up there I might uncover a ardour for vehicles and bikes. And my father GR Karthikeyan (a former Indian nationwide rally champion) additionally used to rally. That’s how I received hooked onto vehicles, I suppose,” he explains.

However did he ever envision turning into an expert race automotive driver competing in Components 1? As Narain explains, “The ambition was at all times there. After I was round perhaps 10 or 11 years outdated, I caught the bug. I began following Components One at the moment. It was fairly tough to even view the races on TV as a result of we needed to get recorded tapes from my relations who lived within the United Kingdom. These tapes could be despatched in a courier package deal.”

“Solely after a month or so after the races, you have been capable of watch them. It was nice rising up with like-minded family and friends. So, at a really early stage, I believed perhaps I may change into India’s first Components One driver. And that’s how the dream advanced from there on,” he provides. 

Suffice to say, Narain fulfilled his dream. After shining in a collection of worldwide motorsport competitions within the late nineties and the early noughties just like the Components Asia Championship, British Components 3 Championship, Components Nippon F3000 Championship and the Nissan World Collection, Narain made his F1 debut with the Jordan staff in 2005. 

In his debut season, Narain achieved his highest F1 end of fourth place on the 2005 United States Grand Prix. After competing for an additional seven seasons on the highest stage of the game, Narain moved on to totally different pastures and created a singular legacy for himself. For his achievements in motorsports, Narain was awarded the Padma Shri in 2010.   

Narain Karthikeyan, Formula 1 Driver, has now changed lanes to run a startup
Narain Karthikeyan driving for Hispania on the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix

Why promote pre-owned two wheelers solely

In April 2020, Narain based DriveX alongside Christopher Sargunam. After a profession in race automotive driving, why did he resolve to enterprise into pre-owned two-wheelers of all issues?

“As a enterprise, the chance for two-wheelers, particularly within the pre-owned area, could be very giant in India. It’s about one and a half occasions the scale of the brand new two-wheeler market. However this pre-owned automobile two-wheeler area has largely been transacted via an unorganised dealer community. For patrons, we add plenty of worth to those pre-owned two-wheeler bikes. These bikes turned extra sustainable and environment friendly. We give clients wanting to buy a pre-owned automobile an expertise of a brand new two-wheeler,” claims Narain.  

“We now have our refurbishing (refurb) factories. We now have our contact factors, i.e. personal stores & supplier shops. And the expertise a buyer goes via with us is fairly near what she or he would have gone via whereas shopping for a brand new bike. That’s the quantity of worth we’ve been ready so as to add. Plus, we’re additionally giving our clients one-year guarantee service. So, the framework is constructed similar to a model new two-wheeler. That’s the thought behind this complete DriveX as a platform,” he provides.

However why not four-wheelers then? 

“Within the final 10 years, plenty of digital platforms have advanced within the pre-owned four-wheeler market. We took the best resolution to get into pre-owned two-wheelers or else we’d have been one among the 20 gamers promoting vehicles. On a private word, my past love was at all times bikes. However someplace down the road I received extra desirous about racing vehicles,” explains Narain. 

Narain Karthikeyan now refurbishes pre-owned two-wheelers
Refurbished two-wheelers at a DriveX Mobility facility

Their enterprise mannequin

DriveX sources pre-owned two-wheelers from C2B (buyer to enterprise) and B2B (enterprise to enterprise) channels. After sourcing, these pre-owned two-wheelers make their option to the startup’s in-house refurbishing factories in Hosur and Coimbatore

“We refurbish these automobiles to the very best high quality requirements. We even have OEM (unique tools producers) assist from the likes of Bajaj, TVS and others with OES (unique tools provider) elements. After refurbishing these bikes, we’ve at the moment 38 shops/contact factors/dealerships the place we retail these automobiles from,” he claims.  

As Narain notes, there are plenty of challenges when it comes to getting the best elements and suppliers. 

“What has helped us a fantastic deal is the digitalisation of those spare elements. When a technician needs a sure spare half, she or he can scan for this product on a digital platform we’ve built-in into our again workplace. On the stage one inspection itself, we all know precisely what elements to amass and our just-in-time stock administration system helps us lots in attaining a fast turnaround. After all, we’ve not perfected this course of but,” he says.  

“We’re nonetheless one-and-a-half years outdated as a enterprise. So, we maintain evolving and the extra knowledge that is available in, the higher we’ll change into. The cataloguing of those elements is an important a part of this enterprise or else the time taken to refurbish it’s excessive,” he provides. 

Not too way back, Narain claims that this course of from sourcing to placing out these refurbished automobiles out there took about 90 days per automobile. 

“As we speak, our turnaround time is about 45 days and we’re evolving. We’re evolving as we get extra knowledge and finetune our course of. The goal is to additional scale back this turnaround time by half. That is potential as a result of we’ve a very good staff which additionally receives somewhat exterior assist. We now have good storage software program. So, all these components are serving to us to get that TAT (turnaround time) even decrease. However, as said earlier, it’s a really complicated process. Given our fee of progress, we should always be capable of deliver down the turnaround time each quarter,” he claims.  

What has additionally helped Narain is his means to leverage his practically three decade-long expertise as an expert motorsport athlete into this enterprise. 

“Components One is a enterprise and a sport as properly. There are plenty of parallels when it comes to getting the best staff to get the specified outcomes. I’m extraordinarily completely happy to say that we’ve put collectively a really robust staff who eats, breathes and sleeps two-wheelers; particularly. At our two refurbishing centres, for instance, we make use of north of 150-odd technicians. And, it’s (automotive business) a really small neighborhood; you recognize the individuals out there. So, we have been rapidly capable of put a fantastic staff collectively. That’s what has pushed the enterprise,” he claims. 

“It’s additionally about understanding the processes. These are pre-owned two wheelers that require servicing. For instance, it’s essential to see if there’s carbon construct up within the cylinder head. You should see if the valves are seated correctly, the clutch works correctly and so forth. We use the most recent borescopes, which suggests you don’t must disassemble the engine to look at whether or not it requires any fixes, and this helps us scale back the turnaround time,” he provides.

DriveX Mobility

Trying forward

To this point, DriveX has been capable of generate funding to the tune of USD 11 million of their Seed and Collection-A rounds in December 2021 and October 2022 respectively. 

“Because the enterprise grows, we want extra capital after all. We need to first do some extra enlargement pan-India after which hopefully we might be in a a lot stronger place to do a Collection B spherical as properly,” he claims.

New challenges for the previous Components 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan

Given a rising shift to electrical automobiles (EVs) in India, Narain believes that DriveX will finally pivot to pre-owned two-wheeler EVs. “However in India, the IC-engine market goes to be round for a very long time, significantly in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and cities. These are aspirational individuals and the market remains to be going to be giant for ICE automobiles, particularly two-wheelers. It’s a tried and confirmed know-how, and might be round for a very long time,” he says.  

“So, we need to maintain placing out high quality merchandise. If we try this, we might be round for many years. The dimensions of the market is $25 million each year. There’s plenty of scope to change into a really giant platform and our full focus is in India,” he provides. 

He additionally acknowledges what a special problem this might be in comparison with his profession in motorsports. “I’ve been an expert athlete for many of my life, however it is a fully totally different problem. I’m nonetheless distant from being a profitable entrepreneur. As a digital platform, we’ll proceed to evolve. However finally, placing these high quality automobiles on the highway will decide our future as DriveX. We now have all the things there to make this profitable,” he says.

(Edited by Padmashree Pande; Photographs courtesy DriveX Mobility, Wikimedia Commons, X/Narain Karthikeyan)

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