Punit K Goyal graduated from Aston Business School’s International Business course in 2007. Since then, he has founded and run successful clean-energy companies in both in India and Europe. Punit is also an alumnus of London School of Economics and Political Science (Majors in Public Finance, Class of 2006) and Harvard Business School (Business Strategy Exec Program Class of 2009 and PLD Class of 2010). He has been awarded 40 under 40 Solar Business Leaders and India’s Top 100 Business Leaders in the Solar Industry. Here, he explains how his company BluSmart Mobility (a zero-emission ridehailing service and platform) is improving lives in the Delhi National Capital Region (Delhi NCR).
Tell me about your journey into entrepreneurship.
I wrote a dissertation on the energy space in India at Aston University, and, while writing it, I understood that there was a huge opportunity. In 2007 a lot was happening in the renewable energy space globally. I found that a lot of solar panels were being manufactured in China and in other parts of Asia, and they were being shipped to Europe. This was very exciting for me. I started my first venture in 2008 called PLG Power. We set up a manufacturing facility in India to manufacture and export 72 megawatt solar panels worth €110million to Germany, Italy and Switzerland between 2008 to 2012. It was a massive market opportunity, but around 2012 the entire market was coming down, so I decided that I would exit the manufacturing space and shut down my first start-up. It was a great lesson learned at a very young age.
I then got another opportunity. The Government of Gujarat announced a policy to set up 300 megawatts of solar power plants in India in 2011. My company, PLG Photovoltaic (my second startup which I launched in 2010) got a license but the cost was on the higher side. I collaborated with a Saudi company called Zamil Group and with an investment of $60million we set up India’s first 20-megawatt solar power plant in 2012. It was an historic plant for India – a dedication to the nation. I exited this 20-megawatt solar asset for $68million in 2014.
I then co-founded PLG Clean Energy Projects with a company called Suzlon. Together we set up a 70-megawatt solar power plant in India, in Maharashtra. I think our investment took $55million and the project after commissioning was sold back to Suzlon for $57million.
What made you want to start a ride haling service?
The idea came about when I was in the US. One of my investee companies is Drive Easy, and they were doing car-sharing (I was a seed investor in that company back in 2015). I believe that, in the future, people will not buy cars. In the UK, in London, a lot of people don't own cars, they take the underground, a bus or they take an Uber. That’s a trend that we're going to see growing over the next ten years. Me and my co-founder, Anmol [Jaggi], had been in the solar energy space for ten years. The total cost of ownership in electric vehicles is 25 per cent cheaper today compared to piston-powered, non-electric cars, and they have the advantage of being on the lower side in terms of the fuel cost (which is about 15 per cent of the actual fuel cost for a non-electric car). And that's a massive differential, especially for a ride hailing service it makes more sense because every car on our platform runs about 200 kilometers a day and the math is very simple; the more you run, the more you save.
So we're trying to build a sustainable, affordable ride hailing service for people in Delhi. Delhi is the world's most polluted capital, which is not a good crown to have, and Gurugram - another city we operate in, which is next to Delhi - is the world's most polluted city. The whole idea is to decongest the national capital region of Delhi while ensuring that we don't add any pollution. All our cars have zero emissions. Since launch, we have covered about 11.2 million zero-emission kilometers. Our BlueSmart app has been downloaded by 200,000 people. We have covered about 370,000 zero-emission trips, serving about 400,000 customers, including during lockdown in India [prior to the Delta variant of Covid-19], which impacted transportation as a business.
How has Covid-19 impacted on your business?
We used the Covid-19 period to add a lot of safety features for the consumer. On the BluSmart app you can see the last time your car was sanitized and you can also see the body temperature of the driver. There's also no physical interface with the driver - you pay through BlueWallet, so there’s no cash exchange, minimizing your chances of getting an infection. In the pandemic our focus has been to provide a cleaner, safer, and a more reliable ride experience for the consumers.
What plans have you got for the future of BluSmart?
We've seen good growth. We've raised a small seed round of $10.2million, and these are early days for us. As we speak right now, we are in talks for between $15 and $20million. This will allow us to scale-up the fleet (currently at about 402 electric cars) to about 2,200 electric cars by March of 2022. The major difference between us and Uber is that Uber allows people, individual drivers, to bring assets to the table and start driving. Uber charges commission, which is great for micro entrepreneurship as asset ownership in the UK is about 750 cars per 1,000 people. The asset ownership in the US is about 900 cars per 1,000 people, but the asset ownership in India is about 22 cars per 1,000 people. Less than three per cent of Indians own a car.
We were thinking that if we were to get into the electric vehicle space with the same business model, that doesn’t make sense because these people come from the weakest sections of society and we don’t want them to spend $10,000 up front to buy a car and spend $800 a month on running costs to earn $20 or $50 a month. So we partnered with institutions which are funding renewable energy projects, and they are the ones buying the assets. Meanwhile, we’re improving the quality of life for drivers by allowing them to earn without the hassle of overheads. We're also creating substantial impact because we’re improving the quality of life for everybody living in Delhi. Once we scale to about 40,000 cars in Delhi we will reach out to other cities. The second city will be Bombay. Once we demonstrate scale in these two markets, we'll open the franchise model for BluSmart and people can start running it in other parts of India.
Have you any tips for the readers on being resilient in business?
You see a lot of ups and downs in life and the motto I have is: never celebrate your success and don't feel bad during your bad times because nothing is permanent. Every event that happens in life, good or bad, teaches you a lot and it's what you use from that time that will help you going forward.