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

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

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


In November 2019, Narain Karthikeyan, the primary ever Indian Formulation 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 group. 

After successful the race, Narain thought he would come again to the group and compete the next yr since he had one other yr left on his contract. 

However quick ahead a few months and the COVID-19 pandemic struck which resulted in the whole lot 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 Crew India in 2021, the pandemic triggered a protracted held want—to develop into an entrepreneur. 

“The journey restrictions had been fairly tough and racing got here to a untimely halt. What competing in high-level motorsports like Formulation One has finished is assist me get related with your complete 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 reasonably priced 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, customers are anticipated to choose reasonably priced 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 completely different wants of the reasonably priced mobility sector in India. Since founding it, we’ve constructed a strong tech platform and are in all probability ready to develop into market leaders within the section,” he says. 

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

Elaborating on their choice 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 right this moment. Narain and his group have constructed a singular platform that may scale up shortly. DriveX has a imaginative and prescient to carry a change on this section by constructing belief, assurance, and transparency by way of end-to-end, high-quality merchandise and buyer expertise by way of modern options.” 

Using round 250 individuals, delivering 2,500 items 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 automobiles and that tradition nonetheless exists. So, I feel it was pure that rising up there I’d uncover a ardour for automobiles and bikes. And my father GR Karthikeyan (a former Indian nationwide rally champion) additionally used to rally. That’s how I acquired hooked onto vehicles, I suppose,” he explains.

However did he ever envision changing into knowledgeable race automobile driver competing in Formulation 1? As Narain explains, “The ambition was at all times there. Once I was round perhaps 10 or 11 years previous, I caught the bug. I began following Formulation 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 kinfolk who lived within the United Kingdom. These tapes can be despatched in a courier bundle.”

“Solely after a month or so after the races, you had been in a position to watch them. It was nice rising up with like-minded family and friends. So, at a really early stage, I assumed perhaps I might develop into India’s first Formulation 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 sequence of worldwide motorsport competitions within the late nineties and the early noughties just like the Formulation Asia Championship, British Formulation 3 Championship, Formulation Nippon F3000 Championship and the Nissan World Collection, Narain made his F1 debut with the Jordan group 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 extra seven seasons on the highest stage of the game, Narain moved on to completely 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 automobile driving, why did he determine to enterprise into pre-owned two-wheelers of all issues?

“As a enterprise, the chance for two-wheelers, particularly within the pre-owned house, may be very giant in India. It’s about one and a half instances the dimensions of the brand new two-wheeler market. However this pre-owned car two-wheeler house has largely been transacted by way of an unorganised dealer community. For purchasers, we add lots of worth to those pre-owned two-wheeler bikes. These bikes turned extra sustainable and environment friendly. We give prospects wanting to buy a pre-owned car an expertise of a brand new two-wheeler,” claims Narain.  

“Now we have our refurbishing (refurb) factories. Now we have our contact factors, i.e. personal stores & vendor shops. And the expertise a buyer goes by way of with us is fairly near what she or he would have gone by way of 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 prospects one-year guarantee service. So, the framework is constructed similar to a model new two-wheeler. That’s the thought behind this entire DriveX as a platform,” he provides.

However why not four-wheelers then? 

“Within the final 10 years, lots of digital platforms have advanced within the pre-owned four-wheeler market. We took the fitting choice to get into pre-owned two-wheelers or else we might have been one among the 20 gamers promoting automobiles. On a private observe, my old flame was at all times bikes. However someplace down the road I acquired extra fascinated about racing automobiles,” 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 method to the startup’s in-house refurbishing factories in Hosur and Coimbatore

“We refurbish these autos to the best high quality requirements. We even have OEM (authentic tools producers) assist from the likes of Bajaj, TVS and others with OES (authentic tools provider) components. After refurbishing these bikes, now we have presently 38 shops/contact factors/dealerships the place we retail these autos from,” he claims.  

As Narain notes, there are lots of challenges when it comes to getting the fitting components and suppliers. 

“What has helped us an amazing deal is the digitalisation of those spare components. When a technician desires 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 components to amass and our just-in-time stock administration system helps us loads in reaching a fast turnaround. In fact, we’ve not perfected this course of but,” he says.  

“We’re nonetheless one-and-a-half years previous as a enterprise. So, we maintain evolving and the extra information that is available in, the higher we’ll develop into. The cataloguing of those components is crucial 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 autos out there took about 90 days per car. 

“At the moment, our turnaround time is about 45 days and we’re evolving. We’re evolving as we get extra information and finetune our course of. The goal is to additional cut back this turnaround time by half. That is doable as a result of now we have a superb group which additionally receives a bit exterior assist. Now we 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 activity. Given our fee of progress, we should always be capable of carry down the turnaround time each quarter,” he claims.  

What has additionally helped Narain is his capacity to leverage his almost three decade-long expertise as knowledgeable motorsport athlete into this enterprise. 

“Formulation One is a enterprise and a sport as properly. There are lots of parallels when it comes to getting the fitting group to get the specified outcomes. I’m extraordinarily completely satisfied to say that we’ve put collectively a really robust group 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 trade) a really small neighborhood; you already know the individuals out there. So, we had been shortly in a position to put an amazing group 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 good 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 newest borescopes, which suggests you don’t should disassemble the engine to look at whether or not it requires any fixes, and this helps us cut back the turnaround time,” he provides.

DriveX Mobility

Trying forward

Up to now, DriveX has been in a position to 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’d like extra capital in fact. We need to first do some extra enlargement pan-India after which hopefully we will probably be in a a lot stronger place to do a Collection B spherical as properly,” he claims.

New challenges for the previous Formulation 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan

Given a rising shift to electrical autos (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 continues to be going to be giant for ICE autos, particularly two-wheelers. It’s a tried and confirmed expertise, and will probably be round for a very long time,” he says.  

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

He additionally acknowledges what a unique problem this will probably be in comparison with his profession in motorsports. “I’ve been knowledgeable athlete for many of my life, however it is a fully completely different problem. I’m nonetheless far-off from being a profitable entrepreneur. As a digital platform, we’ll proceed to evolve. However in the end, placing these high quality autos on the street will decide our future as DriveX. Now we have the whole lot there to make this profitable,” he says.

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



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