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


In November 2019, Narain Karthikeyan, the primary ever Indian System 1 driver and a standout determine on the 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 every little thing 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 turn into an entrepreneur. 

“The journey restrictions have been fairly troublesome and racing got here to a untimely halt. What competing in high-level motorsports like System One has completed is assist me get related with the whole 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 acknowledged, “With the necessity for social distancing and hygiene, coupled with monetary constraints, customers are anticipated to want 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 totally different wants of the reasonably priced mobility sector in India. Since founding it, we’ve constructed a strong tech platform and are most likely ready to turn into market leaders within the section,” he says. 

Included in April 2020, DriveX Mobility claims to supply “high-quality refurbished two-wheelers to clients and permits them to purchase two-wheelers at affordable costs”. In August 2022, Indian two-wheeler large 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 resolution to purchase a stake in DriveX, Sudarshan Venu, Managing Director at TVS, stated in a press launch, “The pre-owned two-wheeler market is basically unorganised at this time. Narain and his group have constructed a novel platform that may scale up shortly. DriveX has a imaginative and prescient to deliver a change on this section by constructing belief, assurance, and transparency by means of end-to-end, high-quality merchandise and buyer expertise by means of progressive options.” 

Using round 250 folks, 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 novel 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’d 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 bought hooked onto vehicles, I suppose,” he explains.

However did he ever envision changing into an expert race automobile driver competing in System 1? As Narain explains, “The ambition was at all times there. After I was round perhaps 10 or 11 years previous, I caught the bug. I began following System One at the moment. It was fairly troublesome 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 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 may turn into India’s first System 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 System Asia Championship, British System 3 Championship, System 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 additional seven seasons on the highest degree of the game, Narain moved on to totally different pastures and created a novel 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 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 massive 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 area has largely been transacted by means of an unorganised dealer community. For purchasers, we add a variety 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 car an expertise of a brand new two-wheeler,” claims Narain.  

“We have now our refurbishing (refurb) factories. We have now our contact factors, i.e. personal shops & seller shops. And the expertise a buyer goes by means of with us is fairly near what she or he would have gone by means of whereas shopping for a brand new bike. That’s the quantity of worth we’ve been in a position 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 entire DriveX as a platform,” he provides.

However why not four-wheelers then? 

“Within the final 10 years, a variety of digital platforms have advanced within the pre-owned four-wheeler market. We took the fitting resolution to get into pre-owned two-wheelers or else we’d have been one among the 20 gamers promoting vehicles. On a private observe, my old flame was at all times bikes. However someplace down the road I bought extra involved in 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 best high quality requirements. We even have OEM (unique gear producers) help from the likes of Bajaj, TVS and others with OES (unique gear provider) elements. After refurbishing these bikes, we have now at present 38 shops/contact factors/dealerships the place we retail these automobiles from,” he claims.  

As Narain notes, there are a variety of challenges by way of getting the fitting elements and suppliers. 

“What has helped us an amazing deal is the digitalisation of those spare elements. 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 degree one inspection itself, we all know precisely what elements to amass and our just-in-time stock administration system helps us rather a lot 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 knowledge that is available in, the higher we’ll turn into. The cataloguing of those elements 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 automobiles available in the market 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 knowledge and finetune our course of. The goal is to additional scale back this turnaround time by half. That is attainable as a result of we have now an excellent group which additionally receives just a little exterior assist. We have now good storage software program. So, all these components are serving to us to get that TAT (turnaround time) even decrease. However, as acknowledged earlier, it’s a really complicated process. Given our price of progress, we should always be capable to 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. 

“System One is a enterprise and a sport as properly. There are a variety of parallels by way of getting the fitting group to get the specified outcomes. I’m extraordinarily comfortable 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 business) a really small group; you recognize the folks available in the market. So, we have 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, you’ll want to see if there’s carbon construct up within the cylinder head. It’s essential to see if the valves are seated correctly, the clutch works correctly and so forth. We use the most recent borescopes, which implies you don’t should 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

Wanting forward

To this point, 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 growth pan-India after which hopefully we will likely be in a a lot stronger place to do a Collection B spherical as properly,” he claims.

New challenges for the previous System 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, notably in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and cities. These are aspirational folks and the market remains to be going to be massive for ICE automobiles, particularly two-wheelers. It’s a tried and confirmed expertise, and will likely 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 likely be round for many years. The scale of the market is $25 million every year. There’s a variety of scope to turn into a really massive platform and our full focus is in India,” he provides. 

He additionally acknowledges what a distinct problem this will likely be in comparison with his profession in motorsports. “I’ve been an expert athlete for many of my life, however it is a utterly totally 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 automobiles on the street will decide our future as DriveX. We have now every little thing there to make this profitable,” he says.

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


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