On March 31, 2021, Tarun Mehta finally came good on his promise made to Pawan Munjal in 2017 that the chairman and CEO of Hero MotoCorp would be his first customer when Ather Energy enters New Delhi with its electric scooter. “Unfortunately, Munjal couldn’t ride it because of lockdown restrictions. But he was excited about the design and was particularly fascinated by the IoT dashboard and spent 20 minutes discussing it,” Mehta, co-founder of Ather Energy, tells Outlook Business.
In some sense, it was Mehta’s guru dakshina to a mentor who had not only guided the founders, including Swapnil Jain, in their journey but also ended up funding Ather through Hero MotoCorp in a Series B round five years ago.
Mehta remembers meeting Munjal starry-eyed. “He was running one of the world’s biggest two-wheeler businesses but was candid: ‘The reality is we don’t know much about electric today and I personally think it is going to be massive. I think the industry will wake up to it in the next five years and a lot of stuff is going to change’,” recalls Mehta.
Although Hero went on to own a significant minority stake (35%) by investing Rs. 5 billion in Ather, there is an arm’s length distance between the two. “When you bring on a partner, you either become more like them or the complementary nature of your businesses kicks in, so there is learning on both sides,” explains the 31-year-old.
The Bengaluru-based start-up, which came to life in 2015 after being incubated at IIT-Madras, had showcased its first prototype, S340, at