MUMBAI: An unprecedented whirlwind of transformation is underway in the Indian consumer electronics sector. Breaking the boredom of all Indian ceiling whirligigs, Mumbai-based breeze-maker has taken the market by storm with its cutting-edge energy efficient fans that will arrest the power consumption by more than 65 percent.
28-year-old Manoj Meena, an IIT-Mumbai alumnus emerged from a cushy life to cut his entrepreneurial teeth with his maiden venture—Atomberg Technologies in 2012.
In a freewheeling interview, he chats with Business Trajectory on how ceiling fans are indubitably the most common lifeline for Indian abodes and offices, and in what way ‘Gorilla’ is poised to disrupt dynamics of the Fast Moving Electrical Goods (FMEG) market, and swing the tide in his favor. Here is a glimpse into his impressive ground-breaking ‘Make in India’ innovations, and how he manages to battle against all odds. Excerpts:
Q: What led to the idea to commence Atomberg and how has the journey been so far?
A: I owe my fortitude to my upbringing, which inculcated in me a set of values and gave me a strong sense of purpose. It also helped me take the road less traversed and instilled in me the sureness to pursue my path of entrepreneurship soon after I obtained degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT-Mumbai in 2011.
It was in 2012 that I charted out on my new enterprise—Atomberg.
I had an unflinching passion for robotics and electronics since my college days, and was extremely immersed into robotics activities and competitions—all this as a part of my curiosity-driven learning.
Initially, for the first three years, we were involved into cutting-edge research projects, such as data acquisition systems and vehicle tracking systems, to name a few.
As the years passed, I fathomed that we were working merely on a project mode that was not scalable, and hence shrugged it. In this pursuit, we acquired the desired adroitness in motor design and executed a range of projects.
It was only in 2015 that we emerged with a fresh lease of life when we craftedour first prototype of BLDC motor for ceiling fan that went on to evolve as India’s most energy efficient motor.
This was our turning point to foray into motor-based home appliances market in India.
Q: What made you venture into manufacturing ceiling fans? Also tell us about your innovations.
A: Initially, ceiling fan was our initial product line. It’s a fact that ‘fan’ was first invented by Schuyler Wheeler in 1882. Subsequently, few years later, German-American mechanical engineer Philip Diehl invented the electric ceiling fan.
Ironically, till 1980, its breeze-generating abilities had the same vintage aesthetics of the Victorian era, and there were no real innovations to make it an energy saving product.
Taking a cue from this, we decided to reinvent the wheels through reverse engineering and augmented the Brushless Direct Current motors to drive down the power consumption in the ceiling fan. We triumphed in our endeavor to shrink the power consumption by whopping 65 percent. It was indeed a step forward for us.
Q: Were you alone in getting your venture started?
A: I commenced Atomberg in 2012 and singlehandedly spearheaded the business for almost 2-3 years till Sibabrata Das who is a fellow IITan joined hands withme as a co-founder. I started out as a greenhorn, not sound enough of attention from investors. But in any event, I didn’t have the amenity of losing any capital. Today, my core team consists of technocrats, including Vaibhav Nairengekar, Arindam Paul (IIM Indore) and Ankur Agarwal (IIT Kharagpur). The fruits of our effort yielded when we recently earned the hall offame from the United Nations as the ‘Best Start-Up’ globally in the category of energy efficiency.
Q: How long did the entire process take to structure your business?
A: During the initial three years, I was bootstrapped. My stringent fiscal discipline let to a compulsive focus to add value in the business. Ever since I launched my venture, there has been a huge learning. In a bid to keep going, I executed several projects related to data acquisition, process control and motor control. After lots of maneuvering around data acquisition and vehicle tracking products, I managed to chance upon a roadmap around BLDC motors.
It took two years to set-up our manufacturing process, and bolster our sales & marketing network. Currently, we have taken bold steps to improve our manufacturing, research and development, sales & marketing, logistics and e-Commerce outreach.
Q: Tell us about your fund-raising plans in the future and who are your current financial partners?
A: We initially raised a round of seed fund from the promoter of Aarti Group in 2015. Subsequently, in May 2016, we managed to raise $1 million from Hyderabad-based venture capital firm—Parampara Capital.
We are currently in talks with various Series-A funds, and we hope to raise another Capex to the tune of $10 million in next 12 months.
Q: How do you plan to utilize the Capex?
A: It will be utilized towards brand building, mass media advertisements, public relations, brand outreach through various social media platforms, besides strengthening our distribution network, manufacturing process and R&D.
Q: Give us a sense of your target audience.
A: Household consumers to institutional clients such as schools, colleges, hospitals, hotels, commercial building and industries are our customers.
Till date, we have received overwhelming response from our customers, and have sold over 50,000 units across India. About 80 percent of our sales come from institutional clients, such as hospitals, schools, colleges and commercial establishments, and the rest from e-Commerce. In that order, we have sold around 10,000 fans through various e-Commerce platforms, including Amazon, Snapdeal, Paytm and Pepperfry.
Q: Tell us about your competitive advantage and how have you managed to create entry barriers in your business.
A: It’s a paradox that most ceiling fans in India guzzle 75-80 watts power in full speed. In contrast, our Brushless DC motors are exceptionally energy efficient for ceiling fans, which has the capacity to stem the power consumption to just about 28 watts. This has given us the edge over our peers. Our team is highly proficient in developing data acquisition systems, customized measurement and process control systems. Consequently, it has enabled us to develop customized experimental and testing set-up, besides various processes involved in algorithm development, manufacturing and quality test. All of this has been developed in-house, and are being continuously optimized to get best performance, quality and cost. Without it, the development of AtomSENSE algorithm and the overall product line was unachievable. This has created strong entry barriers in our business.
Q: How do you puzzle out all lies peddled by many ceiling fan marketers against energy efficient models?
A: One misnomer that most fan makers have propagated is that the power consumption is directly proportional to the speed or RPM of the fan. In fact, the selection of fans by customers in India is mostly done based on the flawed notion of the amount of air flow a fan generates. Hence, a good number of salespersons also base their purchase advices on the air flow of a fan. It’s utterly misleading and should be taken with a pinch of salt. At Atomberg, we have succeeded in calling the marketing bluff, hawked so far. Our BLDC motors have established the fact that power consumption of ceiling fans can be reduced to about 28 watts at full speed by delivering the same air flow, which is less than 60-70 percent of the power consumption compared to any prevailing Indian fan.
Q: Any plans to bring down the cost of your products to remain competitive?
A: We are constantly engaged in our R&D process and are confident to bring down the cost of our products in the time to come with the help of newer product designs, processes optimization and material selection.
We will be soon rolling out modular plug-and-play design comprising smart features for additional comfort, such as temperature sensor, humidity sensor, motion sensor, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, smart phone app control, mosquito-repellent, air-freshener, data collection and theft protection.
Q: What were the initial challenges in your business, and how did you overcome it?
A: Our biggest challenge was to set up our manufacturing facility and simultaneously cultivate a network of vendors. It was indeed a new experience for us and hence it was difficult to mitigate various mistakes we made in our initial phases. We struggled to cope up when failures smacked us on our face, but we all learned to push through all odds, without letting it drag on.
We channeled all our energy and focused into doing whatever it took to get ahead. In a bid to turn our failures into success, we roped in proficient consultants and advisors to drive our business.
Yet another challenge was to edify various customers about the trailblazer BLDC technology, and its energy saving benefits. It remains another mammoth challenge, which our sales team grapples with time and again.
Q: What is the unique selling proposition (USP) of ‘Gorilla’, and why do you feel that it can be a game changer for your business?
A: High energy efficiency and cost saving makes ‘Gorilla’ a bestseller. It barely consumes 28 watts of power as compared to 70-75 watts in ordinary ceiling fan, thereby saving up to 65 percent energy. Remote control equipped with timer and sleep modes are some of our value additions for various energy-conscious consumers in India. Our latest edition of ‘Gorilla’ is more powerful as it can deliver 30 percent more air than any ordinary fan, with lesser air cutting noise and smoother air flow. Integrated temperature/ humidity sensor, motion sensor and Wi-fi with smart app control will also herald more indulgence.
Q: Please give us an overview of the India’s energy crisis and in what way Gorilla can prove beneficial for the consumer?
A: India is perennially an energy deficient country where about 30 percent of its population (400 million) is reeling under blackouts.
The Indian fan industry is pegged at Rs 7,000 crore that comprises large and small- scale manufacturers.
An estimated 40 million fans are sold in India, and the market is growing at a CAGR of six percent. However, the number of BLDC fans sold is not even 0.5 percent of the market size. Our aim to make sure that one day all ceiling fans (246 million) in India will be replaced with energy efficient BLDC Gorilla ceiling fans.
Q: Your message and advice to budding entrepreneurs, more precisely startups who have just ventured in the hardware segment.
A: You need to define the problem you intend to solve very precisely. Generally, we tend to get into hardware products as we (techies) are enthusiastic about it. But, it does not solve any problem. It is important to assess the market potential because venturing in the hardware domain is quite perplexing as it involves bigger investment of time and capital. One must validate the product concept and the market potential before starting any serious development. If it makes sense then get a prototype done and start collecting feedback from potential customers and investors. Prototype speaks louder than an idea at concept level in a colorful presentation.
So, if you are planning to get into hardware manufacturing, it’s advisable to seek guidance from industry experts before moving forward. It will only help in mitigating bloopers and save you from making wrong investments.
Q: Tell us about the revenue stream, future growth plans for Atomberg, and where do you see it evolving in the future?
A: We have established a well-knit network of channel partners across India to increase our brand presence in the consumer segment through brand marketing in various retail outlets. Eventually, we are confident to generate 70-80 percent of our sales from the consumer segment. Besides, all efforts are in place to establish our export footprint in the Middle East countries.
Q: Do you intend diversifying into other segment in the future?
A: BLDC motor has the potential to integrate into other electrical appliances. We have already started development on other fans versions, such as pedestal and table fans which are widely used in the rural areas.
In the next five years, we are planning to foray into large appliances like ACs and make them more energy efficient by replacing motors used in the compressor and outdoor unit fan with our energy efficient BLDC motors. This will eventually percolate to our topline growth.
Q: How would you market your energy efficient ‘Gorilla’ to Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor who apparently suffers from an inexplicable paranoia of “ceiling fans” and hence does not have them at home?
A: I guess it’s really a funny quip. There is no need to be freaky and harbor irrational fears about a ceiling fan. It’s just that some people suffer from strange paranoia.
In fact, the role of a ceiling fan is to circulate air. Although, air conditioners are used to bring down the room temperature, but it’s highly ineffective when it comes to circulating air. Hence, fan is used in various homes as a substitute to cut down power consumption of air conditioners.
I can only guarantee that ‘Gorilla’ is unambiguously safe. And if you are still getting hotter under your collar about the mounting energy costs, you can safely bet on our ceiling fans which are great energy savers for you.