talking about a reva-lution

Electric car Reva’s founder, tech entrepreneur Chetan Maini talks about the future of mobility as he envisions it and his journey so far in a candid conversation on the sidelines of the launch of Reva’s brand new car E2O at the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu.

Many of the challenges that Nepali entrepreneurs face are cultural in nature – people want to stick with the traditional. With an electric car, you were defying norms too. What kind of challenges did you face and how did you go about resolving them?

At the beginning there were a lot of naysayers. It happens with every new innovation. There’s two three things I think about. One, I try to see the positive in what people say. When a naysayer says something won’t work, three things hurt your ego but maybe one of them is actually true and if you can fix it, you have a better business proposition. So turning around the criticism to say ‘hey, maybe if I address this, I’ll be stronger’ was an early learning for me. The second is, it [the idea] has to be something you have a deep down belief in. I strongly believed that energy security and climate change are going to be the challenges of the next decade. And while there were ups and downs, if I stood straight on that path… that makes sense to me. Its important to stay on course. You have to wait it out. The initial few years are very important.

You raised a substantial amount of seed money for your ideas. How did you go about it?

We had a family business that put in some money. Then we went to financial institutions – ICICI Bank and the Technology Development Board. They had programs that were supporting technology programs. The Board looked at new technology that India would pioneer in. They have a committee that reviews you and if they approve, they fund you, monitor the process and help if needed. ICICI had a similar kind of program where they looked at new technology that had environmental and societal benefits. The loans were low cost, less collateral was needed and they understood that these were different kinds of projects. Most countries – I don’t know about Nepal – do have such institutions in place.

You said that ‘sometimes not knowing something can be helpful, knowing can fix your perspective.’ Do you say this from experience?

Yes! Every time you come up to a challenge, if you’ve got a fixed mindset, you’re always going to look at it as an issue and how you can’t do it. But if you ask why and challenge yourself, you tend to see answers that are very different. Having not built a car for example, everyone had sheet metal cars and we asked why can’t we make a dent-proof polymer car. You think its crazy upfront but as you start the research, you start to rethink it. I think, the concept of doing something different will only come to you if you haven’t done it before. If I did regular cars, I would always think its got to have these three things I learned about in university. If you just say ‘well the consumer requirement is this, why can’t we do it?’ you start to think of other ideas.

Reva made it to Fast Company’s Top 50 Innovative Companies of 2013. At the same time Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson ridiculed you in his show. What is he not getting?

I think he’s been trying to do that with every electric car company in the world! Its part of how it is. You are part of change, you are the new world, and it’s a tyranny against oil and you are looking at the other aspect of it. People who are on that front are of course going to have a perspective. People will ask themselves, ‘am I part of the future or the past?’ The fact that we get this recognition from Fast Company is huge; some have seen it from a positive side and that gives us encouragement.

From starting as a student at the University of Michigan where you won first prize for building something called the Sun runner to having Reva become a household name – what have you learned about clean energy?

A lot, I think we still haven’t gotten there. The solar car days allowed us to drive across a continent on pure sun energy; not a drop of fuel. I would love to have cars that can do that. I think we are halfway across this. To me its all about energy efficiency – using less energy and therefore being more affordable, adopting green technology.

What car did you drive growing up?

(Laughs) In college, I worked my first summer at General Motors, earned some money and bought myself a used Ford Escort. That was my first car. I think since 2000, ever since we’ve had prototypes of Reva, at least in India, 99% of my journeys have been electric. I have an E2O and a special custom convertible Reva that I use in the evenings.

Whats the story behind the car’s name?

Reva is my mother’s name! The ‘ev’ in the middle also goes for electric vehicle. (smiles) In Sanskrit, Reva means a new beginning. It was actually my father who named it.

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