2021 - Growing up!

We wrote this as the new year message to our team members at Ather. On further reflection we realised that we would like our partners, owners and esp. the community to also read this. It captures the year that 2020 was for us and how we have evolved. More importantly, it covers what’s ahead for us.

Some numbers and some sensitive info has been masked here [XXX]. Very minor modifications for an easier read for an outsider. Rest of the content has been published as is.

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I hate the word ‘pivot’ but as I reflect on the last year it is hard to call it anything but a ‘pivotal’ one for us.

At the start of 2020, we were rapidly running out of road. We had stretched all our resources for years into product development but did not have much “revenue” to show for it.On the other hand our costs had been constantly growing and halting the cost escalation did not look easy. We had a product that seemed to have product-market fit but as we sharpened the business plan it was becoming more and more apparent that selling at INR 1.13L had no commercial viability.

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Change #1: Product Pricing

The first bullet to bite was on the product. It was tough since product-market fit at INR 1.13L is likely ALL we had. It was tough to get together and pull up numbers to sell at positive gross margins. It meant a 50% price hike for the 450X and even at a minimum a 30% hike for the 450+ itself. But the year began with a bang with all teams pulling off a miracle to launch 450X at the shortest notice ever. We had been working on a 450 2.0 for a while but decided to go the whole hog and launch it as the X. I think the decision was made around Christmas 2019 and had demo versions, content and the rest before Jan 2020 ended. We had a great launch which allowed us to launch Ather 450X

It was of course not without our share of mistakes: at launch we were scared of the price ourselves and tried hiding behind the 99K sticker. Luckily for us the market beat the heck out of us :slight_smile: which helped us find the courage necessary to embrace the price points. Closing the year, we clocked XXX pre-orders for the 450X in December and delivered XXX at the same time making December the first month ever when our revenue crossed the XXcr mark. It’s still a far cry from EBITDA profitability but the ramp up is sweet with positive margins now!

Change #2: Dev Efficiency

The second piece was to improve our efficiency. We had doubled up several departments in 2019 but somehow still felt less effective than the 2018 Ather. Key reasons: lack of focus with multiple projects and changing priorities. We had to re-organise, drive clearer reviews and targets, move from a functional style of working to a horizontal agile approach and redefine many roles internally to reduce redundancies. While there is a long, long way to go — our execution is improving. Delays have come down dramatically, planning has a nice rhythm and decent planning and financial accuracy is extremely high (our annual budgets are at 0 deviation — for the first time ever in 7 years).

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Change #3: Embracing operations

Looking back at the previous years, it’s obvious that we have been a product company with limited interest in operations. In 2019 we looked everywhere to try and on-board a manufacturing partner to whom we could off-load the actual job of building vehicles (the Apple approach) and maybe one day even supply chain (the Dyson approach).

It did not work. It never could.

Building a product is not just about the design. Supply chain and manufacturing processes are an even longer part of the development journey. There are dozens of partners that need to be taken forward together and the quality of the product is ultimately controlled by how good the processes are at our partners and our own manufacturing end. More importantly in a product which is changing as fast as ours, there’s almost no partner who can move as fast as our own teams.

With that 2020 was the year when we finally embraced operations whole-heartedly. The results have been nothing short of spectacular: an almost 5X growth in capacity at ours and our partners’ end, a doubling of straight pass ratio, a 5X fall in assembly cost and numerous successful partner negotiations and improvements. The transition to Hosur before year-end was just the icing on the cake.

Not just that — operations extended into sales and charging. In the past we never could muster the courage to think beyond a city or two at a time (even in our planning) and thinking of a 100 charging points seemed a distant future. We are now present in 8 cities and growing to 19 more in the next few months. AtherGrid is expanding from 45 points at the start of the year to ~200 by March.

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Looking Forward:

We are growing our sales muscles right now and 2021 is going to be the year when the entire sales process becomes a strong engine. In 2021 we are growing to grow 10X. It’s a big big target but one that will make Ather the largest EV company in the country by volume and revenue.

On the development side the big stories in ’21 will be product quality and a rethinking of our costs.

While the quality has come a long way, between us 10X-ing our scale and selling to customers beyond the early adopters, all our flaws are magnified 100X. We shouldn’t need 100% inspection, or worry about straight-pass-ratios and ideally no customer should need any servicing :slight_smile:

On cost, we have chased down a whale but until we hit operational profitability, we cannot slow down. 450X has bought us precious time but for us to truly live up to our vision we need to eventually get the entire market to go electric. And that’s a ton of rethinking of our designs and processes — the kind that only an integrated company like Ather can. If we don’t make the 450 products sustainable, nobody can.

The experiments of 2020 have convinced us of the benefits of an empowered swimlane and an agile style of product development. With that in mind, we will improve our goal-setting and performance management system to commit better to a cross-functional style of working across Ather.

Finally on operations, there’s tons of work to stabilize Hosur and our suppliers. We haven’t had more than a few weeks when we have not been supply-constrained. Way too much of our time still goes into managing our supply chain and in pulling materials out. On the sales side, we know the experience that we want to give to our customers — it was working reasonably well when we were selling a handful of vehicles/month. But with a 10X-ing of scale we will need to sharpen our focus and learn new tricks: better tools and automation, better processes, more training. Expect a full blown program to preserve and improve the customer experience and clearer goals on that front this year.

Ending note:

We had years when we wrote about how the 450 was growing up. This is the year when Ather grows up.

Exciting times!

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@tarun hats off to you!! Your transperancy in speaking out with such a clarity is commendable. I have no regrets whatsoever in trusting Ather and finally becoming a proud owner of Series 1. Our best wishes to you and Team Ather in all your future endeavours

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Simple energy by OLA electric is the biggest threat to rather 450X in 2021… hope you are able to withstand the financial muscle power of Bhavesh’s onslaught. Going ahead the Indian EV market is going to as cutthroat as that of cold drink market between 1947 and 1990s. All the best.

@Tarun & Team, Thank you for sharing this note with us. Best Wishes & a Happy New Year.

@tarpanvyas Simple energy is by OLA? That’s new thing I heard. Are you sure?

No, Simple Energy is not from Ola and i remember reading somewhere that Simple Energy was formed by a team who previously were a part of Ather and a lot is riding on their first Product Mark-2 which has completed ARAI Testing recently as well, whatever it is either from OLA, Simple Energy or Ather it will benefit us Consumers immensely, but for Now Ather has the advantage of Monopoly.

Dear Tarun, Wishing you and your family and your entire team a very Happy, Healthy and a prosperous New Year. Well said and well written !! You and your team have done a commendable product. I am proud to be a part of Ather and a proud owner of Ather 450X Series 1. Looking forward for all the future development. Wishing you and your team all the best.

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Sir It shows that how difficult for product sales even though they are very good. You need to expand other cities quickly and I had occasion to talk to your marketing but more energy needed. Thanks

Thanks for the wonderful write up… Happy New year and Happy Makara Sankranti in advance. Ather will make profits for sure but we would like to see Ather in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and towns as soon as possible. Please consider my request to develop another model of Ather by removing all the fancy features with a decent range of 100 Kms and Infrastructure. I know only Ather will listen to their customers and only Ather can achieve this. You still have a long way to go. Thanks for everything that you and your team have done to us :pray: :pray:

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Very well written @tarun !!
Transparency at it’s best. Nailed it :+1:

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Hi Tarun, I see that Team Ather is trying to expand its sales, So iam Keen enough to come forward in requesting Ather To let me host a Ather Showroom in Hosur. As there are already more than a handful of Ather 450 already being used here at Hosur. So I am ready to invest in Ather to have a fully functional Showroom at Hosur Looking forward for a reply.

Hello Ather Team,

Wish you Happy New Year and wishes to grow new heights this year.

It is a proud moment to see your dream which was on paper converted to a product and is out in the market which has really done what you taught.

Teething problems come only in the early stages of growth.

Staying strong and be connected to the community helps in overcoming issues and keeping trust with users.

All your wish come true in this year ahead.

Thank you.

Akshya.

I feel Ather team deserve some respect for making this bike and setting standard for what an electric scooter should have…

Marking it as monopoly hurts.

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Hi Tarun and the Ather team - all the very best this year . EV’s are still a novelty and since they are still priced at a premium, do work on providing a premium experience start to finish.the other auto companies miss out on this aspect, once the sale is concluded. You have an amazing set of products to be proud off !! Have fun.

Enjoyed reading your entire post. A great insight of the journey. Excited as you are in 2021.

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original grow up of ATHER FAMILY now begins…

HAPPY New Year :heart_eyes:

Good one!! Thanks for sharing with us. Wish you and Ather family a happy 2021.

Dear Tarun, What is the plans to follow the timeline of deliveries which is delayed by more than one quarter. I hope to drive my Ather 450X soon. Kerala is waiting to welcome Ather into Gods Own Country.

Such posts would be mostly focussing on thanking the customers, followers and team who were behind the achievement.

This post is special because you gave lot of importance in telling where you went wrong (e.g. 99k price tag), where you still need improvement (e.g service), where you improved (e.g. scaling), where you had to digest the pill (setting the price of 450X).

Opening up these to everyone needs confidence and courage.

Congratz & All the best Ather Team :slight_smile:

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