The Ultraviolette F77 is the brainchild of Narayan Subramanium and Niraj Rajmohan
The Ultraviolette F77 is the brainchild of Narayan Subramanium and Niraj RajmohanAbhishek Benny for evo India

“Electric is the way forward,” says Narayan Subramaniam, Ultraviolette CEO and head of design on the future of mobility

Ultraviolette has been making waves recently with the F77, the fastest electric two-wheeler to come out of India. We sat down with Ultraviolette CEO Narayan Subramanium to discuss his journey, passion, motivations, and future plans. In part one, Narayan talks about his formative years and the life of a startup founder

On his friendship with Ultraviolette co-founder, Niraj Rajmohan

“So my co-founder Niraj and I go back a long way; we've known each other since we were in grade five in Bangalore. We were classmates competing for top rank during our time in school. We went to the same engineering university in Bangalore as well. I was studying mechanical engineering, and Niraj was studying computer science and the creative integration of engineering and technology. So what happened during those four years of college was that we started taking part in a lot of these creative engineering competitions, which led us to go beyond the textbook and integrate different forms of technology to solve problems. So all these colleges have really cool annual tech festivals that have crazy problem statements. Over time, we ended up winning about forty of these through four years of engineering. And I think, back then, we were just doing it out of passion and interest and as an avenue to let out creative thoughts, but we never thought it would get structured in the way and form that it is today at Ultraviolette.”

His early career and further education

“I think we spent about a decade working and studying in different parts of the world. I joined one of the IT companies that promised me that I would be working on projects with Ferrari, Boeing, etc., but two months into my job, I was still doing C++ coding. So fortunately, those two months told me what I did not want to do and forced me to sort of research where my skills could be best utilised, and that is when I figured NIIT at Ahmedabad was one of the good schools in India for creative education and joined the programme for transportation design. I studied and worked in a couple of companies as well during that stint and was about to join the industry, at which point I also, for some reason, thought that I needed some more global exposure. I applied to a few universities abroad and joined Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden, which is a very differentiated programme. So it was me from India and classmates from China, Korea, Japan, Norway, Germany, and Sweden. All of us were working on the same project briefly, but the way each person approached it was fundamentally different based on all our cultural bearings.”

On why they chose EVs and the mobility space

“So towards the end of 2014, Niraj and I had been in touch throughout. He quit his job at Yahoo and started a startup to do with drone technology, but I think he put that on hold. He studied his MBA at AIM in Manila and had just come back to India as well. So we were bouncing off ideas, and it seemed like a good time to come together to work on something in the mobility space, but we were also clear that electric is the way forward. Because by then, what had happened was that Tesla had come in. Tesla wasn't the first EV, but Tesla made EVs desirable through performance and design. Two important aspects that, in some ways and forms, were overlooked by the previous attempts at electric vehicles.”

The F77 has performance equivalent to a 250-350cc motorcycle
The F77 has performance equivalent to a 250-350cc motorcycleAbhishek Benny for evo India

On life as a startup founder

“It's quite chaotic; there is always uncertainty at all points in time, right from the early days when I was figuring out my bank balance. I'm running out of money in the next three months. How do I get more people to buy into the vision and get the right people onboard? The next challenge is motivating folks, and if you want the right kind of people, it's not just a knowledge fit; it's also a culture fit in today's times. If you look at our company, it's not people who are performing a role; it's people who have bought into that vision and share a similar passion with the extended team and with us to create a difference, and to do that, they must buy into your vision to begin with. Then recruitment becomes quite creative; it's not just an interview for a particular role that needs to be filled. In some cases, we have had to spend four to six months on multiple weekends brainstorming, and at some point, they get really interested and come on board and join us.”

Expanding the team

“So between Niraj and me on the design, engineering, and electronics sides, we had a good understanding of what we needed to do, but of course there are a lot of areas where we are not the experts to drive things towards production. I think that's where we were able to ascertain what the key roles are from a tech standpoint that need to augment the experience we brought in. But the first three people were the two of us and one more person in 3D and design. So cumulatively, we were able to quickly prototype a couple of things. I still remember when we first got our 3D printer in 2016. So then prototyping became a very important skill set. Software became a very important requirement, and power electronics came into play. So these areas formed the first core of ten to twelve people in the team. I think we interviewed over six hundred people to build the first team of about fifty or sixty.”

On finding investors to buy into the vision

“Our first investor was this person called Vishesh Rajaram. Today he's got his own fund called Speciale Invest, and we probably would have had a few hundred meetings before we got one person to believe in our vision. It's a different type of challenge with a company like TVS, they understand the segment and the technology that we are building. because they are working on electric technology themselves as well. Duqeer Salman was an associate of Vishesh who first invested in the company, and today he's part of Vishesh’s fund as well. We all know he's an automobile connoisseur. He's got a lot of cool ideas about how he perceives the brand and the emotional connection with the products, and so that is not just limited to being a petrol or ICE enthusiast; I think it has to do with any cool form of technology. So he was super kicked when he heard our plans. Of course, what we had when we met him was a bare skeleton with a battery inside it, but from a design perspective, we could showcase what we are envisioning creating by 2020.”

Ultraviolette's plans of going global

“So that is one of the reasons we have a few global investors who got excited and came on board recently. Exor Capital was one of them, and Volcom Ventures was one of them as well. So they really like people who have a zero-or-one approach, where it's a go big or go home mindset. For them, what is interesting is the fact that we are building all this tech in India from imagination, design, and construction. All three steps are being done in India. Probably for the first time, a technology in this segment could become a global name. Which again comes back to one of the motivations for starting Ultraviolette. When we think of performance motorcycles, we always look to the east or west: Italy, Germany, and Japan. That is your spectrum. India does not figure in that thought process; could we change that? Sony is a good example of a company that did that for Japan. Over the past 20–30 years or so, Sony has transitioned what making in Japan stood for. We see ourselves at the precipice here.”

Ultraviolette is a company built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, and there is a lot more to come in part two, where we discuss Narayan's love for motorcycles, the development of the F77, and Ultraviolette's plans to go racing. Catch the entire conversation on the evo India YouTube channel.

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