Aditya Ketkar, just one year out of college, is busy building – India’s next-gen EV automation app, Telematica – Unified API for Electric Vehicles.
He is young, vibrant and inspired by Elon Musk. He tried his hand at a couple of ideas during his engineering days. He even earned his first rupee while studying.
His journey is truly inspirational; let us read through the story of this fantastic entrepreneur!
Welcome to Yellow Chapter!
YC – Hi Aditya, welcome to Yellow Chapter! Let’s start your journey from the very beginning. Were your parents the typical strict Indian parents? Was there any expectation of getting into engineering or medical? How was the environment around, and what were the regular dinner table conversations?
Aditya – I was born in Indore. Three generations of my family have been government employees with Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). I am the first one in my family not to follow the legacy. My mom is also working with LIC as a government employee.
I was a professional athlete for around eight years of my life. I was a National level table-tennis player. The regular dinner table conversations of our family were entirely open-ended. My parents have always been supportive of whatever I have done. They never forced me to get into engineering or anything else.
I did not see a career as a sportsman. It was my personal choice to get into engineering. 2016! I got through – Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani – Goa Campus, in Bachelor of Engineering – BE, Computer Science.
YC – How was engineering? You might have done many projects and startups during engineering; can we talk about those?
Aditya – The best part about a premium engineering college is a BIG community of students to interact with and learn from. There are tons of things apart from academics which you can and MUST explore.
In my first year of college, my seniors advised me to explore and try things around. Be it sports, co-curricular, clubs, events, departments etc. I took the suggestions and tried my hands on many things. I even explored GOA quite a bit.😜
College: Explore + Try = Maximum ROI
It was then, Abhishek, my current co-founder, and my wingi from college started our first startup:
YC – Why DelOr?
2019! DelOr – Community delivery app!
Problem statement – Our campus was secluded from the city. Delivery partners were not supposed to enter the campus due to security reasons. Placing orders for food was a challenge.
Inspiration – BMTFT | Bring Me That From There – World’s 1st peer to peer shipping network. Unfortunately, they shut the operations way back. JoyRun – Friendlier way to get Food & Coffee.
Some numbers –
- 500+ users
- Through an extensively designed campaign, successfully increased the users onboard by 150% in 7 days.
Unfortunately, we had to shut it down.
1. Very hard to see to college students – They simply do not want to pay for anything at all.
2. Very hard to do a consumer place for a first-time founder. A B2C founder has to handle both – create demand and manage supply. This was too much of an ask from two first-time founders.
3. Working in a team – Though Abhishek and I were a small team, I learned to work in sync with someone. Our tuning matched, and we worked on many other projects together.
4. Building connects – We met some very interesting people, we are still in touch. We even reach out to them now, if required. Kishore Natarajan – Co-Founder @ HyperVerge Inc. , Abhishek Nayak – CEO & Co-Founder @Appsmith, Rishabh Kaul – Head Of Marketing Appsmith, Vijay Sharma – Building Belong.co
Next was my internship at North Eastern-Space Applications Centre (NE-SAC) – ISRO – Shillong.
I was interested in Space-Tech. I was very fascinated by SpaceX. I am a big-time fan of Elon Musk. This internship was my first exposure to the research world and space tech. But I realised it was not the place for me to be. Their pace did not resonate with mine.
My most significant learning from this internship was – I always wanted to be a part of ISRO, but this real hands-on experience made me realise I cannot sustain such a slow working environment. Also, it gave me hope; that I could do something of my own in this space.
Later, I came to know of Pixxel – A startup from BITS alumnus -They recently put up their first satellite in orbit last month. I worked there for a few months, but unfortunately, I had to leave because of academic backlogs.
2019! PerspectI – Making sports training Data-driven
In my third year, I joined a course – New Venture Creation, which again I suggest to my juniors. If your idea is accepted, the college provides you with incubation space, mentors, sessions, and required knowledge. It is somewhat like the Y-Combinator programme if I think of it now.
Being a sportsperson, I wanted to build something in the same space. PerspectI was a much more cost-effective tool to capture data on the field, unlike the options available in the market.
We (Abhishek and I) had some success in building the prototype, but we realised this is a super competitive space. It had a lot of entry barriers for newbies like us. And also was dominated by big players like OpenAI and others.
Within this two-month programme, we realised we would not like to pursue it as a business; it was just good as a hobby!
My next internship was with Amazon – in the Address Intelligence team in Chennai. My most significant learning was “14 Amazon Leadership Principles“, which I would recommend everyone to read. The frameworks are designed so that everyone can benefit from them. I still use the same in my current startup.
Like everybody else, I got placed at the beginning of the fourth year – as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. I had a lot of time in hand, so I thought of trying my hand at teaching. Teaching was also one of the options I was keen on for my professional life ahead.
I was a Teaching Assistant for two courses. As part of our curriculum in the last and final semester, I had to do an internship. I chose to do an internship in research.
Research Intern @ Computer Vision Centre – Barcelona
I realised research is not meant for me in my most significant learning. It requires a lot of patience. It is too much hard work to be a good researcher. I feel it is a thankless job. I know I have the utmost respect for researchers now.
2020! This was the time when Covid came. I was stuck in Barcelona for 2-3 months. Abhishek and I started our EdMad – a 12-week intensive boot camp to ace your coding interviews!
@ Team CVC Barcelona
YC – Why EdMad?
Aditya – Problem statement – Many juniors reached out to us for placement and internship guidance. There was some gap there. Most of them had quite similar questions. There is a lot of data available online, but it is not structured and tailor-made. They were looking for mentors.
Some numbers –
- The first batch had some 30 students, with 3000/ per student for a three-month programme.
- We grew up to 300+ paying students, with 15000/- per student for a three months programme.
Aditya Bansal, one of our friends, joined us as a co-founder. We empanelled mentors from leading tech companies, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon.
@ Team EdMad
We got great results; students got placed in leading companies from our Bootcamp.
1. Distinction of work – Abhiskeh and I have always worked on everything in the past. But during EdMad, we had a clear distinction of work for the first time. I was responsible for taking care of the platform and its tech. Abhishek was primarily focusing on Ops, Business and Sales.
In our current venture, too, we are continuing the same.
2. Think global – All the problems we had solved were all local. Here, again we did the same. We were solving for our juniors.
3. Customer paying capacity – It is very tough to do a profitable business if the end-user is not capable of paying. In both our ventures, college students are not capable and willing to pay for solutions.
4. Problem statement – We knew we had just changed the coaching model in the back of our minds. From offline to online, we were not very satisfied with it. So defining the problem statement plays a significant role.
YC – Based on your learnings, what would you suggest to college students?
Aditya – Three simple suggestions:
- Explore – Be open to exploring things around you.
- Internship – I would like to say to B.Tech students we aspire to join some company or work in a certain space. There is nothing wrong with that, but try and do internships, projects with a company or the space you eventually want to be in. Live that life for some time before committing yourself to it.
- Earn your first dollar/rupee in college – Everyone should start a company or earn their first dollar in college. It helps in evaluating your life and gives direction to it.
YC – How did Telematica happen? Why EV space?
Aditya – I started my professional career as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. I was hired remotely and even left remotely. I never visited the office even once. Frankly speaking, due to Covid, it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all.
I am not a very big proponent of the work remotely model. The osmosis learning is completely lost with WFH.
YC – Why EV?
Market research + Past learnings + Fondness for Tesla = EV Space
Aditya – Abhishek and I have always been following EV space; even during college, we brainstormed a couple of times on the idea. But then, the market was relatively immature, although it’s very early, even now.
YC – Why Telematica?
Aditya – The growth of any industry is in layers:
The first layer is primarily big manufacturers or OEMs—for example, Ola Electric, Ather Energy, and Tata-E- Bikes for the EV industry.
The second layer is built on top of the first layer. For example – The EV industry is charging stations, network operations, battery tech etc.
The third layer is built to support the second layer, where technology (apps) is built.
Evaluating the expertise and the time we had in hand along with our jobs, we knew that the third layer (software) was best suited for us. We decided to give 200% to the idea for the first three months. If things are progressing the way we had visioned, we will continue to work on it; else, we will pick another idea.
YC: How did Telematica happen?
Aditya – The first idea we were working on was a Route Planner, inspired by the Tesla Route Planner. We realised Tesla gives a seamless software experience to the user. We wanted to replicate the same.
But Tesla could do so because the entire ecosystem is owned by Tesla, be it the car, the charging station or the app. All data was flowing within the Tesla ecosystem, unlike in India.
…that ends well!
We pivoted – Our problem statement now was to ‘bridge the gap between the first and the second layer.’ Let data flow continuously, seamlessly, and eventually in the same data pipeline.
We could see the baseline infrastructure was missing. We thought instead of building the end-user app; it would be better to build the infrastructure first. We thought we could make the infrastructure, one single API, and the third party players could build the business on top of our infrastructure. Something similar to what Shopify has done for the e-commerce industry.
So Telematica – Unified API for Electric Vehicles. Telematica API enables businesses to connect with their users’ Electric Vehicles without using any hardware devices. They can remotely access data like battery level, range & charging status.
Today, most of the cars in India are cabin on wheels, BUT soon, it will be the computer on wheels. Think about the amount of data that will be generated every minute. Startups can leverage this data and build great products on top of it.
@ with Abhishek
YC – We have talked about PMF; please share your thoughts on sales and marketing as well?
Aditya – Sales and marketing are handled by Abhishek, but I would love to share whatever I have learned from him.
Sales – It is super hard to sell to legacy players. We wanted to build a virtualized solution for auto insurance in this space. We spoke to all leading insurance companies but did not get a very encouraging response. Being an early-stage startup, we realised that we wanted to move fast, but the mature companies have their limitations.
Be mindful of whom to sell to first – For an early-stage startup, first sales determine the product’s iteration rate. A good product is a result of iterations. Target the customers who are early in the industry. For us, ElectricPe, Statiq.in and Kazam worked. They are all 1-2 years old startups. They are software-first companies and ideal customers for us.
Marketing – Marketing is not quite relevant for our space, being a B2B startup. For us, sales play an important role.
YC – Being a tech co-founder, how do you plan to hire and get sound engineers onboard.
Aditya – We made our first hire last month. Currently, we are a team of three, so whatever I am telling right now might work for four to five hires – the founding team. The same philosophy might not apply when you want to scale the team. What worked for us was:
1. Look for people in your circle first. Somil, a great coder from our college, is our first hire.
2. Invite potential hires to be part of your day to day work for a week, ten days. Give them the flexibility to continue their day’s jobs and see what you are building. Ask them to stay over and observe.
YC – Can we talk about some numbers? Competition and challenges?
Aditya – The EV industry is in a very early stage for India and the world around. So the numbers we talk about right now are not the actual representation of what the market will be in five years.
We have 20+ OMEs across the globe and four customers in India. In India, our customers are charging point operators. We are currently focusing on charging point operators as they are software-first companies, and our wavelength match.
We are targeting 250 beta vehicles on our platform by the end of May 2022 to test. Our target is to connect 100,000 vehicles by the end of 2023.
Our biggest challenge is transitioning from dongle-based telematics to our software-only solution. Many companies install OBD dongles to track vehicle and fleet movement, even though their vehicle has telematics built-in from OEM.
There are big players in the market serving this industry, like GEOTAB – Fleet management software and GPS vehicle tracking device, being one of them.
We are trying to eliminate the need for hardware. All the EV vehicles manufactured today are connected at the manufacturer level. All EV vehicles have embedded eSIM. This eSim relays the data to the cloud.
One big challenge is to educate the fleet owner about the real potential of the vehicle. It is hard, but we see a change. Fleets are getting electrified, and fleet owners are now evaluating options.
YC – Quickly, three takeaways from YCombinator?
Aditya – Sure:
1. Domain expertise.
2. Talk to as many potential customers as possible.
3. Don’t over-engineer your products. At first, do things that may not scale but validate your products.
YC – I will ask a philosophical question: How do you get the energy to do so much?
Aditya – I had this itch to start something of my own quite early on. I am inspired by Elon Musk a lot. I knew if I had to create a significant impact, I had to try many things before making it big.
Excitement – Right now is the prime time of my life; I just do not want to be someone, somewhere. I like to work on a problem which is exciting and, at the same time, has the potential to be significant. Elon Musk said, “if you start a startup, success is not guaranteed, but excitement is!“
YC – Lastly, any book or community you would recommend to the fellow founders?
Aditya – Right now, I am reading – Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham, and I find it quite relatable. Indie Hackers – is one community I find quite inspirational.
YC – Can we have the names of people who have inspired, supported, and mentored you in your journey so far?
Aditya – Finding the right co-founders is a big challenge for anyone. I consider myself lucky to have met and worked with Abhishek and Aditya right from my college days.
Vijay, Rishabh and Abhishek are our seniors from BITS who have been supportive throughout our journey.
Kishore: We met Kishore on a trek in our first year, and we have been in contact since then. He has been mentoring and helping us significantly in all of our ventures.
Finally, our parents have been pivotal in the journey. I see a lot of parody videos about Asian parents on Youtube these days. While I enjoy the comic angle, I truly believe the next decades of innovation and growth of humanity is built on the sacrifices that our parents have made for us to have a good life.
Aditya, it was a great conversation. Thank you for those frank and friendly answers. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best in your future journey.