WATCH: Goa-based startup BLive is wheeling in change with e-cycles and India’s first EV tourism initiative
Founded by Samarth Kholkar and Sandeep Mukherjee, BLive offers curated e-cycling tours that let tourists experience destinations differently. Presently operational in Goa, the startup plans to launch in Pondicherry, Ahmedabad, Mysore, Chandigarh, and Coorg this year.
Goa is synonymous with sun, sea, sand, and susegad. But the sunshine state is a lot more than just shacks, parties, and shots. Samarth Kholkar, a Goa native, felt strongly about his state’s history and heritage, and was keen to help tourists discover the unseen side of India’s most-loved beach destination.
In 2017, he met Sandeep Mukherjee, a friend who he had connected with 16 years ago, in Bengaluru. The duo was keen to do something more than living corporate lives. Samarth, 36, and Sandeep, 36, decided to combine clean technology with experiential tourism to create India’s first EV tourism initiative. And BLive was born.
In this video interview, the BLive founders tell us more:
Samarth and Sandeep quit their high-paying corporate jobs immediately and set up a company called Arcis Clean Energy to launch BLive in January 2018.
Giving tourism a brand new spin
“We immediately began to plan a multitude of things. Building the technology and getting electric bikes was the easy part; building a narrative on the history, finding partners who wanted to be part of heritage tours in Goa was difficult. We spent 10 months creating a platform and a community,” says Samarth Kholkar, Co-founder of BLive.
The founders invested Rs 50 lakh of their own money and purchased 30 electric bikes (e-cycles), manufactured to their specifications, and set up shop in Panaji. Their office was a refurbished ship container brightened up with the warm yellow BLive branding. The company launched four tours in November 2018, and has served more than 1,000 customers to date.
Goa beyond its beaches
The EV tourism startup offers curated tours, including ‘The Lost City of Goa’ (with stories of old monuments and people), ‘The Making of Panaji’ (an inside look at the town), ‘Escape to Divar Island’ (an outing to a lush, scenic island), and ‘Culture Trails of Panaji’ (a look at vibrancy and colours of Fontainhas, Goa’s Latin Quarter).
Each trip costs Rs 1,500 and lasts up to four hours. Fully charged bikes are provided (they can traverse a distance of 60 km) for the trips, which don’t cover more than 15 km. After the user books a tour on the BLive website, they are accompanied by a personal guide who narrates the story even as they experience it.
“This is sustainable tourism and it is a new way of telling stories about a place you have always visited before yet didn’t know much about,” says Sandeep, Co-founder of BLive.
The Goa Tourism Development Corporation has approved all their tours and has partnered with BLive to promote EV tourism.
In six months, the company raised $150,000 from high net-worth individuals (HNIs) in Goa. Their initial success has led them to add 70 more bikes. The company has a B2B business model that lets corporates use their platform, and has tied up with 10 companies who used BLive for off-sites.
Pedalling to a sustainable future
The company is now raising money and is seeking $3 million to expand business. The founders are readying to launch heritage tours in Pondicherry, Ahmedabad, Mysore, Chandigarh, Coorg, and five other locations by the end of the year. They will also increase the number of bikes on the road to 500.
“Like any electric vehicle business, the more bikes on the road, the more money we make,” Sandeep says. “We will launch in Pondicherry this month before moving on to other cities.”
The startup has also built a community called HOPE with actor Abhay Deol, who is BLive’s brand ambassador, and showcases and promotes stories provided by citizens doing their bit to protect the environment.
Reinventing the wheel
According to SIAM, India currently sells close to 2.78 lakh vehicles per year. Most of these vehicles are in the cargo industry. There are no electric vehicle tourism companies in India.
BLive is a novel idea to build a new category: popularising electric vehicles by using them to discover India’s heritage.
“We have focused a lot on digital narratives to get people to discover BLive. We want to tell them that it is the best way to discover Goa, without having to use a car or hire a van even if they are a large group. You don’t need a gasoline bike to explore Goa,” Samarth says.
Most of their traffic at present comes from the website. The technology allows the tours to be curated and made available on request. All tours start in the morning or early evening. BLive want to connect with major tour operators and plug in with websites and apps to scale up.
Blive is yet to disclose its revenues, but believes it has set out on a path that’s the future of tourism. “In the future, we can add services like branded apparel and accessories for those who discover a city with us,” Samarth says.