Ola's Bhavish Aggarwal talks IPO, AI, and new tech at TechSparks 2023
Speaking at TechSparks 2023, Ola's Bhavish Aggarwal threw light on his company's immediate future and what India's budding entrepreneurs should now focus on.
Ride-hailing firm, and its sister company will both likely become public entities by next year, said Founder Bhavish Aggarwal.
Speaking at YourStory's flagship startup-tech event, TechSparks 2023, Aggarwal noted that Ola Electric has matured very fast, and is receiving a lot of interest from public market investors—an encouraging sign for the company looking to file its draft red herring prospectus (DRHP) with SEBI by the end of October 2023, as per a Reuters story.
Ola Electric is vying for a valuation of $10 billion in the IPO, and raising $1 billion in net proceeds, as per sources.
The conversation with Aggarwal—who has become a bit of a mainstay at YourStory's TechSparks events, having pitched Olacabs.com on the stage 14 years ago—explored multiple layers, including building companies in the midst of a funding winter, what work-life balance means to the current generation, and Ola's four different businesses.
Krutrim Si Designs Pvt Ltd, Aggarwal's new AI venture, was at the top of his mind as he spoke about how AI's ubiquity could only serve India if it was created in the Indian context. "Language is a challenge we face in India... for a person who speaks English, access to opportunity has been easier," said Aggarwal, adding that the same cannot be said for people who converse in Indic languages.
"We need to build our own foundational models, our own libraries. India is a huge country and we have the advantage of data," he added.
Aggarwal sees AI solving the problems of education, health—including reporting and diagnosis—and increasing the pace of scientific progress.
When it came to India's role in the previous era of computing, it becomes apparent that the country had limited participation. However, in the upcoming decade of technological evolution, including AI, silicon chip design, and semiconductors, India is poised for significant advancements, he said.
On Ola Cell
Ola has already made considerable headway in the construction of its domestic cell manufacturing unit, located in Tamil Nadu's Krishnagiri.
Next, the company wants to set up a four-wheeler factory in the same area, and convert it into an EV hub that houses the battery production unit and the scooter facility, along with the EV car production line.
Aggarwal also alluded to a hunt for land in Uttar Pradesh to set up a production unit, although plans on that front haven't been finalised yet. "We were initially scouting for land around Varanasi or somewhere in Uttar Pradesh for the gigafactory before we settled on Krishnagiri [in Tamil Nadu]," he said, while reflecting on his childhood years spent near Varanasi (a place that also holds special significance for being his mother's hometown).
In an earlier interview with YourStory, Aggarwal had said that the gigafactory will experiment with different battery chemistries, including solid-state batteries, which he believes is the future of energy.
Highlighting the importance of focusing the next wave of innovation in India on sustainable energy, Aggarwal stressed that the shift from non-tech processes like mining and refining to tech-enabled energy, such as lithium cells and green hydrogren, is crucial.
"India's paradigm of sustainable technologies will be relevant for the world—ASEAN, Africa, and some parts of the West, at least."
Meanwhile, Ola Electric's battery cell gigafactory has a production capacity of 10 gigawatt-hours per annum, and will closely compete with Reliance New Energy, which is also reportedly setting up a battery manufacturing factory in the country.
Beyond digital technology
When asked about what he believes budding entrepreneurs should focus on, Aggarwal suggested that the collective ecosystem should now look at domains beyond the digital sphere.
"Technologies of the future are beyond digital—climate change, biotechnology, energy technology, AI tech, material sciences... these are the opportunities entrepreneurs starting out right now should focus on."
Offering reassurance to young entrepreneurs in the audience, Aggarwal noted that funding downturns, much like funding upswings, follow cyclical patterns. He said that despite the challenges of the past two years, companies forged during such times will emerge even more resilient and formidable than the rest.
"I think the experience of the last two years will really set companies up for success in the long term."
Edited by Sohini Mitter