I don’t recall Ather or Hero Electric launching their electric scooters/bikes with live streaming fanfare, but both Revolt and Ola have quite a few things in common.
Both have well-known founders – Rahul ‘Micromax’ Sharma and Bhavish Aggarwal.
Both companies are primarily known for another product before their EV venture – mobile phones and ride-hailing/cabs.
Both Rahul and Bhavish chose to launch their EVs through a live streaming session where they themselves played the host! Rahul chose a live event (pre-pandemic, August 28, 2019) that was live-streamed on YouTube while Bhavish chose to do a pre-recorded video (middle of the pandemic, August 15, 2021) that was live-streamed on Twitter.
Beyond these similarities, there is a lot more to unpack in terms of comparison from the category itself, though both products appeal to different audience segments.
Rahul Sharma’s Revolt launch (August 28, 2019)
Bhavish Aggarwal’s Ola Scooter launch (August 15, 2021)
(For ease of viewing, I have mentioned the time of each segment that I’m referring to in each video, in the brackets, below)
The EV technology may be dramatically different from conventional fossil-based fuel vehicles but buyers generally think on the same lines.
As Bill Bernbach famously said: “Human nature hasn’t changed for a million years. It won’t even change in the next million years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man — what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him.”
Both Rahul and Bhavish focus a lot on the elements that create a better experience for the riders while balancing it nicely with talking about the new things made possible by the electric engine that changes the entire machine in a significant way.
If Rahul introduced the bike’s voice-enabled start (10:42), Google-voice enabled ‘connected helmet’ (11:53), and the ‘smart key’ (20:57), Bhavish goes one step forward by introducing the no-key option (10:15) – Ola Scooter senses your presence via proximity alert and starts, or can be started through your phone (app) or the screen on the scooter itself!
If Rahul speaks about the smart digital instrumental cluster (20:07), Bhavish goes several steps ahead by focusing almost 4 minutes on the screen (9:54) almost like it is a new 7-inch smartphone, including the ability to change the screen’s contents, background design, install apps, and even make phone calls! The changeable screen design was akin to a sales pitch on smartwatches, incidentally.
Revolt’s pre-launch campaign was around the fact that you can customize the bike’s sound!
Bhavish too spoke about changing the sound of the vehicle (11:07) to customize it because electric vehicles don’t produce any noise the way petrol vehicles do. I had written about this phenomenon’s perspective from a vehicle manufacturer earlier.
Rahul took some time to speak about the bike’s ‘water wading’ (18:49), given assumptions about an electric vehicle engine stalling when in water (even petrol bikes do!), but Bhavish doesn’t mention anything to do with on-road, rainy season experience, probably because much of the motor in a scooter is covered adequately unlike a bike. But Bhavish goes so far as to not even mention the possible water resistance of the 7-inch screen he lavished attention on! It most probably is, but a word and a demo of the 7-inch screen of the Ola Scooter in heavy rain would have assuaged potential buyers considering most buyers of even smartphones expect to know about this – a scooter is more likely to be parked outside the house where it is subjected to the elements!
Where Rahul merely says that the Revolt bike has ‘easy storage’ (25:09; being a bike), Bhavish contextualizes Ola Scooter’s storage under the seat as ‘can fit 2 helmets (6:05), making it easier to comprehend.
On the other hand, Rahul’s narration is rooted in user behavior when he narrates a simple day-to-day experience of someone from a car telling you (in your bike) that your stand is out (and you sheepishly do the necessary). Using that, Rahul pitches the product feature that the bike won’t start if the side stand is engaged – a ‘smart’ side stand (24:29).
When it comes to riding quality, the most important part of a 2-wheeler, both Rahul and Bhavish pitch the 3-riding-modes model – Eco, Normal and Sport for the Revolt bike (27:00), and Normal, Sport and Hyper (7:12) for the Ola Scooter.
Interestingly, for a bike, where the user expectation is usually more power, Rahul contextualizes the ‘Eco’ mode as being meant for bumper-to-bumper traffic, the ‘Normal’ mode for everyday city conditions, and the ‘Sport’ mode for situations where you have less traffic and a freer road. He also mentions that these are ‘intelligent modes’, so I assume that the bike will choose the mode on its own, and we don’t need to switch between them.
Counter-intuitively, for a scooter, Bhavish adds more punch to the Ola Scooter’s power and pitches that the ‘Hyper’ mode makes it ‘faster than many sports bikes’, thereby muddling the usually assumed target audience for the vehicle and something I’d have expected from Rahul!
Intriguingly, for a bike, Rahul doesn’t talk about the ‘0-60 in X seconds’, something that petrol-based bike brands harp endlessly! But, for a scooter, Bhavish makes a mention of it – 0-40 in 3 seconds, 0-60 in 5 seconds (6:50), indicating that the scooter is actually (probably) more powerful than the Revolt bike!
Both Rahul and Bhavish ensure that they place their products as being gender-agnostic, despite traditionally associated gender biases to both vehicle categories.
The big difference between both product pitches is the focus on price: Rahul even starts by teasing the audience on the price of the bike and spends as much as 12 minutes on the price announcement (45:50), with a lot of user-level contexts added, but mostly male user-centric. In contrast, Bhavish spends just 1 minute in price (18:00), almost matter-of-factly!
One vastly interesting framing difference is that Bhavish starts his entire pitch using the environment as a narrative device – that the entire idea of Ola Scooter is to help the environment and move the automobile industry away from fossil-fuel-based vehicles’ dependence (1:20). He does not address the technology that goes behind the charging ecosystem, either at home or Ola’s own hypercharging stations, that do have a significant impact on the environment!
In comparison, Rahul’s pitch is very, very practical – price, features, utility value. etc. It’s almost as if he is selling a normal petrol bike!
In fact, while Bhavish contextualizes his pitch by talking about how large the Ola Scooter Hosur plant is (2:50; can fit both Mumbai and Delhi airports inside it!), Rahul makes no mention of the manufacturing details that led to the buzz that they were selling a Chinese model rebranded for India. But the bikes are made in the brand’s Manesar plant.
Looking at the announcement from a users’ perspective, I considered the points on what a normal, potential buyer of an electric 2-wheeler would be usually concerned about during the decision-making process.
1. The age-old ‘Kitna deti hai’ phrase that Maruti-Suzuki made popular is probably the first. Mileage!
But unlike petrol-based vehicles, where the mileage is presented as ‘X kms per liter’, the quantifying equivalent is the ‘range’ for EVs.
Both Rahul and Bhavish seem less-than-sure when it comes to talking about the range. Rahul gives a range for the ‘range’ – “80-150 kms” along with a fine print star (36:38) probably meant to convey that they would differ based on the modes the vehicle chooses for itself. Bhavish says, “incredible range of 190 kms” in voice, while the on-screen information says, “181 kms” under ‘range’ (7:04)! This reminds me of how hotly contested the mileage is for petrol-based vehicles – they always mention the best possible mileage based on ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India) testing data while the real-world mileage may be quite different.
Both Rahul and Bhavish did not go into the ‘cost per kilometer’ point at all, something that petrol-based bike brands focus inordinately on. Imagine a petrol-bike brand saying, ‘a full tank can give you 250 kilometers’ and stop at that! That’s precisely what both Revolt and Ola are saying!
2. A closely related factor to mileage in a decision-making process is refueling. With petrol stations being ubiquitous (to the detriment of our environment, of course), buyers don’t worry about refueling at all. But, with an EV, this is probably THE most pressing question. A way to frame that question is, ‘What if my electric 2-wheeler runs out of charge in the middle of the road?’. I’m sure this is a top-of-mind question for most potential buyers and a reason why there is hesitancy in the decision-making process.
To address this with a generous layer of practicality, Rahul pitches that the Revolt gives you 4 options (32:27): you can charge it where the bike is parked, or take the battery out and charge it at your home/office, or head to a nearby Revolt Switch station and swap the battery, or get a swap battery at your place!
In comparison, Bhavish seems less confident. He says we can charge the battery at home, and it would take 6 hours (7:40). Or we can charge it 50% in 18 minutes in Ola’s hypercharger network across India. Because the Ola Scooter comes with a fixed battery, it offers less convenience from a charging point of view, probably THE most important consideration in an electric vehicle.
Ironically, for a swappable battery-based bike, Rahul hyped the Revolt’s battery warranty at 6 years (29:22)! I did not understand how it worked, though – if a battery is swapped, and we get a not-so-new battery, how does the warranty work? In contrast, Bhavish doesn’t address battery warranty at all, that too for a fixed battery!
I’d have expected Rahul to not talk of a battery warranty and Bhavish to hammer the battery warranty point!
3. The 3rd important consideration is, of course, the price, and specifically, the financing options, given the higher entry point of electric vehicles.
Here’s where Rahul pledges his entire product pitch, considering his whole presentation is intricately built around the ease of acquisition. He narrates an easy-to-relate (to young men, and not necessarily women) story of how a bike is a prized possession in a young man at a particular stage in life and pitches the magical ‘only Rs. 2,999 per month for 37 months’ as a mantra – and no downpayment! He even asks buyers to just walk in with Rs. 3000 and an Aadhaar card and pick up the bike that can be in your name on Day 1!
In comparison, Bhavish almost makes a passing mention of the entire pitch around price. Even the financing option is conventional EMI-based.
Overall, I felt that while Rahul was using automotive framing for his Revolt pitch, Bhavish was using a smartphone framing for the Ola Scooter pitch. Rahul’s sales pitch was grounded on user experience and practical value, rooted in the Dilli-da-munda ethos, while Bhavish seemed to be aiming for a premium positioning, rooted in the Bangalore-startup ethos where the sophistication of the overall experience trumps affordability in terms of priority.
But, given how similar both leaders and their sales pitches are, that too in the same overall category (as I had outlined in the beginning), there is a lot to observe in how they went about handling their launches.