A generic-looking black scooter dangles 12 feet above the ground, hooked to a crane sitting in the middle of an open field. The hook clicks open, and the scooter falls on its side with a loud thud. A man approaches, picks up the scooter, brushes the dust off, and rides away.
The video, shared with The Ken by Vivekananda Hallekere, is an unofficial “durability test” for Bounce’s new electric scooter. He’s hesitant to let us use the video publicly. But he doesn’t mind sharing the intent behind it. Hallekere is one-third of a trio of entrepreneurs that started Bounce, India’s largest two-wheeler ride-sharing business. And the “test” is part of a larger strategy—to switch their 20,000 petrol scooters to electric ones.
Building the electric scooter is step one.
“We were forced to. There is no electric scooter that’s built for sharing. We tested every scooter in the market,” says Hallekere. Scooters used for ride-sharing or deliveries must survive India’s rough driving conditions, and their range often falls short of what’s advertised. Bounce even went international with their queries, tapping Taiwan-based electric ride-sharing service Gogoro and China-based manufacturer NIU to source. Ultimately they decided that a self-made scooter would “ensure more control over the vehicle.”
Bounce has always marched to its own beat. It has eschewed running hub-to-hub operations, unlike its rival Vogo. Instead, Bounce is an evangelist for the dockless model; users can pick-up and drop-off their petrol scooters anywhere.
This has been pivotal to growth. In Indian cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad, Bounce has become a popular way to get around, especially in areas where public transport options for last mile mobility are sparse; its partnerships with metro train networks have given it a leg up over other similar services.
On the back of its rapid scale—Bounce claims close to a 100,000 rides a day in Bengaluru—the company raised $177 million between June 2019 and January 2020. With a valuation of $500 million, Bounce is a unicorn in waiting. But the growth hasn’t been painless.
It’s model has contributed significantly to its losses on account of fuel theft and vandalism. While revenues grew 3X, from Rs 5.4 crore ($751,000) to Rs 16.4 crore ($2.28 million) between March 2018 and March 2019, losses ballooned 9X—to Rs 71.7 crore ($9.9 million) from Rs 7.7 crore ($1.07 million) in the same time period—according to company research platform Tofler.
Bounce desperately wants to reduce its burn and bring this phase of reckless growth to an end. Over 2019, the company attempted a series of tweaks to its operations. The project, nicknamed “Cheetah” internally, made design changes on the scooter fleet to reduce theft and vandalism.