Pune Startup Mantra: Repos aims to be the ‘Amazon’ for fuel delivery in India

Pune-based entrepreneurs Chetan Walunj and his wife Aditi Bhosale-Walunj are the mission to redefine energy distribution in India
Aditi Bhosale-Walunj and Chetan Walunj, are the wife-husband team that founded Repos in Pune. (Shankar Narayan/HT PHOTO)
Aditi Bhosale-Walunj and Chetan Walunj, are the wife-husband team that founded Repos in Pune. (Shankar Narayan/HT PHOTO)
Published on Aug 28, 2021 04:08 PM IST
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By Salil Urunkar

The ability to address a problem with a cost-effective solution is the base line for any startup in the world, but especially so in India.

Pune-based entrepreneurs Chetan Walunj and his wife Aditi Bhosale-Walunj are the mission to redefine energy distribution in India.

‘Repos Energy’, their start-up, is a pure technology B2B platform that facilitates doorstep delivery of fuel through AI-enabled mobile fuel stations.

Born and brought up in Rajgurunagar, Walunj is a BE Mechanical graduate. He met Aditi, a forensics and international relations student, in 2015. As the duo got to know each other, they decided to become partners – not just in their lives, but also in business. Till then Walunj was managing a fuel station opened by his father in 2006. That was a time when the Rajgurunagar-Chakan region was witnessing large-scale industrial activity.

Many multinational companies had come in and they required fuel (diesel) on-site as a backup for generators.

The problem

As fuel stations were located on the highway, most companies used fuel tankers, or then jerry cans to carry diesel to their sites. This system was inefficient, to say the least. Besides, companies had to deploy workers, security personnel and a manager or supervisor to oversee this. Also, there was no accountability about how much fuel is being purchased, how much is wasted or stolen.

Inside a company’s premises, everything was organised, however, diesel procurement was unorganised.

The solution

That’s when Walunj had his first thought of resolving this challenge faced by the industry.

After completing his engineering in 2012-13, Walunj wanted to expand his fuel business to Pune. However, land setup cost had him having second thoughts. Says Walunj, “I asked my father whether it was possible to install a meter on a vehicle and start selling fuel on wheels? We discussed the idea with various companies, but it did not elicit positive response. We started meeting hotels, and malls coming up around Pune city. We went ahead with our plan and built 20 vehicles. Due to this innovative thinking, we became third-highest selling retail outlet of an oil marketing company (OMC) in India. We grew from 0.3 million litres to 3 million litres in sale of fuel per month.”

Today, ‘Repos Energy’, facilitates doorstep delivery of fuel through AI-enabled mobile fuel stations.

E-commerce for fuel

The real turning point came when Walunj met Aditi Bhosale in 2015. Says Walunj, “Aditi always had the dream of doing something larger than life. She used to say that we will solve a global problem. In 2016, we took some time off to think about our strategy, read a lot of books about Ratan Tata, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and tried to understand how they managed to go global.”

“That year, in July, due to heavy rains, power supply to the Senapati Bapat road area was disrupted for two days. Hotels, commercial complexes and malls in the area got hit as they had to make arrangements for additional diesel for their generators. I was getting frantic calls from establishment managers and was coordinating back and forth with the drivers. On the same day, we received a courier through Amazon and that’s when the idea of e-commerce for fuel clicked,” says Walunj.

“We immediately pulled out some global statistics regarding fuel (especially diesel consumption), distribution losses and other factors. We also considered the disruption that would be caused by electric eehicles (EV), but then even if 10 per cent of vehicles are replaced by EVs – a very ambitious target - still there is a huge market for efficient diesel distribution. I convinced Aditi that this is the global idea we were looking for,” said Walunj.

A policy move

Says Aditi, “The OMC liked our idea, but they did not respond positively as e-commerce in fuel was not legal in India. Luckily, there was a summit in Pune on biofuel where Dharmendra Pradhan, the then petroleum minister was attending. We got to meet him for five minutes and presented our concept of e-commerce in fuel to him in writing. A few days later he tweeted that his ministry was thinking of starting fuel e-commerce.

Walunj said, “After we saw the tweet, we decided to begin our work. We started our office on Baner road. We hired our first few team members.”

“In 2017, then commerce minister Suresh Prabhu had called a meeting of startups. All OMC officials, startup founders and other government officials were present. It was decided to conduct a pilot run of ‘doorstep diesel delivery’. Hindustan Petroleum did the pilot run in Mumbai, Bharat Petroleum in Delhi, while Indian Oil Corporation did it in Pune. Later it was decided to expand the pilot run to 51 smart cities,” he stated.

“Repos did 32 of 36 pilots and all of them were successful,” claims Walunj. The decision to legalise doorstep delivery of fuel was announced after the 2019 general election results.

Meanwhile, Repos had managed to sell two vehicles which were specially manufactured as AI-enabled mobile fuel stations.

The Ratan Tata moment

Says Aditi, “Chetan and I, both of us wanted Ratan Tata to be our mentor, as we wanted to dedicate our idea to India. We had gone to his house on October 1, 2017 and stood outside, wrote a letter and passed it inside. We had made a business plan on a paper with pen and pencil. On the business plan we had written ‘We want to change energy distribution in India. Please give us 15 minutes’. We went back to our room and then unexpectedly, my phone rang.”

“Ratan Tata had given us time the next morning. He said to us that every sector like food, grocery, hospitals, has gone on tech, except the petroleum. It was his idea that we should manufacture the vehicles at our own factory as it was the core part of our business. He also told us that Tata Motors will help us manufacturing these vehicles and made calls to the company officials for us,” recalls Aditi.

“We started with a 1,000 square feet factory and are now about 0.2 million square feet. Our vision is to become a global company with all the ‘Ratan Tata values’.

“Ratan Tata believed in us and has invested an undisclosed amount from his personal account in our startup,” she proudly claims.

Redefining energy distribution system

How is Repos redefining the energy distribution system? Through the Repos Triangle. To explain this theory, Aditi quotes famous business magnate and philanthropist, Jack Ma, “Any organisation with an Iron Triangle Strategy would be the future for the next three decades.”

By creating a Repos Triangle, the startup is bridging the gap between the three important aspects of energy distribution:

•Enabling availability of energy through a robust e-commerce platform to meet the requirement of the end-user on a large scale

•Producing efficient tools for energy distribution – These are Repos Mobile Petrol Pumps, which are manufactured at Repos innovation centre. These IoT-enabled vehicles ease logistics. Besides RMPP, Repos has innovated DATUM – a one-of-its-kind in-house fuel management solution that facilitates remote fuel storage and dispensing. These tools are built keeping international standards in mind for global use purposes.

•The third solution of the Repos triangle is ensuring flexibility with payment procedures. For this, Repos has a finserv offering through ReposPay.

Creating fueltrepreneurs

After the e-commerce policy for fuel was announced, the immediate beneficiaries of this policy were largely existing fuel station owners. In order to promote startups and entrepreneurship in the petroleum industry, the government announced another initiative called fuel entrepreneurs.

A typical fuel station requires 4,000 square feet and about 20 employees for operational purposes. However, mobile fuel station vehicles require only 4,00 square feet area with two employees to operate it. Government came up with the fuel entrepreneur concept where anyone – who doesn’t own a physical pump – can start a fuel station.

Says Walunj, “Anyone can register themselves as a startup and apply for a tender with the OMC. The applicant becomes a reseller of fuel. Thereafter by simply buying the vehicle which has AI-enabled mobile fuel station, one can start fuel business. We have created 600 such fuel entrepreneurs – right from Beed, Jalgaon in Maharashtra to Jorhat in Assam.

How Repos connects customers with fuel resellers?

Repos’s tagline ‘Fueled by Yes’ says it all. Says Aditi, “A vehicle controller is connected to a customer’s mobile phone. With the help of Internet of Things (IoT) products, sensors are installed at the customer site to check fuel levels in their machines. The data collected from these devices is then analysed and intelligent inputs are suggested through the platform.”

Adds Walunj, “For a customer, typically an IoT device cost ranges from 35,000 to Rs5 lakh. We are a purely tech company. We do not sell diesel. We have a data tool for diesel management. We have created a platform where there is a seller, trader who sells the fuel. We have made the buyers life easy by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to study the fuel consumption patterns.”

Future plans

Walunj and Aditi want to become a company that delivers all kind of fuel with minimum human interference. Hence, they are not just focussed on diesel, but also on CNG and are doing research work on electric vehicles and batteries.

“We are also eyeing the commercial or transport vehicles as well as individual customers (B2C) in the next three to four years,” the duo said.

Repos target is to sell 3,200 mobile fuel pumps across India by 2022. Repos created 500+ fuel startups in just 1 year. Repos has been granted three patents in India.

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Saturday, October 23, 2021