For most of us, battery technology was a part of the lessons learned back in school. We memorised the stuff about cathodes, anodes, and electrolytes and forgot about it the moment we moved to the next class. But Jubin Varghese was obviously the exception. It consumed him to the point where he took it up as a semester project for his engineering assignment – and found it so fascinating that he dropped out of college altogether. He started a company along with his classmate, Ameya Gadiwan to develop the next big battery breakthrough.
They have a lot of competition to contend with, worldwide. We’ve traveled a long way from the old lead-acid batteries that still provide power to our cars and generators. While they handle hot temperatures better, they cannot be compressed into smaller sizes. On the other hand, Lithium-ion technology powers our mobile phones and while we’ve managed to extract a little more out of them every year, it’s like the trickle of juice from squeezing sugarcane through rollers the third time around. And with our complete reliance on mobile devices, we’re obsessed with making phones that charge faster or last longer – we’re willing to live with one or the other but the quest to find a battery charge that lasts for days continues.
Gegadyne breaks through
How can battery technology be explained without using all those scientific terms we learned back in school? It is about generating enough energy in small containers that can be sustained for hours without exploding – right from the pea-sized batteries we use in watches to the rectangular blocks in mobile phones. Remember the problem Samsung Note S7 faced when they tried to pack in too much into that small size so that it would last longer? There were enough explosions in the Note S7 to blacklist the phone from aircraft and back pockets. This was in 2017 and while the current crop of phones continues to get better, there is still a long way to go.
What Gegadyne is trying to do is fundamentally different. The technology explanations on the site are corporate speak. Here’s a sample – Gegadyne Energy develops next-generation batteries through Advanced Nanomaterials & Fabrication Processes. In simpler terms, they have modified a non-explosive material that holds a high charge for short bursts and extended its charge capacity exponentially. That means that it charges quickly (15 mins) and drains slowly (5 days), which the whole world is trying to do at various labs but with limited success. In fact, the father of Lithium technology John Goodenough is still going strong at 94, trying to make a lithium battery safe enough for cramped and high-temperature spaces.
The Hype Machine
The headline in Economic Times is breathless – Charged up: Gegadyne’s carbon-powered batteries can break China’s monopoly on electric vehicles. The article goes on to state that China has a monopoly on cobalt – one of the main ingredients for Lithium-ion. Further down the article, reality kicks in – The entrepreneur adds that the firm is beginning the pilot production of the battery by early 2020. He contends that the goal here is to supply Gegadyne’s channel partners with the initial battery pack for them to integrate with their existing products.
So, while the trials are due to begin this year, the fantasy is that a fledgling company will begin to make a change in the Indian battery market within the next 3-5 years. Now, the channel partners involved will have to figure out if the battery technology works as expected, test it under strenuous working conditions and compare it to the existing products before it moves to the next stage.
However, if they were to put that in the headline, no one would read the rest. Here’s one option: New Battery Technology ready for extensive field trials! Not anywhere near the headline above. So, every product has to walk the fine line between what it hopes to become in the future and where it is right now. And media has the same problem as advertising does – how does it command attention in a world that wants to see a shiny new thing every few minutes? There is no easy answer to that one.
Will Gegadyne be the next big thing?
It’s interesting to see brands take off from being nobodies to becoming sought-after celebrities. Like the first drops of rain that turn into thundershowers. You see a few articles that barely bubble to the surface and suddenly, they are everywhere. Like Flipkart. And Swiggy. And Paytm. They were invisible startups a few years ago.
In the pre-digital era, the branding process took time. But everything is now compressed, much like business cycles and distribution. Since the sector that Gegadyne is in has the potential to scale to billion-dollar revenues, it gets more attention than a furniture startup would get, for example. Maybe we would not have bothered about batteries as much if it wasn’t for mobile phones. Under our car hoods, in generators, in clocks and watches and cameras, they existed for decades on the fringes of our attention. Do you remember reading any articles about batteries before smartphones took over our lives? At least in mainline publications?
It’s not prime time yet
The phase that Gegadyne is in right now shows the rough edges. The communication is not well-oiled corporate speak. The baseline is ‘Clinically Precise, Brutally Efficient’ If they were into surgical equipment that may have been the right choice. Not for a battery startup that aims to change the world.
Jubin Varghese presented at TED X earlier in 2019. He comes across as an earnest engineer trying to make a favourable impression. If the startup makes the progress it is supposed to, you’ll see the difference. Right now, the company is at the trial run stage. When they move to a full production schedule and take a shot at the energy market, they will discover that established energy producers aren’t going to sit idle. Success in the energy sector is fraught with all kinds of regulatory, competitive and even governmental pressures.
Companies that have staked billions on Lithium-ion will try and hold on to their market share as long as they possibly can. And what about the oil giants who rule the world? They don’t want their economies threatened by the move to sustainable energy. The brand has to grow up in a hurry. And the boys will have to live by the baseline that defines the company right now to survive and succeed in future – by being clinically precise and brutally efficient in navigating a tempestuous and demanding market.
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Author short bio: I head Ideascape, an agency that I started in 2004. I have over 35 years of experience building brands in businesses as diverse as payroll services, software, cycles, HR services, hospitals, hospitality and project management.
We’re a boutique creative agency but we provide the full range of branding services in partnership with several associates in digital marketing, web development, and event management. This blog is a collection of my experiences and my point of view on marketing and advertising