Founder: Siva “Shiv” Rajendran
Company Description: Creating portable affordable power from recycled electric car batteries
Company Site: http://totuspower.com/; @TotusPower
Date of Interview: June 2015
Shiv Rajendran is a car enthusiast, an engineering enthusiast, and a possibilities enthusiast. After achieving his short-term corporate goals, he realized that none of his passions had any place in his current career trajectory – so he took off in search of a new one.
On shedding material wealth:
In his previous life, Shiv worked at Deloitte. At age 25, he was one of the company’s youngest Senior Consultants in their finance practice. “I wanted to hit six figures before I turned 25. I did that three days after my 25th birthday – and I really disliked it. I was doing 80 hours of work a week that I didn’t care about.”
During a vacation, he met a guy in the electric car industry, and was really interested in the industry. “I’m a car nut. I’ve raced since I was 15. I was a bus driver when I was getting my master’s degree. I’ve ridden my motorcycle across the US on solo trips.” He decided to sell everything he had except his motorcycle and move to California.
He worked as a director at an electric vehicle start up for a little over a year, but the company closed shop. He knew he didn’t want to go back to a standard full-time job, so he he sold his belongings again and moved into his friend’s garage.
“I can pretty much survive on $6 a day. It’s not that big of a deal, you just can’t do EVERYTHING. I grew up pretty comfortable, so I just wanted to see what I could do. I have one nice jacket, and just wear it all the time. I didn’t want to go back to a corporate life unless i was really, really broke – like less than $100.”
On the idea for an alternative battery solution:
It was while living in his friend’s garage that he found the time and clarity for Totus Power. A friend of his had moved back to India to start schools that utilized tablets as a way to improve education experiences. The issue was that reliable, safe and affordable power sources were hard to come by in these Indian schools. Shiv began researching solutions for his friend in his spare time and was disappointed with the results.
“It’s not a premium market, so not a lot of people care about it. On top of that, it’s not easy. It’s either you use lead acid batteries or Lithium Ion batteries. There’s nothing else. Lead acid batteries are bulky, toxic and have poor shelf life. Lithium Ion batteries are expensive.”
From Shiv’s previous experience, he knew that electric car batteries only have about 6-7 years of usage on them before they lose power density and only operate at 70% capacity.
“For most conventional purposes, the battery is essentially useless and expensive to recycle – somewhere between 5-10% of the cost of the car. Companies are mandated to recycle the batteries.”
“One day, I was listening to music in bed and I literally jumped out of bed and thought, ‘Wait! Why can’t I use these (electric car) batteries?!’” This was in 2013.
On challenges and dedication:
Along his journey, Shiv has been met with both acceptance and rejection. His idea has gained attention and won pitch competitions and he was accepted into the 2014 class of Impact Engine. However, even with all the expressed interest, the struggle to fund a prototype is real. As a solo founder without a US working visa, investor interest has been hard to close.
“We have batteries, engineers, an advisor from Tesla and a customer in Tanzania who wants to launch these batteries across 250 villages where they’re doing massive education projects with tablets. I have all these pieces lined up, but I just need more money.”
Shiv recently returned to Chile, a home to some of his original reception via SeedStars World and Startup Chile, to put all focus into completing his prototype by the end of this year to fill orders.
“I’ve switched back to my 2013 mode and my $6 a day budget and doing paid work on the side. Like I said, I’ll quit when I only have $100 left in my pocket.”
Shiv’s dream car is a Pagani Zonda R, but “in this lifetime” he will settle happily for a Subaru BRZ. He loves the spirit of The Adventures of Tin Tin and is inspired by Carl Sagan’s philosophy of “stepping beyond profits and balance sheets and moving the human race forward” – maybe by powering education in developing communities.