I had a great interview'ish time with Ryan and Matt from AmpUp, the intelligent EV charging company.
Matt and Ryan have been engaging members of our EV Universe for long and now they had the (mis)fortune of being at the very first of many interviews I'll do for the EV Universe resources. Shoutout to Jackson from the team too!
With all three of us deep in the EV industry, we could talk for days. Luckily we were able to distill some of it down to ~40 minutes. Rather than having a strict questioning line, I let most of the topics come naturally about the EV world.
What we covered:
- AmpUp building their own charging network without chargers, becoming the Airbnb of EV charging,
- Making charging management easy and simple for businesses,
- Matt's story in AmpUp,
- Learned what's the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) and
- If it's good for the government to be involved in developing charging infrastructure or not.
In the audio version, you'll also hear about us rambling on hybrids being similar to early EVs, educating new EV owners about charging, how dealerships should sell chargers and if the US should introduce something instead of Kilowatts (to feel special again). Fun-fun.
Tune in via these two links below:
Part 1: 28min
Part 2: 11min
Here's the text version of the same thing (yeah I don't like my voice either), but with about half of the good stuff
Ryan: I think we're all doing what we do because we're passionate about EV adoption and charging infrastructure and, what that means for emissions reductions. Great to be part of your activities.
Jaan: It's so awesome because there's so many people with the same mission that haven't connected yet. Because we're all basically in the same mission. Everybody has their own reasons, but in the end we want to see EVs win.
Tell me about the AmpUp itself.
What AmpUp does
Matt: The simple version of what we do, is we provide software to manage charging stations. And that could come in a lot of different flavors, what we're seeing is a gap in the industry to make charging management easy and simple.
So people get the hardware. And they know, okay, I need a couple charge stations, so my employees can charge or my tenants can charge. And then once they get it, they realize, well,
how do I charge a price?
How do I manage access?
How do I collect revenue and see analytics?
And so that's what we're providing to them.
Our goal is to do that in a very like simple, clean, aesthetically pleasing way to take a lot of the guts work out. Because I say this a lot, but myself and the electrician, the hardware provider we're talking and kilowatts and load management. And the customer is like, how much does it cost.
They're talking in ROI. And so our job is really to make it easy for them to manage their stations. And to a point, you know, maybe not have to manage them. Just punch in a few settings and then let the charger work for you. And so there's really two products. One is the software to manage the stations and that's for the station owner. That might be a workplace. It could be like a condo association.
And then the other product is the mobile app and that's what the drivers use to go up to the station. They scan a QR code. Their credit card is hooked up to the mobile app and then they start plugging in and charging and they can track that activity.
Jaan: So every charger you connect, EV drivers will get access to that charger. You're basically building your own charging network kind of, just without your own hardware?
Matt: That's right.
We are hardware agnostic. So we work with a lot of different hardware providers because customers need choice and they need different options based on budget or features with the hardware itself.
Jaan: And you handle the payments. What does it mean the management part for the charger owner, what kind of dashboards or what do you provide there?
Matt: Yeah. So there's a few different packages. Sort of starts at something very simple and rather hands off all the way to something very complex and sophisticated.
I'd say typically station owners are getting something in the middle, they know they want to at least see analytics. They want to charge a price for the station and collect revenue. And they want to manage access. I'd say is the other big one determine who has access to the charger and when.
And that could be the employees. Maybe get a special rate that they charge with. And then the public, maybe the station owner charges a little bit more to try to make some money off of the stations.
Matt: I given this pitch many times as you can imagine. Ryan wants to maybe dig into how we got started?
How AmpUp got started -
the Airbnb for charging
Ryan: I guess the origin story, if you will. I think, Jaan, you know, kind of what you were digging out earlier.
AmpUp was started by two gentlemen Tom and Tim and we sometimes kindly referred to them as TNT. I think really, it was kind of like two guys who are really coming from different worlds. But their background and skills really compliment each other so well. They were really just trying to solve their own problem, which is, I think how a lot of companies get started in that proverbial garage.
Both are EV drivers. Both obviously seeing where we'd like to go with like vehicle electrification but trying to solve their own problem, not being able to charge where they live. And one gentleman was in, an older home that has limitations on , the service panel and the other, you know, in San Francisco. So, typical condo owner, apartment dweller.
So the original idea of Amp Up was actually one of the flagship features that exists now in both settings - it's the ability to make a reservation for your charger.
And this is what Matt was alluding to, was the Airbnb style of a home charger, where if you have a private charger, you know, in your garage or under driveway, you can share and even monetize that charger so that others would have access to it.
For those who can't have access, then you can gain access to your neighbors' charger, but still have a payment method to compensate your friend or your neighbor for using their electricity. And that was via a reservation feature through the driver app with the kind of the ability to handle the transactions.
We call it the peer-to-peer network and I think there's over 2,000 of those chargers that have signed up on that platform. But since COVID, you know, it's really, it's kind of taken a back seat because probably some reasons, you know, having strangers pop in your driveway.
So there was a, a pretty interesting pivot into what Matt was just describing in more detail there, which is the commercial platform. Which is the, there's kind of the, you know public sharing of chargers. And then having a site host that actually, when we say manage. Putting in certain settings of who has access and who pays what price.
And then crucially is when you talked a lot of property managers, you've talked to them too Jaan, they don't want to have to deal with any exchanges of money, any transactions. They like that drivers will pay for the sessions themselves. And then the money will get direct deposited into their account.
So electric bill will go up, but they will receive the funds. And in many cases we show folks how quickly Amp Up pays for itself. But anyway, just to take a step back again. If you want to call it residential or peer-to-peer Airbnb style was the original iteration of amp up.
And our main focus now is this commercial side of things.
Making things simpler for the users
Ryan: Yeah. And you know, and part of it is, as Matt was saying, we're trying to make it simpler.
And, it might sound kind of cheesy, but when we say more aesthetically pleasing, but to have an actual app, you know, and a user interface on the backend that is just actually easy to navigate, which is sometimes not the case.
Like when you have a site of those two wants to log in to change a setting, you don't want them to be like, Oh my God, I need a PhD, you know, to figure this out.
We're doing something a little different than some of the others and we are in the space of OCPP network providers.
Jaan: what's OCPP?
OCPP - Open Charge Point Protocol unlocks the choices
Ryan: that's a great question. So stands for open charge point protocol. It's basically the standard communication between hardware and software.
Matt: a good way to think about it, Jaan, is Android. Android runs on a lot of different hardware, not just a Google phone. That's very similar. And another comparison Ryan and I use for the industry is - if you think about the iPhone, when it first came out you could only get it on the AT & T network. And what came with that? A four or five-year contract that locked you in. So you had to use that hardware on that software for five years and you can't get out of it.
The industry has changed a lot in 10 years and just like the mobile industry did, you can get a phone unlocked and bring that to any network. You can get a charger now unlocked and bring that to any network. And that's really been a, you know, an area of growth for the industry, probably in the last three or four years in particular.
And I think we pride ourselves in being part of that open network because customers should be able to choose: if you don't like AmpUp, you can go to another software provider. If that works better for you or vice versa, if you don't like the hardware you have but you like AmpUp, you could switch your hardware and stay with us.
Jaan: Okay. That's really interesting because that's something that anyone that isn't inside the charging industry, they know nothing about it. That's a great insight.
Ryan: It's an alphabet soup type of acronym. You know, you do have to make sure the hardware and the software companies actually have an integration in place and informal kind of a deployment process, but otherwise it's very much that feeling of like, well, here are here are all your choices.
Versus a closed network, which is what you have some other companies that operate under.
I find it's maybe really more like, if you think about it, like proprietary versus open. Right where, changes in swaps can be made versus if it's proprietary, you're essentially locked in to that provider.
(we've featured some of Ryan's story on our newsletter several months ago (here))
Jaan: I remember we already covered Ryan's story. Like how you ended up in Amp Up and your past and told the autopsy story and everything. I really liked that one, but Matt, maybe you can tell me a little bit about your background and how did you end up in the space?
Matt: Yeah, sure. So actually I worked for a local utility here. You actually might know them from a European standpoint: National Grid. So in the UK, the largest I think transmission provider of electricity and gas for many years, and then here in the U S. Electricity and gas distributor and some transmission for New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
And so that's where I started my career. I was there for about six years. About half of that, I did corporate strategy and then the other half I did venture capital. And it was very interesting to see how sort of the sausage is made from the venture capital standpoint. But also, you know, a great time to be in it.
Because venture capital for clean energy has historically been terrible. There were sort of you know, clean energy, 1.0 2.0, I don't know which one we're on now.
But like with, solar and storage, they require a lot of money for these very hardware focused high CapEx companies.
Incredible capital cost to get these companies off the ground. I think a lot of investors got burned very early on, mid two thousands probably. And then now what we're seeing is sort of the new revival of clean energy and investment, probably the last six months too, with SPACs and all that other stuff we've talked about it's exploded.
So I was helping out of the venture capital team for a few years, and then sort of came to a point in my own career where I said:
Well, I can help invest in the future. Or I can start building it.
And you know, I had met Tom and Tim, through some friends and stayed in touch with them.
And the more I talked to them, the more I realized I thought they were building something very special with, Airbnb for EV charging. I thought they had the right background, the right focus. And about this time last year I made the leap to join full-time. I had bought an electric vehicle probably a few months before that.
So I think I had the same pain points that maybe they did as well.
Government supported public charging vs free market?
/ I entered into a little rant of how Estonia was the first country in the world with full national coverage of Fast chargers back in 2012 and what happened since. It's there in audio if you want to hear. /
Ryan: I think it's super fascinating. I mean, think about what's going on in the US? Like you have the Tesla supercharger network. You have Rivian trying to build out something similar and then you've got Electrify America, EVgo they're all like these independent outposts and yeah, maybe there's some interoperability.
But you know, we don't, it's a far cry from a true public charging infrastructure . Where, you know, it's kind of open in that regard.
Jaan: how do you make a true public network? Because everything, what I've learned in life is that everything government owns will turn to... Sh*t, let's say. I don't know, how is it with you guys, but here in this side of Europe you need competition, you need, free market basically to drive it. I think I would welcome the competition like between EVgo and Electrify America and everybody, because that should drive them to provide the best service.
Or doesn't it?
Ryan: Well, these are big questions but I think a lot about this in the US. I forget the exact names of these acts, but in 1916, you know, the federal government, basically stepped up to build a network of roads.
Some of the early adopters of just cars, right in the turn of the century, had to deal with road that you couldn't even call them roads. So vehicles would break down. Then we would run out of gas. You know, they would go through the things that early adopters go through, like, you know what EV drivers are doing, which is like - you don't just have a charger everywhere and you have to plan it out and you have to deal with that.
It's not like the standard, which is a horse and carriage can take you wherever you need to go.
And gas car can do the same. But without that network of roads would, would cars have, and that, that was again, that was a publicly funded venture. And then, 35 versus 40 years later in the fifties under Eisenhower building out things like route 66 , so that people could drive cross country. And that's kind of where, you know, how we got into such a car culture here. Well, partly because of that, but so yeah, I mean, I agree with you.
Like, we want competition to build the best hardware to build the best networks to operate them. But I think in a lot of these places, you know, we're going to need public investment.
Jaan: Okay. Yeah. Well, public investment will be needed, especially in those places that aren't maybe like commercially viable.
Ryan: Electrification ? Broadband access ? Yeah. Places where private companies are not going to make a profit, they're not going to go, but we want access.
Matt: And we are seeing more of it? The VW settlement money. Is still, you know, being used for many different States.
They get that money on an annual basis. And a lot of that goes right into EV charging infrastructure and rebate, incentive programs, things like that to help create the market. But I think also help provide more public charging stations in those harder to reach areas.
Jaan: Do you think the Biden's, administration's new bills will help it as well? I mean, he's talking about charging as well, right?
Matt: Yeah. I think it'll certainly help. I think there's, there's a big focus , on that plan you know. Not only electrifying the government fleet. But then providing more incentives for the States to do, I'd say more of what they're already doing or what others will start.
So I think you see California, New York, right. They may lead the charge with some of the, the early policy. And then you'll see a lot of the other States adopt something similar. So I think it's great. We have an administration that's serious about it. I think we're all waiting now, like in what form does that money come out? And then where does it make sense? You know, for, for us to play or others to play for cities to get involve , and use that money. Cause in my opinion would probably only have one shot with that amount of money coming in a three or four year period. So like let's, let's spend it wisely and, you know,
as many charge stations we can in the ground and sort of help solve that like chicken and egg problem that Non EV drivers talk about a lot, how can I get an EV without a charge station? Or how can I get a charge station and no one's going to charge there. But I think unless you drive an EV like Ryan and I do it's hard for a lot of people to sort of overcome those, you know, range, anxiety, you know fears or whatever other maybe rumors or, sort of things they've heard about EV charging and why it might not be easy.
Jaan: I've thought about the chicken and egg problem with the EV charging and EV cars and I think we're coming close to the solution already. I mean, right now you can see basically both of them exponentially increasing. Both the cars on the roads and also the charging infrastructure?
Ryan: I like to joke around and Matt's heard this joke before that:
everybody's hesitating because of the chicken and egg problem, but everybody wants an omelet at the same time.
There were more topics on our interview but this here is getting a bit long now. So, to hear about us rambling on hybrids, educating new EV owners, dealerships as charger sellers and if the US should introduce something instead of Kilowatts to use as their own metric again, tune in via the audio links on top.
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