We talked to Jordan Ramer of EV Connect about EV charging management and its ecosystem complexity.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jordan Ramer: All things considered, especially given the tough times so many people are having, we have been fortunate. I’ve joked to my wife that it feels like we are running a Wework out of our home in Los Angeles. Both kids are schooling virtually, my wife and I on and off-web conferences all day, and we are making the best out of this massively disruptive, shared experience.
Everyone misses their friends and the in-person social interactions with other humans, but we’ve come together as a family like never before and learned more about our neighborhood than I think we ever thought possible.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded EV Connect
Jordan Ramer: I spent much of my early adult life searching for a career that could combat environmental pollution and its impacts on society. In 2000, I joined AeroVironment (AV), which started my career in the clean energy and transportation arena, now known as the energy transition industries. With AV’s long history of innovation in energy transition fields and strong capability around charging EVs in the late 1990s, I took leadership roles in several AV business units during my eight years there, including managing its international growth. AV manufactured and brought to market the first fast-charging stations for off-road electric vehicles in the material handling industries, like forklifts, baggage tuggers, pickers, and so on. After leaving AV in 2008, I spent two years with NanoH20, a producer of advanced reverse osmosis membranes for water desalination.
In early 2010, EV Connect was founded. Through my experiences at AV, Tesla’s early success with its Roadster, and mainstream automakers such as GM’s and Nissan’s announcements about on-road electric vehicle launches, I realized that site owners, parking lot managers, fleet operators, and utilities must have a way to manage the complex and heterogeneous infrastructure required to satisfy the demands of EV drivers.
Prior to 2010, almost all EVs operated in tightly-controlled factory settings. A single company would deploy forklifts and other industrial vehicles in closed systems. These industrial EV networks had centralized control of the entire ecosystem: from drivers to charging stations, vehicles, and electric supply. These closed-loop EV networks still exist, but the broad availability of a diverse marketplace of on-road EVs, charging stations, network operators, site owners, and utilities make up a massive and growing, heterogeneous marketplace of EV technology today.
At EV Connect, I have been able to see the early days of the electric vehicle, since the company was founded about two years before an actual commercial market for public charging existed. EV Connect puts the EV ecosystem’s complexity into the background and simplifies EV charging management for businesses and drivers. It continues to be the most exciting move of my career.
How does EV Connect innovate?
Jordan Ramer: The EV revolution risks setbacks when the industry competes at the expense of building a streamlined, efficient, and effective collective user experience. The still-young EV industry cannot afford the chaos of incompatibility at scale, so we, at EV Connect, continue to work with the entire EV ecosystem, from energy generators to automotive OEMs, from charging station manufacturers to competing charging network providers, and the myriad charging site owners. They seek to build EV charging into a viable business.
As a software-as-a-service company, we have helped build the infrastructure to allow site owners and utilities to deploy quickly, manage, and grow feature-rich and customized EV charging networks. Using open-standard protocols, EV Connect offers a powerful management platform that connects drivers to charging stations, site owners to their ports, utilities to demand data, and service providers to their networks. This approach makes it possible for us to offer flexibility and interoperability because we don’t believe that closed ecosystems will help the industry thrive.
This centralized infrastructure operates primarily out of view of EV drivers, but it is critical for the rapid electrification of transportation. The EV Connect platform scales from a single-connector charging station up to many thousands of connectors across hundreds of sites. EV Connect customers have the freedom to choose their charging hardware, which means that they can scale their EV charging businesses on their terms.
EV Connect brings a combination of flexibility, openness, innovation, technical prowess, and fearlessness that are as unique as they are vital to the electrification of transportation.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jordan Ramer: The downstream aspects of the EV Connect business include the installation and deployment of EV charging stations. Since the start of widespread coronavirus-related shut-downs and closures, many construction projects have been put on hold or significantly slowed down, which impacts our business directly. However, as a SaaS company, we were able to very quickly disperse our workforce into a work-from-home environment without disruptions to operational continuity. We are now seeing many of these deferred projects spring back to life, and though we are still working remotely, we do not believe that the office is dead.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jordan Ramer: On the heels of our Series B funding in Q4 2019, the first quarter of 2020 was strong for EV Connect. By mid-March, however, the signals from customers, and the overall market about a pullback were unmistakable. Like many companies, we did our best to hedge against the sudden uncertainty. We implemented a hiring freeze and made the difficult decision to reduce headcount based on our understanding of the essential services we needed to retain to best serve our customers and meet our SLAs over a 3-6 month timeframe. While the level of uncertainty in the early part of 2020 placed a heavy burden on all businesses, EV Connect is on the firm ground today, and we continue to grow the business and remain focused on our mission. I am happy to say that we are once again talking to candidates about new roles in the company. We continue to serve EV drivers across the country, and we’re on track to exceed our 1M transactions per year benchmark.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and EV Connect in the future?
Jordan Ramer: There is no question that 2020 has been an unusual year so far. Despite the impact the coronavirus has had on people everywhere, the EV Connect team has continued to work with customers and partners to advance our mission to be the world’s leading platform for managing electricity as a transportation fuel. Roadblocks and new challenges will continue to creep up, but we are more optimistic than ever. Today, the EV Connect Network leads the EV charging industry in North America with a combination of sophisticated features, superior management capabilities, value-based pricing, unmatched variety of charging stations to choose from, and simplicity. Virtually any location frequented by vehicles can now be set up to provide electricity as a fuel. In our tenth anniversary year, we serve dozens of charging station manufacturer partners, thousands of site hosts, with over 10,000 connectors under contract, and we are quickly approaching the 100,000 EV drivers served mark. Our mission to be the world’s leading platform for managing electricity as a transportation fuel continues, and not a moment too soon.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jordan Ramer: The way EV Connect approaches the EV charging market is similar in some ways to how many of our competitors approach the market, but differences are philosophical, nuanced, and important. We don’t believe an EV charging company should lock its customers into walled gardens and closed ecosystems. The backbone of EV charging networks must be open and adaptable to ensure that the myriad customers (with their many different goals) can achieve the outcomes they seek. Not only should charging networks be open to the many charging station hardware manufacturers, but they should also be flexible enough to support and enable the many business models entrepreneurs will build around the service. In short, while many EV chargers might look similar, the dedication to massive interoperability and compatibility (think: gas stations) and the commitment to open standards makes all the difference for the long-term future of the charging industry.
Your final thoughts?
Jordan Ramer: There’s never been a more exciting and important time for vehicle electrification. The world urgently needs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to tame climate change. With 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from the transportation sector, the EV Connect team is committed to being a part of the solution. The world’s children and future generations deserve the chance to inherit a healthy planet.