First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Scott Mercer: We are all fine. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Volta Charging.
Scott Mercer: Fascinated by cars and futuristic technology, I founded Volta at 22 years old to solve an obstacle of electric vehicle adoption: insufficient charging infrastructure. Recognizing that a big challenge required a big solution, I creatively invented a business model that tapped new participants– in addition to property owners– to offer new advantages for the benefit of all.
How does Volta Charging innovate?
Scott Mercer: While other charging companies had strict for-pay models, Volta invites drivers to enjoy free electric vehicle charging. Consumers who are electric vehicle drivers are a highly desirable audience, and we foresaw that our free stations would enjoy a high degree of differentiation and consumer engagement.
Given the attractiveness of the audience, our innovation was to design a beautiful out-of-home charging station that included a large, rich, digital screen. We predicted that the trend toward sustainability would mean that forward-thinking brands would seek meaningful and measurable brand exposure via placements on ecologically conscious screens.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Scott Mercer: Volta operates over 1,300 free, sponsor-supported, electric vehicle charging stations designed to strengthen local economies while providing clean energy to the community in the U.S. Collectively, they form a nationwide media network that generates millions of daily impressions outside of stores such as Walgreens, Safeway, and Target.
We announced a new free service to communities, the Volta Response System, to broadcast important public safety messages and help flatten the COVID-19 curve. Volta’s charging stations are positioned for maximum visibility in high-traffic locations and feature high-resolution 55-inch digital displays. An ideal platform for community outreach, the response system was launched in close collaboration with first responders, public information officers, and city officials to serve their ongoing communication needs.
Beyond flattening the curve, the Volta Response System is designed to increase communication avenues for local officials in many emergency situations, such as wildfires, hurricanes, and missing persons. This public-private partnership offers officials a path to expanding critical messaging capabilities at no cost to taxpayers.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Scott Mercer: I asked our team for ideas on how we could help flatten the COVID curve, and within days, we had the Volta Response System up and running. Eighty percent of Volta’s charging stations are by an essential service, which means they are perfect for distributing critical information to the community-at-large, reaching residents where they stock up on food, medicine, and supplies.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Volta Charging in the future?
Scott Mercer: Putter around the shop after hours working on vintage sports cars.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Scott Mercer: Volta’s innovative business model is thriving by offering place-based media that allows brands to reach high-value audiences in historically unavailable, premium locations while simultaneously driving a mission of sustainability forward. Brands that advertise on Volta’s stations include Porsche, Rxbar, and Hulu, at locations like Whole Foods, Amazon and Walgreens.
When I founded Volta in 2010, electric vehicles were widely considered a fad; Silicon Valley venture capitalists saw electric vehicle infrastructure as an impractical investment as other charging companies went bankrupt.
However, we persevered – we believed the electric vehicle movement would gain speed and knew when it did, Volta would have a viable business model for charging cars via advertising. We moved Volta to Hawaii, where the government had passed a favorable EV infrastructure law. Electric vehicle popularity increased, and Volta flourished, so much so that the company is now an industry pioneer headquartered in San Francisco with charging stations all over the U.S.
Your final thoughts?
Scott Mercer: Early in my career, I ran a vintage automotive restoration business and sold a restored 1967 Jaguar XKE to seed the beginnings of Volta. I once had an early investor that showed up to our meeting on his Ducati and challenged me to a race to decide whether to write a check (he did).