The Journey of Volta From Honolulu to Wall Street — Through the Eyes of an Early Investor

Blue Startups
4 min readSep 1, 2021

by Chenoa Farnsworth

I was thrilled to attend the Volta public listing on the NYSE last week. The company IPO represented the culmination of a lot of blood, sweat and tears of the company founders whom I have known for over 10 years. I was so happy for them and the whole Volta team on the amazing accomplishment and felt so privileged to be a part of it.

I was an early advisor to the company, and then invested both through the Hawaii Angels and Blue Startups. They were in our very first cohort of Blue Startups in 2013, and I knew they would do right by us. The company was founded in Hawaii and found its early market adoption in Honolulu. It leveraged its early success in the Hawaii market to expand and establish a foothold throughout the US. With the proceeds from the IPO, Volta will be expanding to Europe.

Volta CEO Scott Mercer pitching at Blue Startups demo day in 2013

A lot of people have asked me over the last week how I knew they would succeed? What did I see in founder Scott Mercer, the business and the early team that gave me confidence? I wish I had a formulaic answer that could be applied to any startup — just do these three things and you will succeed like Scott and the Volta team did! Unfortunately, for all the founders out there, it is not that simple. Here is what I know:

Have Vision but Never Lose Sight of the Details

Scott is a visionary. If you read through his original business plan from 2012 (as I just did), you would see that the essential plan has not changed. This is not to say that pivoting is necessarily bad, but Scott is just one of those rare founders who got the business right from the beginning. While Scott had vision, he was also willing to put in the work to learn and understand every detail of the business. I remember sitting at a coffee shop in Manoa with him on a Sunday morning going over financials that he had painstakingly spent the weekend constructing himself. Having a leader with vision, and can pay attention to detail, is an exceedingly rare combination, but one that I have never seen fail.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going

Volta understood where the market was going and had the patience to wait for the puck to arrive. The market adoption may have been slower than they wanted at times, but the market conditions predicted by Volta ten years ago are coming true today. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles is all but certain now. If you are playing in a market that is already mature, the solutions are going to be well established, leaving little room for new entrants. Find the future and build for it.

“Every major automaker worldwide is currently developing electric or plug in hybrid vehicles for sale within the next five years. This represents the most significant disruption in the automotive industry since its inception. This evolution will undoubtedly require a change to our societal infrastructure; primarily the installation of a large network of electric vehicle charging stations in residential and commercial settings. Ultimately, the automotive industry’s development of these vehicles is not only a reflection of growing corporate environmental awareness, it represents a real and tangible consumer demand.” (Volta business plan 2012)

Build a Team that You Love and Treat them Like Family

Scott Mercer, Chris Wendel and Me

In the early days of Volta I would joke with Scott that he was stealing all my best people. Mentors at Blue Startups, angel investors at Hawaii Angels, they all got caught up in the Volta vision, and Scott was able to convince many of them to join the early team. Chris Wendel, the current President of Volta was one of those early recruits and was with Scott on Friday ringing that bell. You know who else was there? A lot of former employees. I was so impressed that Scott and the Volta Team included people who left the company years ago, but who were essential to the company’s growth. This is how you build loyalty, how you build family and how you build a company that will last the test of time.

Make Hard Decisions

Volta’s journey has been anything but easy, but I think it has been typical. There have been times when the executive team had to make hard choices; about financing options, team decisions, and market targets. They have been under constant pressure to make other choices along the way. You cannot make hard choices without pissing people off. Accepting this fall-out and moving on is the mark of truly great leadership. It is not easy, but keeping your eye on the big picture — company growth — is the thing that matters most at the end of the day.

It was a thrill of a lifetime to be with the Volta team last week, and it has been the experience of a lifetime to be with them on the whole journey over the last decade. I am so proud of everyone involved in this company and I am so, so proud to be a part of the community that gave them their start — Honolulu, Hawaii.

--

--

Blue Startups

We are a startup accelerator based in Honolulu, Hawaii where east meets west! Proud member of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) #StartupParadise