Mitsubishi, Nissan, BMW, Ford, virtually all of the major car manufactures these days are now making electric cars. With the help of government subsidies in Europe and around the world, electric cars have grown 60% year over year since 2015 as cars are becoming more affordable for people to buy. As more electric cars are made available, more charging stations prop up on street sides and parking lots to keep up with the demand for energy. Charging stations are built by many different manufactures and distributors, each of which have their own membership program for electric vehicle users. So when you’re out in your car, enjoying your drive, the problem comes when your battery gets low and you need to charge.
There’s plenty of charging stations around Europe, every day more are installed, but they’re all from proprietary governments and companies (both local and global companies) who require you to be a part of their exclusive membership in order to plug in. As soon as you need to charge somewhere away from home, you need to track down a charging station of which you happen to already have a membership.
This is tedious, because each network has a limited number of charging stations. If you wanted to charge wherever you want in a single city (take Barcelona for example), you would need to have at least seven different memberships with seven different charging station companies, each with their own subscription and payment plans. This means you would need to carry seven RFID cards in your wallet in order to make use of each station and would have to deposit money to fulfill each membership balance. The problem becomes exponential when you want to travel throughout Europe and into other countries.
A call for unifying these charging stations has come about. Software platforms are now being formed to link these proprietary networks together. Some of these companies include ChargePoint, PlugSurfing and NewMotion. These companies are attempting to partner with charging station networks so that only a single, unifying subscription is needed to make use of all the networks.
A couple of unifying companies stand out, one of which is a Spanish based startup, Place to Plug. Last month I spoke with the founders, Josep Cester and Marc Ruiz, who have so far received a total of $539,000 in grants and investments — they’re making a huge bet on blockchain to solve the interoperabily gap. I’d like to share our conversation below…
A Conversation with the Founders of Place to Plug
Me: “When did you start Place to Plug and how has the company progressed?”
Marc: “Our company started in 2015, we had a prototype of a web and android application. With this we went to the InnoEnergy accelerator program, we received a $69,000 investment and created our first remote charging point activation. In 2017 we crowdfunded $142,000 from 100 investors through the Crowdcube investing platform and now in 2018, we received a $328,000 grant from the Repsol foundation.”
Me: “What are your backgrounds and why did you decide to start this company?”
Marc: “We’re both software engineers. Josep was an Electric Vehicle driver so he was the first experiencing the problem with lots of memberships required and lots of RFID cards needed to charge at all the stations. Josep is the one who first proposed to build this platform. The company started as a collaborative platform just to share sockets between electric vehicle drivers but we saw that there was a niche in the market to also offer private socket channels to public charging stations.”
Me: “How did you two meet?”
Josep: “Linkedin. It was like Tinder, I reached out to Marc and sort of seduced him to work with me. We met four times before Marc decided to get on board. It was like dating, I shared my vision — I didn’t just focus completely on selling the platform idea — I explained my vision of the world in general, including the way we are using cars and how things need to improve.”
Marc: “I’ve worked in multiple different startup companies before and have lots of startup experience. I decided to go with Place to Plug as a way to restart and I wanted to work in a green tech field. I really felt there was a lot of room for the space to improve and that I could make the greatest use of my skills in this sector.”
Me: “What are the biggest challenges you have faced thus far?”
Marc: “The biggest challenge thus far was in getting the first investors. Even though we received our first investment from InnoEnergy, it was an accelerator program that was ready to believe in an idea and that’s it — after that you’re on your own. But then when it came to the Crowdcube campaign, it was our most difficult moment because it was all or nothing. We were running out of funds and we needed to convince people that we were seriously getting into this and that we were doing something great. We’re glad to have received a strong response.”
Me: “What is an upcoming challenge you’ll need to overcome in the foreseeable future?”
Marc: “The next foreseeable challenge is in the incorporation of blockchain into our platform and convincing our partner/clients to use it. We believe blockchain technology and smart contracts will accelerate the on boarding of electric station partners and customers. But not everyone in the sector understands the concept of blockchain and its benefits, so we’ll need to overcome that hurtle.”
Me: “What are some doubts you’ve had to overcome with investors?”
Josep: “In 2015, the main concern was whether Electric Vehicles will be the future or not. Today, this is not a question anymore, the question now is when will Electric Vehicles become mainstream. Now the problem is with discussing blockchain — both with our partner/clients and with our investors — and whether we can successfully educate them of what it is and how it will benefit.”
Me: “What exactly is blockchain solving for this application?”
Marc: “The reason why blockchain is needed is for smart contracts to help reduce the time to signup and interoperate between partners. There are thousands of partners. All the cities in Spain for example are installing charging stations, private companies are also installing charging stations, sometimes little operators who are operating in small local areas. You also run into global companies installing charging stations as well. With all these different jurisdictions and different organizations, we think blockchain with the use of smart contracts will resolve the issue of trust.”
Me: “What is the most immediate things you’re working on?”
Marc: “First building a centralized solution. Once that’s built, we then plan on rolling out a blockchain solution in 2019/2020. This will involve building out whitepapers and planning, and getting user/partner feedback from all the players involved. Right now we are also looking for strategic partners to get into new countries and are seeking $400,000 to develop our blockchain solution and an AI for a chatbot.”
Blockchain isn’t the solution to everything, but it solves special problems. One of those problems are issues with settlement and trust between diverse organizations and jurisdictions of competing economic agendas. Place to Plug is making a huge bet on blockchain as the best way to unify competing charging station networks across all countries, companies, both public and private sectors, both local and global organizations. It’s a hell of a feat.
All in all, it was a definite pleasure meeting Marc and Josep. I had the pleasure of meeting them at Flow House last September. They’re up to something huge with Place to Plug. If you are interested in following them or becoming an investor, be sure to connect with them via Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter.
About the Author: Jason Weber is a Software Professional, Founder of Flow House™ and Founding Member of Flow Enterprises LLC. He’s worked for Amazon, HP and Intel Corporation with several issued patents in the digital product space. Writer/editor for The Silicon Valley Post. He’s into practical Zen, the Flow State, High-Tech & the Hustle.
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*** Last Note ***
Feel free to comment below on what you think about the EV charging station industry, using blockchain as a solution or thoughts about surrounding issues altogether. This article is dedicated to my friends at Flow House. They run a stellar set of homes made for cohabitating with some of the most amazing individuals from all over the world. From software engineers, to researchers, fortune 500 counterparts, startup founders, interns, directors, PhD candidates, post-docs, designers, investors and more… Flow House is a new way of common living created for those on a mission to get things done in Silicon Valley and meet amazing people along the way. Check it out: https://flow.house/