Ample’s John de Souza on the merits of B2B, company culture and the investors who get it – TechCrunch

The odds are against Ample, a San Francisco-based electric vehicle battery swap company. Other companies have tried to build a business by swapping dead batteries for new ones to solve the problem of long electric vehicle charge times: Fourteen years ago, Better Place raised nearly a billion dollars to make which Ample did, and he ended up declaring bankruptcy.

But that was more than a decade ago, when electric vehicles weren’t advanced enough – or numerous enough – to make the business model work.

That didn’t deter Ample co-founder John de Souza. Born and raised in Ethiopia to a Greek/Ethiopian mother and a Portuguese/Indian father who found a way to send him and his siblings to school despite their poverty, his family moved to Dubai when the Ethiopian Civil War began in the 1970s. After emigrating, de Souza completed high school before heading to the United States at age 16 to attend college on a full scholarship.

Since then, he has founded several companies, including fintech company Smartleaf, internet startup Flash Communications and consumer health platform MedHelp, where his current co-founder, Khaled Hassounah, served as CTO. Both De Souza and Hassounah have an immigrant background, which de Souza says gives them that creative entrepreneur mentality.

Neither co-founder had experience in the energy sector, but in 2018 both co-founders saw an opportunity in the electric vehicle market. The only problem was that it would be difficult to get people to convert to electric vehicles when the technology, at least from a refueling UX perspective, was much worse than the status quo.

Many investors didn’t last five minutes in an Ample pitch because they could still see the smoldering ruins of Better Place, but de Souza and Hassounah raised more than $275 million to solve the limitations of plug-in charging. .

Today, Ample has partnered with Sally, an electric vehicle rental company that offers ride-sharing, taxi and last-mile deliveries, as well as Uber and Eneos, a Japanese oil and energy company. The company’s path to market is based on contracts with fleets in which Ample’s independent battery chemistry modular batteries can be swapped in and out of any vehicle. Ample has already rolled out seven redemption stations across the Bay Area for participating Uber drivers and plans to launch in Europe, starting with Madrid next year. Based on COVID-19 border restrictions, Ample is also targeting late next year to start building stations in Japan.

We sat down with de Souza to discuss the merits of a B2B go-to-market strategy, how to create a fun and functional company culture, and what it takes to pursue an idea most people say won’t work. not.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.

You have a track record of building multiple businesses that span communications, fintech, health tech, and now EV battery trading. A few of your businesses ended up being acquired, so do you plan to hold on with Ample? Or are you already thinking about your next startup?

Well, it’s not just me, because I have my co-founder and you have to be in tune with what you’re doing. So, number one, I would recommend to any founder, it’s so much better to do it with someone else than to do it alone. And it’s easy to be friends with someone you’ve worked with, but working with a friend is a lot harder because you might not be friends for long. But I think as we went along, we weren’t thinking about the exit. You’re going there assuming it’s going to be a long trip, so it’s going to be a fun trip.

Creating something takes time. You have to go through the process, and as long as you’re creating value, you actually want to see the realization. I feel like when you just jump in to build and sell quickly, it’s not as fun and it shows in the culture of the company. People spend so much time in the company that they have to love being there, so if you’re a company where people love Fridays and hate Mondays, then you’re in the wrong company; It is time to move on.

You don’t seem to have any competition in the electric vehicle trading space. It might not be such a good idea if no one else is trying to solve the problem in the same way.

My co-founder and I connected on this idea of ​​doing things that are very unlikely, but possible. You just need to find a potential path. If everyone says, “Oh yeah, that’s going to happen,” it’s too late for us. We know it’s the right time and there might be a way, but most people say it’s never going to work. That doesn’t put us off, because it’s clearly in that low-probability sector, and it’s an area we’re most comfortable in.

Better Place tried and failed. Why do you think your business will succeed?

We did a lot of research on electric cars before we started and found that electric cars date back a century. One of the reasons people switched from electric to gas was because everyone was building specific batteries for each type of car, but gas could be used in any car, and it became very convenient. So now, with electric vehicles, we’re asking people to go from something that’s very convenient to something that’s extremely inconvenient.