Infrastructure investing for impact with Banyan Infrastructure's Amanda Li
This week we sat down with Kameale Terry, the CEO of ChargerHelp, to learn about their industry-leading workforce development program for recruiting and training EV charging technicians. ChargerHelp closed a fresh $2.75m Seed investment this week from Trucks VC, Energy Impact Partners, Kapor Capital, JFF, and The Fund. Let’
This week we sat down with Kameale Terry, the CEO of ChargerHelp, to learn about their industry-leading workforce development program for recruiting and training EV charging technicians. ChargerHelp closed a fresh $2.75m Seed investment this week from Trucks VC, Energy Impact Partners, Kapor Capital, JFF, and The Fund.
Let’s start from the beginning. What’s the story behind ChargerHelp?
I started as a banker in Philadelphia, but had to move back to Los Angeles due to my mom’s health conditions. To fit my schedule, I started working at an EVSE network provider as a driver support agent and ended up managing all of our US charging stations. As we grew, I had the opportunity to stand up that company’s customer experience department and network operations center.
Then as the Director of Programs supporting our infrastructure buildout, I began to notice the recurring challenge of maintaining charging stations’ uptime. We relied heavily on electrical contractors for repairs, but 80% of the charger issues weren’t electrical – they were software or firmware issues, or vandalism. This was especially a big deal in California, where cap and trade credits are based upon usage, and an abandoned charger station is a massive loss in revenue.
Charger downtime wasn’t just a pain point for that company – it was an industry-wide issue. Utilities reported 30% of their charging stations were offline due to maintenance issues. Our industry didn’t have a specialized workforce that could fix hardware and software issues of nationally deployed ev charging stations. We started ChargerHelp to facilitate the hiring of trained technicians and to develop a specialized workforce to fix EV charging stations.
Amazing. What’s the scale of this maintenance pain point for the EV charging networks?
At gasoline stations an attendant reports and manages any fueling issues. EV charging decentralizes the fueling process and doesn’t require attendants, but as a result there’s more vandalism and downtime from broken infrastructure. With mass adoption of EVs on the horizon, your average future EV driver will be less forgiving than the eager initial adopters who put up with the various bumps and hurdles of early generations of EVs. As the Biden-Harris administration commits more federal dollars to EV adoption, these stranded charging assets will no longer be acceptable. Therefore, we want to be the support system for our entire industry.
At ChargerHelp, our solution is two-fold: first, our technician workforce acts as the “attendant” for charging stations, and second, our data will ease the challenges from a heterogeneous EV charging industry. Because we serve so many different charging network providers and manufacturers, there is no standard troubleshooting guidance across all this varied software and hardware.
What causes EV charging infrastructure to break down?
The number one issue we see is communication. Vandalism is another common issue. In city areas, like here in Los Angeles, folks cut the charger connectors to sell the copper. Other common issues include abandoned vehicles parked in front of charging stations, cracked screens, and general environmental wear and tear.
How do ChargerHelp’s technicians address these issues? Do technicians need certifications or qualifications?
We created an EV charging technician curriculum that is soon to be certified by the Department of Labor and which will act as a certification for the industry at large.
Our major competitive advantage, though, is our app which enables technicians to troubleshoot issues on site. The app gets smarter the more it’s used. Since our customers can change their software and firmware frequently, our technicians act with a hive mind to update troubleshooting directly in the app. Non-ChargerHelp electrical contractors today either have to call back to base for help or get retrained when a charger updates. We’re able to push updates through our system in real-time and keep our technicians on the cutting edge of software updates.
How does ChargerHelp’s technician model compare to how EV charging networks are currently meeting their maintenance and support needs?
In areas with concentrated charging stations, network providers can hire somebody to be their go-to repair person, or subcontract out to a major electrical contractor. But in non-concentrated areas, there’s a lack of this expertise. ChargerHelp’s platform is able to aggregate across multiple charging manufacturers and provides support to all different types of charger infrastructure. So, if you have five stations in an area, and ChargerHelp has 50 more of these same stations aggregated across other customers, we can hire somebody locally in the community to be the go-to technician. It’s a great story to tell for building an inclusive green economy.
What is your long-term vision for ChargerHelp to become the platform for EV charging maintenance?
Right now, we’re focused on getting technicians on the ground. Our long-term vision is to be a data-driven diagnostics engine. For example, we’ll be able to go back to the customer and help them to determine that the cause of their recurring error is a faulty part, and then make recommendations to replace that supplier to prevent future issues. Today, most charging networks have no way to track their maintenance and repair needs or costs since they use so many different electricians. ChargerHelp provides a repeatable service and can aggregate repair data to provide better transparency into areas for improvement.
Who are your customers? What’s your revenue model?
Our customers are both EV charging network providers and EV charging manufacturers. They’ll directly volunteer maintenance information on their equipment since we act as their support provider. Further, all of our customers send representatives to our technician trainings.
We sell by the hour, and our revenue model allows customers to bulk servicing hours. We’ve been able to have two standard pricing that do not vary based on geography. We also hire local so our customers never get stuck with a high bill due to travel time.
How do you approach hiring for your cohorts and general workforce development?
We start by looking for geographic areas with a concentration of at least 200 stations. We then partner with the local workforce development center that facilitates our recruiting process in that local community. Our last recruitment saw a little over 1,600 people apply for the 20 open positions. I think this number is a sign of the times and also a reflection of the quality of job we’ve brought to the market. We hope to be an example for other technology companies.
I must give a nod to my co-founder who worked for the Department of Labor for 10 years helping major car OEMs with mass hiring – she has put a tremendous amount of thought into our recruiting process. For our first tranche of technicians, we recruited from talent pools in oil and gas, telecom and communications, as well as from electrical contractor apprenticeship programs.
We believe the workforce of the future will optimize for people with high emotional intelligence. EQ shows up in soft skills, not in what school you went to or what certifications you have. Our recruiting process for an individual is about 1.5 months long. We hold group problem solving interviews in which we observe dynamics between candidates like who’s overtalking, asking questions, being polite, etc. We hire in cohorts because we value the continuous learning between technicians. I hope that sharing more about our recruiting model helps other startups think outside of the box about their own hiring processes.
What benefits do you offer ChargerHelp technicians?
Our employees earn $30/hour minimum, full-time benefits, and are compensated throughout two electrical contractor certifications. ChargerHelp employees also get shares in our company – they’re treated as an integral part of the company, since it’s their work that generates our profit margin afterall.
At ChargerHelp, we ensure that our technicians earn a middle class income so they can afford an EV and have the buying power to be a part of the green economy that they’re helping to repair.
ChargerHelp has done phenomenal work providing a working example of how to create an equitable and just green transition. How do you think that the massive tailwinds from Biden’s $2t infrastructure plan will expedite this just green transition?
A lot of people have asked me about this. Honestly, I get worried about all of this new emphasis on our industry, especially around generating green jobs. Sometimes throwing a lot of money at a problem too quickly has adverse consequences. My fear is that too much money too quickly will cause everything that we’ve been touting about equity to disappear. We must ensure that this influx of money and interest is directed at the right folks.
I’ve been pushing and asking for my team to be in the room where these decisions are made. Figuring this stuff out isn’t easy, you need to be very strategic. Look, it’d be much easier and faster for ChargerHelp to go out and hire non-community based technicians, but there are long-term profit-driven reasons that we go through a month and a half’s worth of recruiting.
You just raised a $2.75m Seed round from Trucks VC, Kapor Capital, Energy Impact Partners, JFF, and other powerhouse climate investors. How was the fundraising process? And what’s next?
We started fundraising in February 2020, right before the pandemic and before the world realized that we should stop killing Black people. So, in my mind, I felt like there were some microaggressions – like investors only talking to us because we were two Black female founders, and they needed to check the diversity box off their list. We lost time in a lot of conversations where it became clear that they were never interested in actually writing a check, yet put us through more due diligence than was typical of a company at our stage.
We finally found the right group of investors. Trucks VC focuses on expanding the future of mobility, Kapor and JFF focus on workforce development impact, and EIP is backed by the utilities that run the charging industry.
Now that we’ve finally completed the raise, we’re laser focused on delivering on our customer contracts. With this capital we’ll also start building and growing, but we have to be strategic and ensure that we’re taking care of our people and maintaining our company culture. The work that we’re doing is not charity. Our recruiting and workforce development approach is the best way to build a business; we hire for potential as an EV charging technician, not by relying on signals from degrees.
Want to plug in to the ChargerHelp movement? Keep an eye on the company careers page for a soon to be released role for Director of Operations. Do you know how to get Kameale and ChargerHelp in “the room where it happens” to contribute to the conversations around green workforce development in the Biden administration? Reach out.
[Disclaimer: Kim is an investor at Energy Impact Partners which participated in ChargerHelp’s latest round]
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