Tom Sun (CEO of ampUp)

This past week we interviewed Tom Sun, who co-founded ampUp in 2018 to solve a personal problem that many other nomadic EV drivers experience: owning an electric car without a home charging setup.

Thomas Sun - Founder @ AmpUp | Crunchbase

This past week we interviewed Tom Sun, who co-founded ampUp in 2018 to solve a personal problem that many other nomadic EV drivers experience: owning an electric car without a home charging setup.

Based in Cupertino, California, the software company provides a peer–to–peer EV charging network, as well as back-end charging technology solutions for businesses and hosts of all sizes. As featured in our newsletter last week, ampUp recently raised funding from strategic investors SAIC Motor and Hyundai. Our chat has been edited lightly for length and clarity, so check out our website for the full interview.


Can you describe what ampUp does and how it differs from other electric vehicle charging startups?

ampUp launched as the “Airbnb for electric vehicle charging” and has since then evolved to community–based charging solutions for workplaces, multi–unit dwellings, hotels, campuses, and fleets. We started out on the P2P side after conducting a market survey which showed that 90% of participants were complaining about public infrastructure being insignificant. The market survey also revealed that participants were willing to let strangers into their driveway to use their personal charger, or on the other side, willing to go into somebody’s house to charge – effectively solving the challenge on the supply side.

While we have developed the largest P2P EV charging network in the world, we have also found that demand is typically centered around specific chargers which are 1) physically accessible (e.g. shared by a semi–private entity like a workplace) 2) in an open and well–lit area and 3) have food and beverage options nearby (since the average charging session lasts 2 hours). These 3 preferences have led us to grow more selective with the chargers we bring on (semi–private chargers), as well as to build up a product suite which helps site managers better manage charging within these more exclusive communities. We enable site hosts with dynamic access control so that they can not only dedicate usage to their core user groups, but earn additional revenue by being a charging host.

The current players offering charging–as–a–service are focused on charging hardware rather than community management and software. Unfortunately this has made for confusing charging experiences, and something as simple as fueling your car shouldn’t be so hard. Our community and user management features allow for user groups to access different tiers of pricing, charging speeds, and sessions. ampUp is also unique in that we enable site managers to securely share chargers at underutilized hours in order to generate additional revenue and achieve net zero in monthly costs. Being hardware agnostic has been helpful in selling to communities which already have chargers – we help turn their private infrastructure into a  public asset by making their chargers reservable, smarter, and controlling the power and security.

What is the current electric vehicle charging landscape and who are the main players?

EV technology has been around for a long time (for readers that are interested, check out this documentary about the first EV attempt by GM that was killed by the oil and gas industry). The current wave is much stronger with Tesla leading the charge. There’s a world of difference between Teslas and other EVs because of Tesla’s Supercharger network – and thus much stronger incentives to own a Tesla.

The main players are automakers that offer charging infrastructure to compliment their vehicles; these include Tesla and others such as Volkswagen and Porsche, who are planning to build their own infrastructure to better promote their EVs. Then there are charging networks sought after by the automakers, such as EVgo, Chargepoint, Blink, and Greenlots. In terms of EV charging infrastructure, hardware manufacturers are the last main players and we’re seeing many become consolidated, like Schneider, ABB, and ClipperCreek.

Even within charging networks, there’s a difference between pure public charging networks and building inside exclusive community settings. There’s been a big struggle on the public side, as lower uncertain demand has caused chargers to be unprofitable on a unit economics basis. Many cases exist where users of public chargers will repeatedly ask for maintenance, but public network operators purposefully avoid repairs because of additional costs.

What are the build–up costs of EV charging infrastructure and how does ampUp help businesses recoup their investment?

The initial investment in hardware and installation is the bulk of the expense. There’s a huge difference between Level 2 (normally found in community settings), and Level 3 (public fast chargers): the average Level 2 charger costs $2,500, whereas Level 3 chargers can go for hundreds of thousands if you include added cost from infrastructure upgrades, new transformers, utility permits, and so on.

Many EV charging providers  also charge annual fees ($200–300) per charger for intelligent control and other services. ampUp can help businesses offset these costs by generating additional revenue through shared charging. We give these hosts all the tools they need to set pricing and charging availabiltiy schedules to make this easy. We also help businesses save money by providing load management which allows site hosts to avoid demand charges during higher peak energy periods.

Who are the majority of your customers?

We have been focusing on small businesses and campus environments. We’ve contacted a lot of universities since they fit our customer profile – they encompass a lot of different tenants and typically want to be eco–friendly. Small businesses are also starting to install electric vehicle chargers in their office buildings as more workers or customers request them.

We’ve also been speaking with many municipalities who are very interested in electric vehicle fleet applications. They are seeing and testing the benefits of electric vs combustion engines, so you’re going to see Department of Transportations across states transition city–owned vehicles to electric, and they’ll need solutions like ours to manage those fleets.

It’s going to take a few more years before EVs proliferate in other areas. Cities are adopting P2P networks sooner than others, and our key selling point is developing software tools which make the management of fleets super easy and create shared spaces for charging. Airbnb has already popularized the idea of shared infrastructure and we believe the time is ripe for it to apply to electric vehicles.

Can you explain the investment from Hyundai and SAIC motors? How do automakers seek to benefit from the EV revolution?

Both automakers have expressed the importance of software in getting people to adopt electric vehicles. Our greatest strength is our network, but our behind the scenes technology is really complicated. We provide a dashboard that ties to many different types of chargers and protocols – we can accommodate 10+ different charging providers which don’t offer their own (e.g. ClipperCreek offers the charging hardware but doesn’t provide software). We’ve seen a lot of people go with large EV charging providers and be stuck in their walled garden having to use their software and chargers, which can be expensive. We’re seeing communities increasingly seeking cheaper and more flexible solutions, so if they want to replace their chargers with another brand in 3 years, they will still be compatible with our software.

We’re lucky to get fundraising from two motor companies who have EV aspirations and are focused on the software we’re building. Unfortunately, the virus will impact their core business, butwe’re grateful right now to have the funds to put our heads down and work on the product with automotive expertise.

The EV landscape at large has been gaining a lot of steam in the last few years and will unfortunately take a hit. It’s going to be hardest for people who want affordable EVs that do what Tesla does (80–90% of new electric vehicles are Teslas). We’re still waiting for the Toyota Camry version of the electric vehicle. People also aren’t buying cars as much as they were right now; EVs make up 2–3% of current vehicle ownership, and it’ll be disheartening to see that slow down in the short-term. On the other hand, people are recognizing that switching from gas–powered cars gives us a higher quality life. We are seeing cities like LA experiencing significantly cleaner air than ever before as vehicle traffic has slowed.

About ampUp:
ampUp is an electric vehicle (EV) software company that enables drivers, hosts, and fleets to charge stress-free. Our technology gives businesses and property owners the ability to efficiently manage multiple charge stations in one place. Advanced features, such as smart scheduling, dynamic access control and energy optimization provide site hosts more flexibility and affordability for their charger investment. Our community and fleet management system also allows site hosts to participate in ampUp’s peer-to-peer charging network, the largest and fastest growing in the world. For more information, visit: https://ampup.io

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