Last month, our CEO and co-founder Zak Lefevre spoke at Collision 2023. Referred to as "North America's fastest-growing tech conference”, Collision brings together founders, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders from the most innovative companies in the world.
Zak's Growth Summit talk shared how ChargeLab scaled EV charging solutions through partnerships—and offered insight to help other founders do the same. Check out the video, presentation, and transcript below.
To follow along, download the presentation slides here.
Hi, I'm Zak Lefevre. I'm the founder and CEO of Charge Lab, and I'm gonna talk about how we scaled our business through partnerships with bigger companies and how you can do the same for your startup. So today Charge Lab is 60 people. We're based right here in Toronto, and we build software for managing EV charging stations.
So we don't build the actual station that you see on the screen, but we build the software behind it for managing the devices. And we've been growing our platform over the past few years. And that's partially because of the growth of electric vehicles, but also because we've found the right commercial partnerships that have helped us scale our company.
Most notably, we are bundling our software with the hardware made by ABB and Eaton, two of the largest players in this industry, and both of them have actually invested in our company and joined our cap table. So I wanted to give three really quick ideas on how to think about commercial partnerships for your startup.
First of all, you should think about adding value. It's very attractive to think about these big partners that could help you get to the next level. But the reality inside these big companies is they have a ton of problems. So before you think about how this company will help you win sales or develop your product, think about what challenges can you help them solve.
And that's exactly what we did, and that's been my experience working with these big partners—they have a lot of problems internally, a lot of challenges, a lot of struggles to get in the market. So how can you and your nimble team complement their larger organization and resources to add value first?
The second thing that I've learned is that investment does not equal partnership. So many of these large corporations have corporate venture capital teams that can invest in your startup, but often these CVC teams are completely separate from the commercial teams. And so whenever you're entering into a relationship, you should be really clear.
Are you gonna do a commercial deal along with an investment deal? Do you even want to take an investment? My advice would be counter to the VC popular narrative, which is strategic investment is a hassle. Strategics can actually be great. They can bring you sales, they can bring you distribution, but I would always make sure to sign the commercial agreement before entering into an investment relationship.
Then finally, signing is just the beginning. You can sometimes put months, or in our case, even years into these big partnerships. And you get so excited when you finally land the partnership, but that's really just the beginning. It's so important to put someone on your team as a dedicated contact for that commercial relationship so you continue to grow and scale the partnership because that's what the reality is.
These big corporations will do a lot of deals over the course of their venture portfolio. And if you aren't constantly there adding value and figuring out what the next stage of the pilot is, it's easy to fall off the radar. So it feels like you're done when you sign the deal. But I would say just continually think about how you can continue to grow the partnership.
Thank you very much.
We are the back-end software powering North America’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Our CSMS is hardware-agnostic and transforms any OCPP-compliant EV charger into a smart charger. Our dashboard gives solutions providers and site hosts sophisticated tools and our web and mobile apps deliver a cohesive, streamlined driver experience. To learn more about what we do or explore a partnership, contact our team.