In this episode of the IoT Product Leadership podcast, we discuss how policy can kill your IoT product even before you launch it.
My guest is Anthony Harrison. Director of Public Policy at ChargePoint, the world’s largest network of electric vehicle charging stations. Anthony is a seasoned expert on Public policy; specifically he is an expert on how policy impacts technology and business strategy.
I had the opportunity to work with Anthony in the past, and I was always very impressed with his knowledge, passion, and willingness to work with Product teams to create opportunities and remove roadblocks.
That’s why I’m so excited to have him in the show to share his expertise with you.
In this episode, Anthony shares his experience driving policy at multiple technology companies. He also explains why electric vehicles are so disruptive, and shares how to foster the ideal partnership between Product and Policy teams. This is an episode that no Product leader should miss.
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Episode details: How Policy Can Kill your IoT Product (Even Before You Launch It)
“The technology around things like vehicle-to-grid or autonomous vehicles is there. It’s becoming more readily available. But then policy makers are trying to figure out what is the direction we need to go and that’s where we get in. As a company, can you impact where that goes and shape it to your benefit so that your product and your solutions are better set to succeed in the market going forward.”
– Anthony Harrison
About Anthony Harrison:
Anthony Harrison leads ChargePoint’s public policy and government relations activities in Western North America. He has dedicated his professional career to working on driving adoption of innovative clean technologies and sustainable practices with individuals, businesses, and communities. This includes over a decade of experience in advocating for public policy programs and initiatives that support the deployment of solar, energy efficiency, energy storage, demand response, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Prior to ChargePoint, Anthony held policy leadership positions with Stem, the California Efficiency and Demand Management Council, Ecology Action, Renew Financial, and the California State Legislature.
ChargePoint brings electric vehicle (EV) charging to more people and places than ever before with the world’s largest and most open EV charging network. We design, build and support all of the technology that powers this network, from charging station hardware to energy management software to a mobile app. Our work transforms transportation and energy use by helping more people choose to drive electric.
Topics we discuss in this episode:
- Anthony shares his background and about ChargePoint.
- ChargePoint’s approach to IoT solutions.
- How the electric vehicle industry is disruptive beyond electricity as fuel.
- Anthony’s approach to reactive vs. proactive collaboration between Product and Policy teams.
- The “relationship triangle” between Product, Sales, and Policy teams when it comes to impacting a roadmap.
- How the ability to aggregate data from multiple devices in the cloud, creating a “Fleet” of assets, is a benefit.
- Anthony’s perspective on the “fleetification” of products, and some of the Policy and Product implications that come from it.
- How regulations in areas such as transportation and energy can impact a product roadmap in ways that are not obvious.
- Advice for Product Leaders who are new at developing IoT solutions.
To learn more about Anthony and ChargePoint:
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- An IoT Framework for Product Managers
- Behind the Scenes of Microsoft Azure IoT
- IoT Courses for Product Managers
Read the Full Interview:
How Policy Can Kill your IoT Product (Even Before You Launch It)
Anthony: The technology around things like vehicle degrade or autonomous vehicles is there. It’s becoming more and more readily available, but then the policymakers are trying to figure out what is the direction we need to go, and I think that’s where we get in. As a company can you impact where that goes and shape it to your benefit so that your product and your solutions are better set to succeed in the market going forward.
Daniel: Welcome to episode number 17 of IoT Product Leadership, a podcast featuring in-depth conversations with product leaders on what it takes to build great IoT products. I’m your host, Daniel Elizalde. I have a very special show for you today. My guest is Anthony Harrison, Director of Public Policy at ChargePoint, the world’s largest network of electric vehicle charging stations. Anthony is a seasoned expert on public policy. More specifically, he is an expert on how policy impacts technology and business strategy.
Daniel: I had the opportunity to work with Anthony in the past and I was always very impressed with his knowledge, passion, and willingness to work with product teams to create opportunities and remove roadblocks. That’s why I’m so excited to have him on the show to share his expertise with you.
Daniel: In this episode, Anthony shares his experience driving policy at multiple technology companies. He also explains why electric vehicles are so disruptive and he shares how to foster the ideal partnership between product and policy teams. This is an episode that no product leader should miss. To learn more about Anthony, about ChargePoint, and to access the resources mentioned in this episode, visit iotproductleadership.com. There, you will find the show notes for all episodes, including this one.
Daniel: Hi, Anthony. Welcome to the show. I’m very excited to have you here with me today.
Anthony: Thank you for inviting me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Daniel: So, before we get started, I’d like to learn a little bit more about your background. I mean, you and I have worked together, but I think it’s a really interesting background to share with our audience. So, do you mind telling me a little bit about yourself, what is your background, and how did you get to be where you are today?
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. I have kind of a unique distinction where I’ve spent my career over the last decade working in Silicone Valley, and I can neither write code or have an MBA. So, I’ve carved out a niche for myself. Specifically, I started off in undergrad in school and everything else really wanted to go work in politics and ended up right after grad school getting a job in the state legislature and I kinda happened upon the field of renewable energy. When you work in the legislature, you deal with a lot of different issues and it was during a time, ’07, ’08, when all of the solar and different renewable energies just were cropping up, and I kind of developed an expertise around it. I left working for the legislature, ended up working for a consulting firm that represented a lot of different cleantech startups.
Anthony: Over the course of doing that work and then, now, like I said, the last decade, I have been able to represent and work on behalf of clean tech companies, mainly startup companies based here in Silicone Valley and represent them in their government affairs work. So, really being an advocate and a representative on behalf of the industry and behalf of these different startup companies to state regulators, policymakers, and everything like that. And so it’s been a really fun ride and something that I really enjoy, because you combine the worlds and kind of the pace of Silicone Valley, which is, things are changing overnight, with kind of the slow and methodical pace of government and trying to crash those two things together is sometimes challenging but also really fun.
Anthony: And that’s really how I ended up here.
Daniel: That’s a really interesting background. And, I really appreciate your perspective because, especially in IoT, a lot of people don’t realize the link that needs to exist between policy and product, and we’ll get into that a little bit later. So, I really wanted to bring to the show a policy expert so we can learn about how to better work and leverage your expertise. That is very exciting.
Anthony: Yeah, no. That’s great.
Daniel: Let me get into the next question. I’d like to learn more about your company ChargePoint. It’s a really fascinating company that’s doing really interesting work. Can you tell us a little bit about the company, what you do for the company, and how that relates to this IoT concept that we have of connected devices?
Anthony: Yeah. So, ChargePoint is the world’s largest EV charging network. What that means is that we both manufacture the hardware, so these are the charging stations for electric vehicles that will go in the ground in the parking space, but then we also develop software and layer a network onto those charging stations and what, in the industry, that’s referred to as a smart charging network. So, ChargePoint really was the kind of industry leader starting about 10 years ago in developing smart charging solutions, and started off with a niche in developing solutions for workplace and public parking. And the philosophy there, when you think about this space in this industry was a lot of the other companies at outset were focused on two other extremes.
Anthony: Either making the really cheap extension cords that plug into your car in the garage and there’s not a lot of scale or growth or innovated business model around that. You’re basically just making the plug. And then the other side of the spectrum was companies whose business model was “We need to build gas stations.” Well, I think the problem with that is, when you think about the cars and their fueling style, they’re not gonna fuel up in five minutes like a gas station would. So, trying to build these kinds of gas station model type products and services, we saw a lot of companies come and go in the early stages.
Anthony: ChargePoint, I think, was able to grow in scale because from the beginning, the company had the philosophy of we charge where we park. And what that means is that if I’m at work for eight hours and it takes six to eight hours to charge my car, that’s a perfect customer segment. Or in a public parking garage where I park for four to eight hours a day. So, I think that’s where the company started and over time, as the vehicles have grown and adapted and expanded, the company has grown and expanded and now we make products and services that solve every corner of the market from, now, smart chargers that go into your garage that you can set with an app on your phone and can communicate with Alexa and other smart devices, all the way through to advanced products for public charging and even the high speed DC fast chargers, which now, and moving forward, will start to look a little bit more like that gas station model because they can charge some of the newer cars in under 20 minutes.
Anthony: So, that’s really been the growth and, for me, I’ve been at the company almost two years now and the reason why I joined is because I saw that ChargePoint was at the intersection of two really innovative and disruptive things, which is one, it still relates to energy, which I’ve spent my career in and still transitioning from the way that we’ve done both energy for electricity, but then also energy for fuel. And then the other intersection is that it’s at the cornerstone of the future of transportation, and there’s a lot of exciting things happening there, and it’s great to be a company that’s right at the intersection of both of those things.
Daniel: That’s it. One of the great things that I like about ChargePoint, the procreation that you’ve had and I wanna highlight one of the things you mentioned here is that idea of meeting your customer where they are today, because I think that is very important for product people to understand, that you maybe you have this vision of where this product or this industry will be in the future, especially with something as disruptive as IoT, but you gotta start from where you are. And, you can’t have this, your example, gas station model where what is the next alternative. Well, you charge where you park and then as the technology gets better and the vehicles get faster to charge, then you move to those models but you innovate and disrupt in the interim. So, I think that’s a really excellent example to adapting the disruption of your technology into where the market is today so that you can get traction, ’cause without that traction, there’s nowhere to go, right?
Anthony: Exactly. And I think that as we see it moving forward, I think that there’s always gonna be a place for the variety of models. That’s, I think, one of the most unique and exciting things about electric vehicles is that I think that there’s always gonna be a place for charging at home when you have that option, charging at work when you have that option, or charging roadside when you have that option. That’s something that I think that the gas station model never allowed for and it just never made sense. You never were gonna have a gas pump in your garage. And there are a lot of other layers to why that’s exciting and why we can do it, and we can get into some of those, and that’s really where the intersection of kind of the energy and the policy start to come into play, because now you have a vehicle that is gonna be connected to the grid, and maybe connected to the grid for hours at a time.
Anthony: So, then you start to think about how do we innovate around what to do while that’s happening while balancing with the fact that from a consumer or an EV driver standpoint, all I care about is fueling. I’m just actually trying to get to and from where I need to go, and I’m not constantly thinking about how my car is going to interact with the electricity grid or manage load. I’m purely focused on am I doing that. So from a product standpoint, how do we create simultaneously two different solutions. One for the driver and their experience while they’re plugging in, and then one on the back end for what’s happening with all the different chargers at a single location or an aggregate of chargers across many locations.
Daniel: That’s right. It’s important to note as well that you have this dual model, right? That you have the charging station model and the consumer model, so you have to balance those two points, as well. You mentioned an interesting point here about electricity as fuel, but you and I discussed earlier that, well, the electric vehicle industry is disruptive beyond this concept of just electricity as fuel. Can you comment about that?
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there’s a few different buckets where, and I’m coming at this from a perspective of where I’m seeing the policy trend go, or, and a lot of times, it is the technology leading the policy in a lot of ways, but first and foremost I mentioned in my last point, which is these vehicles are now gonna be connected to the grid and we’ve never had that before in our past, right? And so, what does that mean? What does it mean to all of a sudden have load coming onto the grid. Let’s assume that we reach California’s goals, policy goals that they set to have five million EVs by 2030. Well, what happens when everybody gets home at 5:00 P.M. and plugs their car in to charge at 5:00 P.M., and there are all the sudden five million cars all of the sudden hitting the grid at one time.
Anthony: Can the grid handle it? Are we managing to it? Are we planning around that? How are the utilities dealing with that? And does it even have to be that way? Are they innovative solutions to deal with that? So, I think that on one end you have that trend of being able to actually have something that could be problematic if not managed the right way, or also opportunistic, and I think that we’re starting to see business models pop up that are similar to, Daniel, you and I’s experience coming from working with battery energy storage, where you’re seeing “Well, now I have battery energy storage on wheels.” If we have the right software and we have the right solutions and are there certain customer segments where we can aggregate these things and use them as batteries for the grid.
Anthony: A great example of that that we’re starting to see some pilots and different things around is school buses, ’cause they have a very predictable pattern. They need to be charged at the start of the day. They’re gonna go do a route, pick up kids, drop them off at school, then they’re gonna come back to depot and sit until the afternoon. Well, in California, where we have really lofty policy goals around integrating renewable energy, we’re gonna have more solar than we know what to do with in the middle of the day and are those, are fleets and fleets of school buses across the state now able to be manage as essentially batteries for the grid.
Anthony: So, we’re starting to see examples of that, and that’s kind of one of the more common ones, I think, that’s talked about. I think it’s still very much in the pilot stage but I think that we’re starting to see really what’s gonna enable that is the smart charging solutions. The bus itself isn’t gonna do it, you’re gonna need the solutions that are the software that when you connect that bus, it’s communicating. We know the bus’s route, we know how many buses are connected, how much load they have and they’re bringing onto the grid, and then the ability to shift that load at different times. So, that’s really kind of the grid perspective.
Anthony: The other intersection is what’s happening in transportation. One of the biggest trends we’re obviously we’re seeing and you hear talked about a lot on the technology side is autonomous vehicles. So, now we have what happens if there are no drivers involved at all? You mentioned my earlier point that one of the biggest parts of our business is building solutions for both the consumer, meaning the driver and then the charging and whoever’s hosting the charging. What happens when, for a certain segment of the population, there is no driver.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a solution there, it means we have to develop a different set of solutions and this is really where I’m finding that the policy gets very interesting. Bringing it into that, which is there’s a lot of nervousness from, I think, the general public and from policy makers around what does autonomous vehicles mean, and I think that if you were to leave it all up to the technology or engineers, they would say “Well, it’s technically possible, so it’s gonna happen right away. We’re gonna have autonomous vehicles and there’s not gonna be anybody that needs to drive their car by 2020.”
Anthony: But, when you understand that there’s policy element where they’re gonna look at this state legislators, for example, federal policy makers. They’re gonna look at this and go “We have a lot of concerns about safety and those other things,” and of course, for those of us that are in it, we go “Well, look how many crashes there are a year just from the standpoint of when humans are operating vehicles.” But, it’s also when the incident happened in Arizona and, fortunately, no one was killed.
Anthony: That just puts the pause button on everything and so, why that’s a challenge and why I bring that up is that if I wasn’t engaged in those policy conversations and understanding that, I could negatively impact our product roadmap, because if I just tell them “Hey, it’s a green light. We need to be shifting everything towards autonomous vehicles. Let’s start building everything out.” Then, we could make some very important business decisions to shift that direction in preparation for that, but I feel like a big part of the policy role in this is to help balance that, balance those expectations and help them to understand when we really this coming, the pace at which these solutions need to come online, and it’s a constant balancing act because you just don’t know, and like I said, you’re always gonna have that challenge of sometimes technology is gonna lead policy, or policy can lead technology, but it is one of those things where, as it stands right now, we’re in this gray area of the technology around things like vehicle to grid or autonomous vehicles is there.
Anthony: It’s becoming more and more readily available, but then the policy makers are trying to figure out what is the direction we need to go, and I think that’s where we get into, as a company, can you impact where that goes and shape it to your benefit so that your product and your solutions are better set to succeed in the market going forward.
Daniel: Yeah, I really think that that idea of a balancing act is the key here. In my classes with my students online at Stanford or my clients, I have a lot of interaction with product people from regulated industries and I always say that regulation can make or break your business, so it’s an area of opportunity or it could really hinder your progress. And, what I’ve seen out there is that a lot of product people are not that familiar with the policy aspect of things, so that becomes a challenge, especially in an industry that is moving very rapidly like yours.
Daniel: The question that I’d like to share here with you and with our audience is how should product teams work with policy teams, and can you share approach of this concept of reactive versus proactive collaboration between product and policy teams?
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. This is what really I live and breathe every day and when I’m talking to, I’ve had some interactions just from friends or others who are starting companies and they’re only five people in a garage, and they’re like “Hey, should I have someone like you?” And I say “Probably not yet.” But, you should have some understanding of how policy is gonna impact your business. On the reactive side like you brought up, and that’s really how I balance everything, but what’s, how do you need to be reactive and then how can you be proactive? And I think, in the early stages of a lot of companies, you’re purely reactive. And sometimes, you even have, we seen this in the clean tech space where the company is born out of a reaction to some sort of regulation or change, right?
Anthony: So, we have companies that are innovating around that fact that there’s this maybe regulatory or policy road block around utility data sharing or renewable energy. Something where they’re like “Okay, I wanna do this.” Which can be good in one sense, but then also understand that your business model is subject to a regulatory change, so being reactive is … a very good example of this happened in California a few years back when the California Public Utilities Commission, regulates all of the public utilities, made a very monumental change to inverters for rooftop solar, and they said this was the rule 21 decision which stated that all inverters had to be smart. And which meant that they had to meet several different communication protocol standards.
Anthony: Anybody whose product didn’t utilize one of those smart inverters immediately had to shift over, and now all of the sudden you have a completely different product roadmap, you have all these different rules and while it was a two year, 18-month or so process, there were still companies that got caught off guard and it impacted broader than just solar.
That’s part of the business and that’s not just in the industries that you and I have worked in. That goes across the board. I worked at Apple several years ago and there were changes to the type of plastic you’re allowed to put inside the phone, and that’s an international standard. You’re always gonna constantly have these kinds of changes that are gonna lead to changing the way that you’re developing the product. You have to be aware of the, and I think it behooves companies that, even if you’re not at this stage already to try to affect the change, you’re not trying to sway the regulation in one way, you just wanna be poised to be reactive as soon as the regulation is there.
Anthony: It really behooves a company to monitor it so that you can be ahead of the game and have your product on the shelf, so to speak, that already complies with the new regulations as quickly as possible, and that’s gonna set you apart in the market. On the proactive side is where you start to realize that you can engage and all of these different things can be influenced. There’s not a single policy across the board that’s ever been adopted that hasn’t had somebody for it, somebody against it, and somebody trying to influence it one way or the other. And I think that one of the really interesting ways to be proactive is, form as a policy professional internally, constantly be in conversation with my product team, the business development team, and sales team and stay in kind of this feedback look triangle of communication, so to speak, so that I understand where we’re trying to go from a product perspective and from a customer offering perspective.
Anthony: And if I know that there’s an opening to help influence the way that a decision’s gonna go, then I can push on that. And, while you may not have, I wish I could say I had a 100% track record of success, I have more success than failure, I think, on that front. And I’m not saying me personally, I just think that companies that are proactive tend to actually do really well in the market if they have the right approach, and I think that it’s, you see so many companies in a certain industry, solar storage, EV charging, that they just wanna take a purely backseat approach and think that they just have to build to whatever they have to build to, and then they don’t understand that.
Anthony: And had you been in the room when they were setting rules for the type of communication protocol that you have to have in your charging station that you could have set that onto a direction that may have benefited where you wanted to go. Now you’re playing catch up. Now, all of a sudden, because you weren’t there, you didn’t have the seat, you’re in that reactive mode and just hoping you can get out there while there are some other companies that already have products going into the market that meet the requirements.
Anthony: And so that’s what’s key, the key thing for me, like I said is just to understand fully where, from a product standpoint, we wanna go and in doing that feedback loop, you’re gonna get the reactive in there, too, because I can communicate to the product team where we’re seeing certain requirements go, and we’re doing that in real time here in California where, you know, California’s considering, I used the example of communication protocols. They’re considering the adoption for several of the state grant programs, which a lot of the companies take advantage of, a certain communication protocol between the charging station and the car.
Anthony: While we’re in the influence stage, we’re still having that feedback look internally to set it up and say “Hey, by 2019, this could be required. Are we positioned right for that? Are we positioned if in 2019 this change happens?” And just constantly keeping those teams updated so they know that it’s coming.
Daniel: That’s truly interesting approach and I really like your concept of this relationship triangle where you have product, sales, and policy always working together and I think it’s really important to highlight those relationships, because a lot of times, particularly technology companies, they have a focus on product just talks to the customer and to engineering and as long as you continue that loop, right, it’s the fallacy of like as long as you read Lean Startup, you’re gonna be successful kind of thing. But, this actually highlights the approach that it’s very complicated, not only externally, but internally, as well, ’cause you have a lot of stakeholders as an IoT product leader. You have, of course, the hardware and software engineering and executives and sales and marketing, but now you have supply chain, installation teams, and on top that, we’re adding another dimension that is critical, which is policy.
Daniel: As product teams continue to evolve, we need to make sure that we involve groups that we might not always think about as part of the product development life cycle, which are policy and security and supply chain and operations. Those are gonna be critical for deployments of IoT solutions, so I’m really glad you’re bringing that perspective here to the show.
Anthony: Not only do I feel passionate about it, and obviously wanna have job security for myself and everybody who works in my field, I’ve also just seen real world examples of unfortunate, when you’re not on top of it. Not to give any specific company names out, but there have been startup companies that their entire business model was surrounded by the assumption that they were gonna be able to get ahold of utility data. They’re building their products and services and starting to engage with customers on this understanding that they were gonna be able to do something and then a policy change happened that they weren’t at the table for. And, unfortunately, that company no longer exists because it was, all it took was one change and the way that they were gonna do business no longer exists, and so you just, you see that and while that’s one particular example, I’ve seen other examples of that time and time again, including companies that I’ve worked at where all of a sudden, you just get hit sideways with something that you didn’t anticipate and you can’t move forward like you thought you were gonna do.
Anthony: Sometimes you can pivot, and sometimes you can innovate around it. You’re still gonna be on the back foot, it’s gonna be more costs, it’s gonna mean different timelines, but sometimes you just can’t. So, I just think that that’s where absolutely making sure that you have an understanding of whatever industry you’re going into, whether you’re trying to disrupt the taxi industry or the hotel industry or transportation. We see a lot of these different big name disruptive startups where if they weren’t heavily involved in the regulatory side of things, their business model just wouldn’t exist, and I just think, understand that when you go in.
Anthony: Understand, do your research, understand before you even put your business plan together or if you’re at the stage where you’ve got that, you’ve got funding, you’re starting to staff up, make sure that you have at least an awareness of who regulates you, or more importantly, who regulates your customers or products. Do that due diligence.
Daniel: Yeah, that’s extremely important, and that’s one of the reasons I incorporated the regulation decision area in my IoT decision framework, which is what I use to teach all my classes and work with my clients, because I wanna make sure that regulation is taken in consideration during the strategy phase of the product and not as an afterthought. If you’re able to think about regulation as one of the key areas that you have to think about and then figure out what is the relationship or the impact of regulation in your industry to all the different areas of your product, whether it be the user experience or the business model or the data strategy, technology strategy, et cetera, then you’ll have a more holistic view and you can kind of spot where the alignment are. That’s really interesting. We’ll be right back.
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Daniel: Once again, the URL is iotproductleadership.com/courses. I look forward to having you as part of the community.
Daniel: I wanna switch topics a little bit and I wanna talk about this concept that I thought was fascinating when you and I talked before. So, one of the benefits of IoT products is their ability to aggregate data from multiple devices in the cloud, and so, in essence, you’re creating a fleet of assets. So, everything is becoming a fleet and there’s a lot of benefits that you can do from that, business models, value propositions, et cetera, on this fleetification of products, if you may. What are your thoughts on that and what are the policy and product implications that come of creating now fleets of products?
Anthony: I think what’s really interesting is that this is where you see the electric vehicle space and I think the electrification of transportation as a whole start to really sync up with everything else that’s happening in the IoT world, where now that, we talked about earlier how even from a one on one standpoint with smart charging and even a consumer’s electric vehicle, we can have data sharing information and even management and control over an asset, but then you look at what’s happening with transportation overall, and we’re seeing that fleetification with things like UPS and their commitments to electrify their entire vehicle fleets or the school bus example I gave earlier.
Anthony: Or, down the road, fleets of autonomous vehicles that are managed my ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft where, for the first time ever, we’re gonna have these large fleets that are gonna have fueling needs very different from a gasoline fueling model, and the communication and the intelligence that’s going to be needed in order to do that is all right in line with everything else you’re seeing in IoT product development. And this, really, it’s all cloud based and what we’re seeing in terms of on the vehicle side is the ability to use those and communicate with those assets to provide different solutions than their primary purpose. I talked about this before, which is if you think about the purpose of an EV, it’s primary purpose is to transport, either people or goods.
Anthony: Now, if I take that and I add in a layer of IoT communication in the cloud, I can turn that thing and have two purposes. I can use it for transportation, but now I can use it for other things such as managing to the grid. I can use it as battery storage. I can use it to support renewables integration because I’m able to communicate with the car while it’s parked, which currently, today, if I have a fossil fuel vehicle, a gasoline vehicle, while that car’s parked it’s doing nothing. If I’m a business, it’s not making me any money while it’s parked.
I don’t, if I’m an Uber driver I’m not making any money while my car’s parked, if I’m a UPS vehicle, I’m not making any money while it’s parked. Now, all of the sudden I have the ability to potentially add revenue to my fleet if I can one, manage my fueling in a certain way so that I’m, let’s say, aligning it with my electricity rates so I’m getting the cheapest fuel possible, I’m saving money. In a sense, making money, ’cause I’m cutting costs.
Anthony: Or, I’m able to take advantage, and this’ll really rely heavily on policy, but if we have the right markets set up, I can utilize my fleet to provide services to the grid and potentially make money off of it. That’s all very new, and this is something that you never envisioned with vehicles before and there are some corners of the industry that feel like it’s gonna be a requirement.
We have to build products and services to handle the fleetification in a way where these vehicles can have these multiple purposes and I think that from ChargePoint’s perspective, and from how we’re engaging, we really see this as an amazing opportunity and an opportunity to still make sure that these vehicles are doing their primary purpose, but then providing these additional ancillary benefits.
Anthony: And the base layer of that is the technology for sure, but as I said, it’s where the policy comes in is are we setting up the right structures? And this comes into engaging with things like the utilities and the regulators of those utilities and the California ISO, which is our wholesale market here, are we creating the right programs and structures so that we can take advantage of these ancillary benefits of the vehicles. That, as I said, you can have all the technology there, but if we don’t get the policy right and we don’t create those markets in the right way, you won’t have the use case for it. That’s where I really see a lot of movement today. A lot of attention being paid on that, as we saw in the storage and solar industries, as well.
Anthony: I think that’s really where we’re gonna be able to take advantage of a lot of these IoT-like product developments that are happening on the vehicle side.
Daniel: And I think this is a great opportunity for product teams and policy teams to work together because this fleetification doesn’t happen by chance. It has to be part of the product strategy by saying “If I’m able to aggregate all these assets into my cloud and, let’s say, run analytics on them, or machine learning, whatever. What kind of value can I extract, not only from the single device, but from the fleet, and what other business models does that open? Is that going to be possible through not only the implementation of the company, but is it regulated by the market, or what do I need to happen for it to be regulated correctly, et cetera? So, I think that’s a really interesting perspective of having to think about all these things and work together with a policy team to determine whether that approach and business model has traction.
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. And like I said, the stage that we’re in now, and I think this is indicative of a lot of industries. I mentioned some other ones. Look at what’s happening with ride sharing, which also intersects with autonomous vehicles. You look at what’s happening with overall just transportation and things like what’s happening with trying to inject intelligence into public transit, for example. Buses and other forms of motor transit and it’s at the stage where you can have an amazing idea from a product standpoint, but if that idea, like you have the coolest software to help, let’s say that you have a product that can totally change the way that we do payment for public transportation, right? And you’re like this is gonna be the greatest thing ever, and it’s gonna be seamless and everything’s through your smartphone, it’s gonna be even easier than having to have these proprietary cars and all these other things and I have this solution.
Anthony: But if you get government buy off on it, or they move into a certain direction to say that we don’t like that everything has to be in a smartphone because it disenfranchises people who don’t have smart phones, so we’re gonna require that all payment on buses have to be done with a credit card. Well, you just missed out. And this happens all the … I can’t begin to tell you about how often we see these kinds of decisions are being talked about on a regular basis and that’s where I think it’s so important to be, as much as I talked about that balance between proactive and reactive, I just can’t encourage enough to have a proactive strategy around what you’re doing and making sure that if you’ve got the greatest piece of tech ever invented but you know that at some point, it’s gonna get in front of a regulator, they’re gonna have to decide whether or not this is gonna be viable.
Anthony: And I can almost find an excuse to put any product in that category. If you’re not proactive about that, then you’re gonna struggle, and I think it’s never too early to start thinking about how do we put together a proactive strategy that makes sense for our company, our business in the size and stage that we’re at.
Daniel: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more and I think the biggest takeaway from this conversation is not necessarily to provide tips and “hacks” on how to go about policy. It’s about policy, it’s an integral part of the product development life cycle and as product leaders, we have to include that. We just can’t afford not to.
Daniel: Let me ask you a different question, though, because you talked a little bit about how regulations can affect your roadmap, but sometimes those impacts are in ways that you didn’t foresee, that doesn’t seem obvious. For example, you’ve mentioned that at ChargePoint you have to be aware of regulations in multiple areas, right? Including transportation and energy. Can you share some examples of how these regulations can impact the product roadmap in ways that might not be obvious?
Anthony: Yeah. Absolutely. At a company like ChargePoint, when you’re very focused on the two primary segments that you serve, so, obviously, you have building out charging stations and providing services to EV drivers so that you can create a seamless fueling experience for them and then on the other side you have the products and services that are gonna serve the site host, the customers who are putting the charging stations in. These are things like the work places and public parking garage operators. When you’re very focused on those things, there can be, I don’t wanna say unforeseen, but there are other aspects. As you start to expand to your customer base and you start to interact with a variety of different customers, they’re gonna have a different need set.
Anthony: One example of this is obviously if you’re selling charging stations to the city and county of San Francisco and in addition to them wanting to have charging stations, they also have, they’re a government and they have needs to serve the public and they may want to integrate other aspects that fit in with their overall public transit solutions. We get this request all the time from a lot of different cities and public agencies if they have, let’s say, a proprietary transit car system. So like in the Bay area we have the Clipper card and they have a variety of these different types and different locations that you go to.
Anthony: For ChargePoint, ideally you would make one public charging solution set and that would be the most cost effective and we would deploy that all across the US. But, if that is set up in a way that it’s designed to take a specific form of payment, and then you have these requests come in, you have to evaluate that. And you may have to decide where that fits in with the product roadmap and just say “What are the costs?” What does this mean for our business and is this something we can integrate for this customer but then expand that and does it work for other potential, let’s say, government customers you might have.
Anthony: Those are all things that come up that if you’re purely focused on “Okay, we make charging stations and then we make an app for drivers and then that’s all we do.” Then, that come from a different area and you have to work on that, and you have to work that in. So, I think that’s an example of something that’s a little bit outside of kind of the normal operating procedures of what you’re looking at every day, but you understand that those kind of things is always gonna come up. And other examples of that, and we’ve had cities approached us and we’ve even seen things written into RFTs where requests that “Well, since you’re gonna have these charging stations deployed kind of throughout a downtown area, can they be wifi towers? Is that something that’s possible?”
Anthony: We see this come up from cities. They have these requests. “Can they have embedded security cameras in them? Can they be … ” All these kind of things where, especially as cities are starting to look at smart city technology, and then you look at your product and say “We wanna fit into that.” What are the other things that aren’t core to the business that actually don’t have to do with fueling a car, like the security camera or wifi tower, whatever it may be, and are we gonna, is there an advantage to us building products and solutions that fit in with that, or are we gonna have to be reactive and build to that if we wanna win the business? Those are all things that we see on a regular basis in the industry.
Daniel: That is really interesting because I think that gives you, as a product team and as a company, an option. If you get the request of “Could you do this?” You can evaluate it and you can see that that might be a business opportunity. On the other hand, when there is existing regulation and you were just thinking of having a charging station [inaudible 00:42:05], but now you need to take payment of this specific sort, for example, then you won’t be able to launch into that market unless you support that regulation, because it’s the law. Those are kind of things that the products teams need to wrestle with and make sure that we have enough funding and the time allocation and all the different things that are needed to launch the product in that particular market.
Daniel: I think that’s a really interesting example.
Anthony: And I think, just to provide folks [inaudible 00:42:34], because one of the things that I think I have the benefit of is coming from a background and working with policymakers over my entire career, working in the legislature, and just maybe having a little bit of different understanding and patience with the way that policymakers think, but I can definitely understand how, from a product standpoint, if you look at what’s the best way to engineer a solution, I think a lot of times, not to put all of you guys in the same bucket, but engineers, I think, get very frustrated with how policymakers make decision. ‘Cause they don’t do it based on logic. It’s not. It’s not based on logic in a lot of cases. It based upon emotion and reaction.
Anthony: Reaction to the public you serve or your perception on things and, again, if we look at, I would especially put the thought out there for anybody that’s looking at this, especially if you’re looking at something that’s disrupting a long-standing industry. If you’re trying to disrupt the taxi industry, the hotel industry, the public transit industry, if you’re trying to disrupt something that has been the same way for 100 years, you have to understand that with the maturity of those companies, they have policy representation and they’re very, very well represented and have relationships that are very deep and sometimes go back for several years.
Anthony: You have to understand that they have built this safety net for themselves and at times it can be frustrating, and it’s not that all policy makers are against innovation and don’t wanna see things. It’s just that there is that safety net that, well, if we get rid of this institution that is the way that we’ve done things for 100 years, or even the last 10 years, there is an emotional response to that that sometimes is just driven by “How is this gonna impact just the status quo and is that gonna be a positive impact?”
Anthony: And then the flip side of it is you have to just understand that some of those policymakers are gonna be entrenched, meaning that they’ve supported the so and so industry for the entirety of their career and now you’re coming in saying “Well, I can do it cheaper, better, faster.” But, in their mind, all they’re gonna hear, so you understand, they’re just gonna hear that that company’s going out of business and those people are gonna be out of jobs.
That’s what they hear. I think just being aware of that emotional connection is really important and I think what that comes down to is just messaging and understanding, but also just, again, to toot the horn of a policy, having policy representation who can help massage those conversations and that understanding and build these policymakers into champions for your business, which you’re hoping to be the next 100 years of how we do things like get around town or stay in hotels, whatever it may be.
Daniel: That’s excellent advice, getting into what they are thinking. So, that’s really interesting. So, Anthony, just to close the episode, I would like to ask a question that I ask all of my guests. And that is, what advice would you give product leaders who are new at developing IoT solutions?
Anthony: I think it’s been ingrained in all of my responses, which is have awareness. Number one, have awareness of how policy and regulations impact your products and/or the customers you serve. I think, first and foremost, have that. And then, as you’re developing a strategy, make sure you’re weighing the costs and benefits of engaging in policy in any regard. And the third is to don’t be shy, meaning develop a relationship with these policymakers in some respect. One thing that I always do, whatever level or stage that my company is at, especially the legislators, find your local congressmen, whoever that is. That’s easy to find out. Whoever, your local city council members, all the way up and down. They love the opportunity to meet a CEO or hear about a startup in their backyard, or even a developed company that’s doing something new and innovative. Even if you’re a company that’s been around for 20 years, but you’re doing something new or you’re doing something different and you’re creating opportunities in their backyard.
Anthony: Don’t be shy. Reach out. They love a photo op, a handshake in front of your company’s sign in your parking lot, whatever it may be, it goes such a long way because trust me, they will remember that and then one of your competitors is not based in their district or located in a different country, even, maybe. They’re gonna be more inclined to listen to what you have to say on a matter just because you made that request or you extended yourself and, like I said, very rarely do elected officials turn down the opportunity to meet with a company. And so, I think that would be my advice, is just have that there and I think that’s gonna set up what you’re doing from a product roadmap perspective on the right track in the long term because you’re just gonna develop institutionally that awareness, that regulation impact to your business.
Daniel: That is for sure excellent advice. Anthony, I wanna thank you so much for spending the time and being in the episode. I always enjoy our conversations. I will add some of the notes in the show notes page for this episode, including to SharePoint and other links and thank you again. It’s a pleasure.
Anthony: My pleasure, as well. Daniel, I always love talking to you. Any time.
Daniel: Thank you for listening to this episode of IoT Product Leadership. To make sure you don’t miss out on any of my conversations with IoT product leaders, make sure you subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, don’t forget to check out my online courses designed specifically for product managers in the IoT space. To learn more, visit iotproductleadership.com/courses. I am Daniel Elizalde, and I’ll see you next time.