#186 John de Souza, Co-founder & President of Ample
A serial entrepreneur and a strategic investor, John has 20 years of experience founding and investing in technology-enabled companies in the communications, healthcare, finance and energy industries. Before co-founding Ample, John was a co-founder, president, and CEO of MedHelp, the largest consumer health platform offering tools, device integrations, and communities to millions of people empowering them to manage their own health. MedHelp’s platform powered online offerings of companies such as Walgreens and GE, until it was acquired by Merck Pharmaceuticals mid 2014. Following the acquisition, John served as the President of the Consumer Health and Healthcare Solutions Division of Aptus Health, a subsidiary of Merck. Prior to MedHelp, John led the Technology Practice of the Private Equity Group at Goldman Sachs, focusing on software and technology companies. Earlier, John co-founded Flash Communications, an Internet startup company that developed real-time two-way messaging systems, which was acquired by Microsoft. Furthermore, he co-founded Smartleaf, a financial software company.
John holds a B.S. and an M.S. in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Collège des Ingénieurs in France.
Bigger Than Us #186
This transcript has been lightly edited.
Host Raj Daniels 00:11
John, how are you doing today?
John de Souza 00:49
I’m doing well. Excited to be here.
Host Raj Daniels 01:19
John, I’m excited to speak to you. John, before we dig into Ample, I’d like to learn about how you grew up in Ethiopia.
John de Souza 01:31
For me, Africa is a very special place in my heart. And I think being born in Ethiopia, goes through and sets a lot of things for you in place that cover the rest of your life. And sounds like you’ve spent some amount of time there as well. I think when you spend time in Africa, one thing you realize is that the people are happy.
And I think that’s one thing that is sort of covered a lot of my life is that happiness, in many parts, is a decision you make. And you can see people that don’t have a lot, but are happy. And I think that has been the philosophy that I’ve adopted for a lot of it. You wake up in the morning and you make a decision — do you want to be happy or not? And that sort of colors the rest of your day. So being there for me, wonderful people, wonderful place. And a place that’s taught me a lot.
Host Raj Daniels 02:17
You know, that’s interesting. And you mentioned we were speaking before we started recording here. My family’s from East Africa — my dad from Uganda, my mum’s from Kenya. And there are many times we would go back and visit from London, go to Kenya, spend time there with my grandparents. And, you know, might be TMI for the show, but my mom is one of nine sisters. And I look at where they grew up, how they grew up. And when I was to visit my aunts and uncles all living in these relatively modest housing, multiple generations together.
And to your point, I guess, to some extent, I look back and I think, is it because they didn’t know what else was out there? Is it because they, to your point, decided to be happy? But I did feel a sense of happiness and joy there. And as you know, some of the eating habits from there really resonate with me. The idea of community eating — you almost share a plate to the plate is put in front of you and everyone takes from there. No one has their individual knives and forks set up. So I feel like a lot of that happiness came from that communal feeling.
John de Souza 03:16
My mother’s born in Ethiopia, my father in Tanzania, and my mother was 10 brothers and sisters as well. I know exactly what you mean because we do — in Ethiopia, you all eat from the same plate. But it’s an interesting at the end of it. And I learned very quickly that you don’t need too much during the meal piece. At the end of it all the elder people will come and feed the younger people to make sure that they’ve eaten enough, and it comes from a lot of the food and food shortages in the country.
But it teaches you that sharing and caring and making sure that you think of others, which I think has been just been instrumental. I’ll tell you one of the — I’ll tell you that philosophy. Now I was gone to Dar Salam. And I was going to go for a run in the morning and I met this person and asked him where I should go running. And he asked me well, what do you want to do? I said, run. He goes, “But are you going to run to market to buy something? Are you going to run and go meet somebody?”
I said, “No, I’m going to run.” He goes, “You’re just going to run?” I said yes. He said, “Hakuna Matata. Then go run.” I think it really sets the mentality is way different. You get so tied up with a lot of things of being productive, going and doing something. And it really is Hakuna Matata. And I just said, “I just need to go and enjoy my run.” It teaches us a lot.
Host Raj Daniels 04:36
I totally understand. I totally understand the feeling. Now, I mentioned Ample at the top of the show, I’d like to fast forward Can you give the audience an overview of Ample and your role at the organization?
John de Souza 04:47
So at Ample we are a company that developed a modular battery swapping solution that can work with pretty much any EV out there. This company I co-founded with Khaled Hassounah. He’s actually a dear friend and someone I’ve had the pleasure to work with for 16 years. After he sold the previous company, we spent some time together. And I keep on joking that Ample was an excuse for us to keep on working together.
When you have a co-founder or a person that you trust implicitly and enjoy working with, it really brings joy to your life. We knew we wanted to work together, and we’re looking at a lot of things. And we realized very quickly that solving the infrastructure problem was going to be the key solution to actually having wide adoption of EVs. And so when we looked at it and realized that the infrastructure was was holding it back, we decided we should go through and tackle it. And so we developed this battery swapping solution.
Host Raj Daniels 05:47
Can you walk us through how the battery swapping works?
John de Souza 05:52
I’ll go through how it works. But let’s just talk about thinking about the problems that we’re trying to tackle. When we were looking at charging solutions, what just didn’t make sense was that what people at a high level were trying to do was to get a billion people plus to go over and move from one technology, which is gas cars, to EVs, that in many ways was a much worse experience. People could go and spend a few minutes and get a full tank of gas, but you’re going to move them to something where they could have to spend an hour or multiple hours waiting for a charge. And we didn’t think that that was going to happen at scale until we made it at least as good, ideally better. And so we had to go through and find a way to allow people to get a similar experience to gas: basically come in, spend a few minutes, get a full charge, and leave.
But we realized — and battery swapping has been tried many, many times. You can go back to the 40s and find battery swapping solutions — what we realized that there were a couple of big drawbacks that prevented it from being just adopted universally. And the two drawbacks that we wanted to tackle was we wanted to come up with a way to go through and make a car swap that will work with OEMs without asking them to rebuild the car. And that is a key tenant here. If you need to go through and ask every OEM to rebuild the car on your solution, you’re not gonna get very far. The second solution that we wanted to go through and find was we wanted to find a way to be able to use the same batteries across cars.
And it’s similar to gas. When you go to a gas station, you don’t worry about what car you have, you just put the gas in. And so those were two problems that we went through and solved. And that allowed us to come with a solution that has all the convenience and ease of gas, but at the same time is quick to deploy and very cost effective.
So that’s the context behind it. In terms of the specific details of the solution, we came up with a modular battery swapping and that was a big shift from what had been done before. Companies that are tackling this went through and were doing pack-level swapping. The of the entire battery in one piece, and the battery pack can weigh a lot. Rather than do that, we actually developed these smaller modules that are easier to rearrange, to fit into different vehicles, easier to remove and replace as well.
And so that’s half the solution is to come up with a modular battery swapping solution. And the second was to go through and actually come up with a way to let the same batteries work across different cars. And we came up with these smart battery modules that go through and work in different vehicles. And so the experience is pretty simple. Somebody drives into a swapping station, a robot takes out the modules, replaces those modules with with fully charged modules to put it into the car, and then the car can indeed drive away.
Host Raj Daniels 08:44
So are you working with manufacturers to design a battery that fits what they’re currently using?
John de Souza 08:51
So what we do is we are working with multiple OEMs. But what we do is we take on that engineering, literally by just saying, “We’ll go through and rearrange it and come up with an adapter plate that allows our batteries to work in the car without having them to change the car.” We work with them — a lot of collaboration — working with them is to go through and effectively say to allow the customers — and initially we’re selling auto fleets — when they purchase the vehicle, make it easy for them to receive the vehicles with our battery pre-installed. So there’s a lot of work that goes into coordinating and make sure it’s easy for the customer to buy the cars with the Ample battery in it.
Host Raj Daniels 09:35
And just for clarification for the audience, OEM is an original equipment manufacturer.
John de Souza 09:40
Correct. So those are all the different car manufacturers out there.
Host Raj Daniels 09:44
Now, I’ve watched the video. I think it’s pretty phenomenal. But can you describe what the actual footprint of the battery swapping facility looks like?
John de Souza 09:52
So we currently take two parking spaces, and there’s no construction involved. What we realize is that when you look at charges or even different types of swapping stations, and primarily other in our solution, you do see swapping being done pretty aggressively in China. So when you go and look into the stations there, there’s a lot of construction that get involved in that. What we go through and do is we came up with a solution where you don’t need to do it, it literally is something you can go through and assemble in two parking spaces. Connect it into power and you’re up and running. So it’s a pretty small footprint that takes about four or five days to assemble, a couple of days if you need to disassemble it and move it to a different location.
Host Raj Daniels 10:38
And how many batteries do you keep on hand in one of your facilities?
John de Souza 10:43
We can vary between — I’d say on average right now we probably have about 10 batteries. You can go more or less depending on what the demand is. So as you go through, understand what it is, you can go through and optimize that depending on traffic.
Host Raj Daniels 10:58
And what do you do with the batteries at the end of life?
John de Souza 11:01
So thing about that is it’s really important. The problem that I think a lot of places have is that it is very hard to go through an extract the cells from the modules or from the battery packs. In the first life of the vehicle, make sure that you don’t decrease the number of cycles by fast charging it or using it in a way that decreases the lifespan of the battery. So by being able to control how we charged in the swapping stations, we can get a lot more cycles out of it. In addition, in the vehicle as well, you often have thermal buildup. You drive and charge, drive, charge, and the batteries get pretty hot. And again, that results in in fewer cycles. So we treat them well.
When you drive after you take out hot batteries and bring cool batteries in, you control the temperature and and can optimize the life of the battery. So the first thing in terms of being green is, get as many cycles as you can of this in the first life. In the second life, once you take it out, you make it out to make it very simple to be able to go and use it for other applications, such as static storage. And because these are smart batteries, you can use them the way they are without having to go through and strip it down and calibrate and rebuild. So that makes it easy to use and segment. And then finally all the way to recycling. The key part thing in recycling is to make easy access to the components. And so we’ve done a lot of work there to say once you get all the way to the end, it’s very easy to go through, get down to the cells and other components out there and have them recycled.
Host Raj Daniels 12:35
Just yesterday, I was on a call with a VC. And he was telling me about a company that’s making a recyclable polymer or glue that enables batteries to be broken down easier at the end of life. And I thought, what an interesting opportunity that that brings to something like what you’re doing.
John de Souza 12:53
And part of that is a lot of people do use different types of adhesives and all to keep it in place. All the cells in place. And so trying to minimize that really simplifies getting access to the cells. There’s a lot of time you have, and you’re getting pretty green cells right now. But you go through and sort of take away the advantage if you go through and glue all of it together. And so it is really imperative one to think about how to get easy access. And I think people are coming out with different types of polymers and adhesives that make it easy to go through and access those will really help in recycling it.
Host Raj Daniels 13:30
Now, I used to be part of the automotive industry many, many years ago, different life. And I know one of the challenges is specifically around warranties. You know, there’s sometimes argument depending on the upgrades you do to your car, for example, if you put your own computer chip in, it might void the warranty, etc. How do you handle some of the potential warranty issues around when you exchange these batteries?
John de Souza 13:51
We work with the, again, with the auto companies, the OEMs. And the work that we do with them is to to make sure we’ve gone through all the necessary testing certification to get them comfortable with what we do. Now we provide the warranty on the battery. So if there is an issue with the battery, we’d go through and take care of it. But it is also very easy for us to do go through and maintain it. Right if you look at the electric vehicle, it doesn’t prompt the battery, it’s a pretty costly thing for them to go in, take the battery out, understand what’s wrong, and replace it. So you try your best as an OEM to avoid that.
For us, the car is coming in continuously and having batteries replaced. So for example, if there’s an issue with the module, all we do is we mark it as “this needs to be serviced.” The next time it gets swapped out it doesn’t get swapped into another vehicle and can go get service. So if we ever needed to replace modules in every car out there, within a week, we should have all of them come in, and you should be able to go in and replace it. So the model makes it very easy to handle warranty and replacement issues. Which is I think really important with batteries. You want to have easy access and easy ability to go through and change them if necessary.
Host Raj Daniels 15:01
Now you mentioned fleet earlier, are you starting your go to market initially with fleets?
John de Souza 15:06
Correct, so our initial target is to go to untangle fleets. The reason we went after fleets is because they have a very tough problem moving to electric. It’s one thing when you take 20 cars, but if you try and do 100, or 1000 vehicles of electric, all these problems really get magnified. So if you’re trying to do one charge, even if it costs you $15, $20,000, you can do it. But if you’re going to be doing 1000 of them, that quickly becomes prohibitive to be able to go through it. Also the logistics of charging the vehicles and trying to figure out what rotations you’d go through is difficult.
And then lastly, you often don’t have enough power, because when all the costs come in, and you have to speak so you need to get upgrades. And that means we take 18 months, 36 months to try and get any sort of upgrade and then be very expensive. So we realized the situation for fleets was pretty serious. And we looked at the history. A lot of fleets committed to going electric, they started purchasing cars, and then called it quits pretty quickly because they realized how challenging it was. So we realized that if we could go through and solve the problem for fleets, we would have a dramatic impact in the number of EVs out there, and a lot of those fleets also drive significant miles. So if you can move the those vehicles that drive largest number of miles, that’s where you have the largest impact on decarbonisation.
Host Raj Daniels 16:28
It sounds like like you’re almost helping them by their offshoring or outsourcing some of their logistics work to you.
John de Souza 16:36
Correct. For them in terms of going through it, logistically it’s the same as a gas station, so that you don’t need to think about how you change your operations. If you keep that the same purchase. But on the other hand, you actually outsource all the infrastructure to us. We take care of building it, we manage it, they don’t need to worry about it. So for them, it’s almost they’re able to move from gas to electric operation, keep it the same, but actually go through and do it profitably because we charge them less energy than gas on a per kilometer basis. So it’s actually a great way for them to move from gas to electric and actually save some money in the process.
Host Raj Daniels 17:15
It sounds like you can almost use your work with fleets to plan or map your footprint as to where you’re going to put your charging stations.
John de Souza 17:25
You’re exactly right, that’s advantage of starting off with fleets as well, is they give you their heat maps. They tell you exactly where the vehicles are going, what’s the geography, so you need to see that and use that to go and understand exactly where you need to deploy decisions to get them the coverage they need. And that allows us down the road, that when we do go to consumers, they can just leverage the same footprint that we’re using for fleets. So we also solve that. We work with them, we understand where they need to get them deployed, and then deploy them to those locations.
Host Raj Daniels 17:57
Now, you mentioned that your facility takes up two parking spots. Is there a revenue opportunity for the place where you put your units?
John de Souza 18:06
Correct. And we do have multiple of the energy companies as investors and partners, companies such as Shell, Repsol, so you have Eneos in Japan, PTT in Thailand, a lot of different of these, where they already have real estate in different places. So we can go through and work with them. And there are multiple sort of synergies and revenue opportunities there. Because when you look at the two, they work really well together.
So it is depending on what the the owner of the energy company or the real estate company, there are different ways to partner with them. But they’re very good ways to increase the revenue for the location as well. Because you know who’s coming in, you know approximately when, and you know they’re going to come in regularly. So you have a lot of information about what’s coming. And so I think they’re good ways to go through and get a good partnership between the two.
Host Raj Daniels 19:01
That’s kind of what I was thinking. I was imagining for a moment, if I may, let’s just call it, for argument’s sake, Kroger. And we put one of your Ample units in the Kroger parking lot, taking up two parking spots. But it also draws traffic, people coming through. And also additional revenue.
John de Souza 19:17
Exactly. And you know that they come in, you can also do an interesting connection between, in this case it would be Kroger, where we can tell somebody the person is going to come in, they can pre-order stuff, have it ready for when they come there. So because you have more visibility on who’s coming, when they come in, and you’d have a nice bidirectional relationship on the way there, you can quickly increase the services that you provide the customer.
Host Raj Daniels 19:40
Very interesting. Now you mentioned moving to electric and there’s a lot of awareness right now about going green, moving to electric. What are your thoughts on where we are on that trajectory? And what are your thoughts on everyone going green?
John de Souza 19:56
So I think one of the myths of electric is that going electric is going green. And I think you need to dig a little bit deeper into that to see if that’s really the case. That works well if you can then go in renewable energy for multiple years. And is there a difference — people talk about different price points, that you need to drive at least 40,000 miles on renewable energy for it to be overall green. The reason is that often the electric car itself may have a larger footprint. And if you look at what often what’s happening right now is somebody buys a new electric car that has a higher footprint, They could be fast charging that car.
If you look at the mix of the energy going into it, it’s not renewable energy, and as fast charging, it’s definitely not. And so they could be using energy that’s not as clean as it should be. And they keep the car for five years. But then when the battery starts dropping, they get rid of the car and that car, right now, the second market for many of the EV’s is not that strong. And so that car may reach the end of life. If you look at that, it’s still not a great value proposition for the environment. So what we’re trying to do is to say this could work if you do a few things. People like to keep the car for longer. So you need to make it easy for them to, to go through and be able to keep it. With our technology, as newer battery technologies come out, you can use that in your car.
So when you look five years from now, your car might go 50 or 60% further than when you bought it because you will have new cells going in. So the ability to use the car for longer time definitely helps you. When you want to get rid of it, you can sell to somebody else. And they’re able to enter in the secondary market because they don’t need to worry about the battery. So I think you solve that problem. Second is the upfront cost. Buying the vehicle without the battery and just doing a battery subscription decreases the upfront cost of the car by at least a third.
So it makes it a lot more affordable and accessible to more people as you go and look in that. And then finally, we don’t need to fast charge it. And we separate charging the batteries from delivering the energy to the car. So we can take renewable energy and use that to fill the batteries and deliver that very quickly to the car when it’s there. So it solves the different points of, how do you drop the upfront costs? How do you help people keep the car for a longer period of time? How do you get renewable energy effectively into a car very quickly?
You now can make this a very green proposition. And so that’s been our focus to say, people are doing this move to EVs to help environment, you better make sure we’re solving that because we’ve sort of lost the primary reason in doing this.
Host Raj Daniels 22:33
And you mentioned something very interesting there. You mentioned battery subscription. So it sounds like a recurring revenue model for you.
John de Souza 22:40
Correct. First we’ve two revenue streams. One is the battery subscription, and other is just energy. Energy and things like gas, you’re being paid per mile. So those are the two revenue streams. We do have high visibility on that, busy working with fleets usually discussing multiple years. It’s very predictable in terms of the mileage you’re doing. So it’s a predictable long-term recurring revenue. So for business model perspective, it’s pretty attractive.
Host Raj Daniels 23:09
And where are you in your business lifecycle right now?
John de Souza 23:15
Two to three years ago, we spend a lot of time doing the initial pilots and tests of the technology to demonstrate that it goes through and works. Last year was our key year in terms of doing commercial deployment. We went through and, and commercially deployed it, and people use it with ride sharing drivers. In order to show that from a ride sharing driver, it’s commercially viable.
And when you look at the San Francisco Bay Area, almost all of the fleet offerings of EVs to rideshare drivers had closed down. And the prime reason for that is that if you’re a driver, and you’re spending 10 to 12 hours a week at a charger, charging your EV, you earn significantly less revenue. And so what we did last year was go through, run it, and and demonstrate that you can earn comparable amount of money driving an EV as you can gas. And in fact, if the energy on the EVcosts you less, it’ll actually make it more profit for you, make the same top line revenue but spend less on energy.
This year, the focus is scaling. We’re scaling in the US in the Bay Area, as well as other cities in the US. But we’ll also start scaling mid-year in Europe, and then towards the end of year in Asia. So this key focus for us is to work with large fleets and focus in fleets that want to move 1000s or tens of 1000s of vehicles over to electric and partnering with them to go through and deploy the infrastructure to make that conversion possible.
Host Raj Daniels 24:44
So you mentioned the Bay Area a couple of times, what other cities are you working with?
John de Souza 24:47
In the US we’ll be looking at — we mentioned New York, the press release was very good. A partner there in that will go through. The other cities in California like LA, of course. We’ll be going through Chicago, Denver. The focus for us in terms of cities are cities where they’re being very supportive of the transition to electric. So we’re looking at those cities and saying, let’s start with those.
In Europe, similarly, there are multiple cities that are really being supportive and providing you the infrastructure you need to make the transition. Cities like Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, Berlin, London, those are being very supportive. The other advantage of going after these big cities is, it’s hard to get chargers in there. They don’t have the grid setting to support it. So our solution works really well in these dense cities where it’s a small footprint, it doesn’t have a high peak power. And so we can deploy very quickly. And it doesn’t take that many stations within a city to your geographic coverage.
Host Raj Daniels 25:50
But I don’t know about the cities you mentioned, but I’m familiar with London. And I know parking is a premium.
John de Souza 25:55
Parking is a premium. The good thing with it is you can get parking lots there, we can get two spaces, which often is a good way to start. If you look at those. And you can get those two spaces, you can go through, deploy it and get it up and running. So it’s a pretty small footprint and the flexibility of saying, “this will be two spaces.” It could be at a gas station in London, there are only a few gas stations that have that. It could be at a grocery store, it could be at a parking lot. So it gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of where you could go to and deploy it.
Host Raj Daniels 26:30
So the crux of our conversation is the why behind what you’re doing. You’re a three-time entrepreneur, you’ve sold companies, but you don’t have any previous experience in the energy sector. What drew you to this opportunity? And what keeps you going?
John de Souza 26:48
Across all of these, and it’s very similar with my partner, Khaled, when you go through and look at it, I think sometimes when you come into a new space, with a different perspective, it allows you to see opportunity there. If you’re in a space for a long time, it can be very hard to change the way you think. So I think that’s one is both was comfortable going into a new space where we may not know that much about it and say that we’re willing to look at it from a fresh perspective and then invest the tremendous amount of time it takes to go through and learn about it and get comfortable with it.
What drew us to specific opportunities? We were both looking at potentially buy, we haven’t we been upgrading your cars at the same time. And we were looking at EVs and very quickly realized the challenges that you have. And a lot of people say, “Well, if you’re an individual, you in charge it at home, at work,” but then what happens the first time you go somewhere else, and you’re stuck? It’s Thanksgiving, you stuck in a five-hour line, to get your car charged. You only need a few of these experience for it to create a tremendous amount of anxiety for you every time you go to drive it. I know people that were driving back from Tahoe and being in a snowstorm, car is sidelined, you wait a few hours to get a tow truck to pull it, it’s is a horrible experience.
So you don’t want owning a car to add a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety to your life. And realize that this is what this transition to EVs going to be like for a lot of people. And if you can solve this will help the transition, but will also take away the stress that people have. It’s not range anxiety, it’s charging anxiety. It’s what happens when — somebody would give you a car with a 150 mile range, and you’d have no range anxiety because you know when it runs out, you just go to a gas station, fill it up. And we realize that it’s this charging anxiety that people have that if we solve, we’ll make this transition fast and frictionless.
Host Raj Daniels 28:37
Now, in doing research on you for this interview, I came across a couple of quotes. And I thought they’re very interesting. The first one it says, “My co-founder and I connected on this idea of doing things that are very improbable, but possible.” Where does that spirit come from?
John de Souza 28:53
You know, a think part of this is that both of us are immigrants. A lot of life felt that way. Alot of life is that we’d go through and say, things are possible. And we’re very comfortable with improbably. And you know that if you put a lot of work in, you make that improbable slightly less improbable. I can give you a simple example of that. Coming to the US this study was highly improbable. And we didn’t have much money, we couldn’t pay for it. And having come in and study at MIT, at UPenn was highly improbable.
So I think a lot of the time, it’s that if there is a part I’m willing to put in the work, a tremendous amount of work, to find it and make it possible, so I’m very comfortable in that. The one thing I will say that is people looked at — a lot of time when you’re in that zone, a lot of people are telling you it’s not possible and and dissuading you to do. So you need to have the drive that comes from within. Because if you don’t, you’ll give up on this very quickly. So you need, you need to be able to go there and push through practice at the same time. The thing is you also need to continuously reassess it to make sure that you are on the right path. But I think if I were to look at my full life, that part of believing that there is a path in the improbable is something that’s served me really well.
Host Raj Daniels 30:34
The second quote, and I heard you mentioned this on another interview, “How you’re perceived is how you feel.”
John de Souza 30:39
It’s an interesting one. And I’ll tell you, in a way, a lot of times when I’ve gone through and tried to do things people have told me this phrase of, “You’re not one of the tribe.” It’s been, it’s been over and over for different things. We didn’t have much money when you’re in high school, and no, you’re not one of the people with money, you’re applying to colleges. “Who do you think you are?” You could be in the valley, and you’re not one of the insiders there. And so I feel that a lot of life as people going through and telling you that people don’t perceive you in a certain way, that they perceive you differently. So I came up with a — maybe it’s just, in a way to make myself understand it. But I realized that if you work very hard, and you go through, at that level, people are competing on a fair playground, I feel.
Now, if I’m going through and trying to get into MIT and I work really hard, have good grades, I feel it’s pretty fair. I feel where if you have the advantages when you’re not that good. So if I wasn’t willing to work that hard, and I was competing in somebody who was part of the tribe, I would have no chance. They’d choose somebody from the tribe. And so I justified myself at a very young age and said, to completely solve this problem of perception and how people go through it, is to put in the work because in the end, it goes back to you. You want to be so good they can’t ignore you.
And so for me it was putting in the words that they can’t ignore. And I put in a tremendous amount of work to go through and put myself there with the chance to say that they can now go through and see what I can do and judge me based on that.
Host Raj Daniels 32:26
Leads nicely to my next question, which is, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about yourself and your journey?
John de Souza 32:33
In terms of myself, I really do believe it’s wanting to be happy. I’ll say it goes back to what we spoke. I don’t believe in lead life in a set of series journeys. You need to learn to live lives in parallel, and you need to spend your life doing things that you enjoy. If you have an hour of free time, suddenly, what would you use it for? And it tells you a lot about what you value. And I try to align my life.
So I’m working on things that I value, and I enjoy. And that makes everything a lot more fun to do. But also try and do things in parallel. So if I’m going to go and give a talk, if I can take my parents with me, take my children with me and do things in parallel, sort of combine them, it allows you to not postpone living. So thinking about happiness, and in what it is to be happy, and then figure out how you can combine things have been really important to say, “Let me work on things I enjoy. Let me spend it with the people I care about.” And that makes every day really special.
Host Raj Daniels 33:46
So begs the question, if you had an hour of free time, what would you do?
John de Souza 33:51
I do spend a lot of time, old-fashioned, actually talking to people. I’m not as big on messaging as I am on getting on the phone and talking to people. So I do enjoy spending time with people and especially people I care about. It might be, tomorrow’s my aunt in India, she’s going to be 94 or 95, and you have free time getting on the phone and talking to her. You learn so much I think from everything around you. Before I had children, I was thinking, it’s funny you’re thrown into being a parent, and you have no qualifications for being a parent. And that it’s bizarre that for so much of your life, you spend so much time getting trained and being ready for that. But then you’re suddenly thrown into being a parent, and you know nothing about it. So I went through and spent time speaking to probably a couple hundred people over time, learning their experiences, what worked, what didn’t work, and it was a phenomenal insight. So it taught me a lot about parenting in the process. But it also taught me just what you learn from other people. Regardless what they are, everybody has something to teach you. The question is, can you make them comfortable enough to share with you what they want to teach?
Host Raj Daniels 35:15
You know, John, I think we’re very similar in that vein — and my wife might get a little annoyed me sharing this — but prior to getting married, I actually went out, interviewed people that were divorced, single and married, and asked him the questions about why. And I did some back of the napkin research. I know it sounds very analytical. No doubt that I loved her, but I was making huge commitments. I wanted to ensure that I was making a decision based on some data. And same thing with children. You know, we talked a lot of people before we had children. And jokingly nowadays, I tell people, even though I have a 13 year old, I say, Look, we’re still first time parents. So we’re just learning as we go.
John de Souza 35:52
I realize now why grandparents have really enjoyed their grandchildren is, I feel a lot of being a parent is you’re running experiments. By time you get the data back, it’s no longer relevant to you because your children are older. And you’re in this horrible cycle of doing all this stuff. And then you realize it and go, but now I know our five year old, or seven year old, nine year old. By the time you’re grandparent you suddenly have this wealth of information, that is suddenly irrelevant. I think you’re exactly right. You need a way to change that cycle so you actually can get some information that’s useful to you while you need it?
Host Raj Daniels 36:31
It’s funny, because I’ve heard a joke or a saying that says, grandparents and grandchildren share a common enemy. It’s the parent.
John de Souza 36:41
I’m sure my children probably relate.
Host Raj Daniels 36:45
So let’s move into the future. It’s 2030. If Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, pick a publication, were to write a headline about Ample — and I’m sure you’ve done this over strategic sessions — what would you like to read?
John de Souza 37:00
We think across 2030. I hope it is so ubiquitous that you don’t even think twice about it. It’s almost like being a gas station at that point where you’re not going through. If I were to think about what Ample is is that, I think we saw it early. We came up with a solution that worked. And we were stubborn, or persistent enough, to keep on going. We spoke to 245 investors when we did our first round, and most of them told us we were crazy.
I keep on joking that when you always have to look around when someone’s telling you there’s somebody crazy in the room, it might be you. And we definitely had to go back and revisit this multiple times because people told us a long list of reasons why it was technically impossible, why the car companies would never work with us. So when you look at 2030, I hope that then they say that it’s good that the company as a whole was stubborn and persistent enough to go through and chase this down. I really don’t think we’ll get to 2030 and be electric if we don’t solve battery swapping.
Host Raj Daniels 38:16
I agree with you. My last question is, you used a very interesting analogy metaphor earlier from an engineer’s point of view regarding parallel and series. But if you could share some advice, words of wisdom, or recommendation to the audience, what would it be?
John de Souza 38:33
I do think we have been living in a very special time right now. And as mentioned, I’ve done multiple startups. We are at a time where literally, you could pursue anything you wanted, and make a living doing it. That was not true before. And if you look back 10 or 15 years, I spend a lot of time thinking, you’re looking at dreams and understand that there’s a hobby or profession — I actually think right now you could do anything you wanted, do it well, and make a living.
If that is the case, then it’s a time where you need to decide whether you just let inertia be your guide your life or whether you actually want to pursue your dreams. Because you can. There is no reason right now not to do it. And I push to say, with all the resources with all the access that we have, are you ready to sort of take the leap?
Host Raj Daniels 39:26
John, I think “pursue your dreams” is a great place to end. I look forward to your continued success with Ample and catching up with you again soon.
John de Souza 39:34
Thank you very much. I really enjoyed the conversation.
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