Paul Francis is the CEO of KIGT. KIGT is described as the Apple of charging stations. Sleek, with great attention paid to UI, these chargers put a sexy spin on an otherwise pretty utilitarian device – a charger for your EV. More on that on our sister site CleanTechnica, if you’re interested.
In addition to duties as CEO, Francis is the California Chapter Vice President of the American Association of Black in Energy (AABE), a reader of 65+ books annually, and still finds time to meditate daily.
Recently, I “sat down” with Paul (COVID style, of course, via Google hangout) to discuss entrepreneurialism, EVs, the intersection of race and clean tech, and one of Paul’s favorite topics, V2G.
Francis’s EV fire was ignited in 2009, while running the startup, the acronym of which then stood for Keep It Green Transit. KIGT was helping move people around in southern California, but as gas started getting expensive, Francis started getting much more interested in EVs. KIGT at the time was reselling Chargepoint, and Francis saw an opportunity to pivot into the charging space with lower upfront costs and with Demand Response and Vehicle2Grid technology in mind.
SC: What makes KIGT special?
PF: It’s our focus on the user experience. By focusing on UI/UX, we’re trying to make it easier and more appealing for people to use chargers. And style – a good looking charger will really help. As an industry, it seems we haven’t really figured it out – we’re still using industrial components. I don’t know how we forget this in the energy industry – people still do make purchases on style and fun.
SC: So the charger is…
PF: Think of it as the Apple of charging stations.
SC: And the thought is, this will help with adoption on a mass scale?
PF: Absolutely. There’s not nearly enough home chargers being sold.
[Digression: At this point, Francis ran me through the sales numbers…suffice to say, he knows his industry really well and is painfully aware of how many more home chargers will be needed to revolutionize transport.]
SC: How do we increase the pace?
PF: It’s about changing habits. If everyone had a gas pump at their house, they’d never go get fuel. It’s a new habit and mindset to start charging from home. Somehow the connection is missing that people can just plug in at home.
SC: You’re a V2G enthusiast. In theory, vehicles connected to the grid can help with demand response, so long as there’s a two way flow of electricity, and permission all around. As the demand spikes in the after work hours, and solar output ramps down, the ability for the grid to pull energy from plugged in vehicles and later return it when wind energy ramps up in the night time hours will allow more decommissioning of fossil plants. It’s a pretty awesome concept – what is it that really excites you about it?
PF: The people literally will have the power. In Africa, where millions still don’t have access to light, let alone internet and the access to education that comes with steady electricity, many kids do their homework under the streetlights. With V2G, you can get billions of people access to education, with all the ramifications for careers, etc. In 2013, we demonstrated that we could power 1/3 of the parking lot lights with one car. KIGT is partnering with UC Riverside to understand this better, where 1 MW grid tied storage on site is allowing KIGT to test out time of use pricing with V2G.
SC: As a black CEO, how has your journey been influenced by race?
PF: I would go to conferences and usually be the only black man in the room. In pitches, I felt judges were telling me I wasn’t the right CEO, more or less saying I needed some gray hair. Instead of asking questions about the company, judges would suggest all the answers, assuming we hadn’t thought of those things or tried them, or were working on them. At VERGE two years ago, in the happy hour after a day’s sessions, one fellow told me, “You made it, you’re here.” And my thought was, “where’s here? The cocktail party?” When it comes down to it, less than 2% of VC funding goes to black entrepreneurs. For investors to trust me to write us a big check, I have to not only be real and have a great investable company, but I have to also overcome that deck that’s stacked against us historically. I will say that we are getting a diversity certification, which hopefully will start to become an advantage for some bigger contracts. We’ll see.