Charlie Jardine is probably the only Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur who launched his business in a pig shed. In 2015, he converted a barn on his grandfather’s Suffolk farm and began to develop his first product – an electric-vehicle (EV) charger. From there, things accelerated quickly.
Charlie explains how it all began: “After university, I moved to London and, long story short, did a couple of jobs which I hated. In 2013, I bumped into a chap whose company makes EV-charging stations. He offered me a job, which I did for 18 months. I fell in love with the industry and became super-excited about where the market was heading. I’d always been a car fan but until then I’d been sceptical about EVs. That job turned me into a fanatic!”
Fired up, the 28-year-old quit employment to take control of his destiny. “Everyone in my family is a business owner, so it wasn’t going to be long before I wanted to launch my own company,” he says. “There aren’t going to be many times in my life when I will see an industry completely transform before my eyes. I wasn’t just going to sit still and work for someone else. Before petrol, we relied on horse and cart. Now, electric vehicles are about to take over.”
Throughout 2015, Charlie and the team toiled away in his grandfather’s former pig shed, developing not only an EV-charging box but the software that operates it too. The following year he was ready to launch, and EO Charging – which stands for ‘electricity online’ – was born. Its chargers immediately found a market: “Since 2016, we’ve sold 15,000 chargers into over 30 countries. The UK accounts for 40% of our sales but other key markets include Norway, Australia and Central Europe. We also export as far away as Israel and Malaysia. The business has grown fast organically.”
To speed up the organic growth, in 2018, Charlie secured £13m of funding from Zouk Capital. Around £3m went into the business – on people, systems and technology. The remaining £10m was allocated to financing large charging infrastructure projects. “We make chargers and charging software, but we also install and service them, “says Charlie. “If you’re a fleet operator you’re going to need plenty of charging points, and they’ll all need installation and ongoing maintenance. To reduce any significant upfront investment, we’re able to spread this cost over a longer period of time.”
However, meeting the needs of individual consumers is essential to EO Charging, too. And Charlie presents an exciting vision of the future, with his company central to our power needs. “We see EVs as part of a bigger picture,” he says. “What’s rapidly developing is a new energy ecosystem consisting of renewable power sources combined with EVs and static-battery storage, underpinned by a ‘smart grid’. Our chargers and future products will give customers the ability to re-power not only their vehicles but their house too – cleanly and cheaply.”
Charlie gives examples of what EO products can do. He says: “You can tell the EO Smart Home app that you want to charge your car to 100% power by 7am tomorrow. The app will work out the cheapest time to charge your vehicle, which is probably around midnight, and do that for you.
“We’re also working on a vehicle-to-grid system. That will enable you to take power out of your car and put it into your home, or back into the grid in exchange for money. Imagine having solar panels on your roof, a stationary battery in your garage, an EO charger, and an EV. You get into your car at 8am and drive to work; the sun comes out and generates electricity, which is stored in your home battery. You come home and plug in. The electricity you’ve generated during the day can power your house and/or your car. If it’s cloudy and your home battery runs low on energy, you could use your EV to top up your battery and power your home. Or you could even send your excess energy to the grid and get paid for it.”
Such ideas excite and inspire Charlie, and he loves his role at EO. However, success always comes with challenges, and the EV market is dynamic, competitive and full of potential pitfalls. How does an entrepreneur who’s not yet 30 deal with the stresses of such a tough sector? “I used to worry a lot, but I’ve got past that now,” he says. “I’ve done too much worrying! It’s an exciting space – lots of people want to enter the market aggressively. But our job is to focus on EO and – to some extent – ignore what others are doing. The market is growing exponentially, and if we own just a small part of the cake, we will be very successful.”
Charlie believes that one way to ensure longevity is to build an aspirational lifestyle brand. He explains: “Having a brand people trust is vital because it gives you long-term protection. At some point, the hardware and software will become commoditised. What you’re left with is a brand. We want to build a lifestyle brand that people can really engage with and buy in to.”
Aged just 28, Charlie has built a company with massive growth potential in a market that can only go one way. Electric vehicles are set to dominate global transport, and EO Charging is in a strong position to make hay. Great businesses often have humble beginnings. The old pig shed in Suffolk where EO Charging spent its first year could well have witnessed the birth of a future giant…