Neil Patel

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In the bustling heart of Los Angeles, Salim Youssefzadeh’s journey from an avid outdoor enthusiast and pilot to the visionary founder of WattEV has been nothing short of remarkable. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Salim’s adventures, academic pursuits, and entrepreneurial drive that led him to shape the future of transportation through sustainability.

His venture, WattEV attracted grants and funding from top-tier investors like Apollo, Vitol, the State of California, and Automobility.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • The journey from outdoor enthusiast to WattEV founder showcases a passion for problem-solving and a commitment to constant learning.
  • The birth of WattEV emerged from extensive research during the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting focus from hydrogen to battery electric technology for sustainable transportation.
  • WattEV doesn’t just provide depots but also operates a transportation division and Truck as a Service offering, creating a holistic ecosystem for efficient zero-emission freight movement.
  • WattEV tackles industry challenges with micro-grids, future-proof charging equipment, and close collaboration with truck manufacturers, aiming for Megawatt charging levels.
  • Securing $60 million in grants and successfully closing seed and series A rounds with major infrastructure developers like Apollo and Vitol propels WattEV’s vision forward.
  • The shift towards zero-emission trucks aligns with a growing global awareness of climate change, with WattEV starting conversations with shippers to create a sustainable freight ecosystem.
  • Apollo and Vitol’s involvement accelerates WattEV’s growth, enabling faster site deployments and scaling up their fleet of electric trucks to meet sustainability goals.


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    About Salim Youssefzadeh:

    Salim Youssefzadeh is the CEO and Co-Founder of WattEV with a mission to speed up the transition of US trucking transport into zero emission faster than anyone could expect.

    WattEV uses a combination of business and technology innovation to create infrastructure and data-driven workflow that provides truckers and fleet operators with the lowest total cost of ownership.

    Outside of WattEV, Salim founded Smarter Home and designed a device from the ground up to connect to a Vantage Legrand system with Siri and Alexa capability.

    The custom javascript runs on a Node JS server and reads the loads on a user’s vantage system. From there, commands over Siri or Alexa are translated into a TCP/IP command sent over the network.

    The iOS and Android app adds a simple plug-and-play setup for the user to add the device to their home network and get running.

    The project has been a great learning experience for Salim, not just in the technical sense of learning new iOS and Android protocols over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but also on the management side, bringing up a startup from nothing to launch in a few months.

    Salim spends his free time writing apps for iOS and Android and is an active private pilot with an instrument rating and over 300 hours of aeronautical experience in single-engine aircraft.

    Salim graduated from UCLA (2011) with a BS in Electrical Engineering with an emphasis on Computer Science and a BS in Applied Mathematics and graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (2014) with an MS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA.

    Salim is an avid skier, rock climber, and pilot, which has continuously pushed his limits and facilitated his problem-solving abilities. He looks forward to the many new challenges and opportunities that each day presents.

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    Connect with Salim Youssefzadeh:

    Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

    Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a really exciting founder. You know a founder that you know he’s gonna really tell us about a a rocket ship that he’s building and damn you know he’s definitely gonna walk us through how he started the company. You know how he also learned a bunch of lessons. You know when he came to infrastructure as well as scaling up the business. So again, a very inspiring episode that we have ahead of us so without farther do let’s welcome our guest today Salim youefa they welcome to the show. So originally born in.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Thanks so much for having me alan real great to be here.

    Alejandro Cremades: The La area give yourself walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Ah, life was good I mean spent most of my time in the outdoors. Loved everything about the outdoors I’ll go hiking a lot skiing. So everything you know, fishing hiking and then grew up in pals for area in Los Angeles born and raised here. Ended up going to Ucla for undergrad getting ah ° there and then after that went to grad school and san lusa vibo for 2 master’s degrees. But yeah I mean I love problem solving and challenges. So. There’s lots that have come out for that.

    Alejandro Cremades: And what? what? what brought you into engineering into problem solving in first place.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, it’s sort sort of something that that I was always interested in I mean I you know the the double masters in the tulo majors sort of spread from that desire to just constantly keep on learning and that’s one of the motos that I follow I mean I started electrical engineering and undergrad and added an applied math. Major. And same thing in grad school I started with a masters and decided the Mba on top of that. Um, also I I got a pilot’s license when I was living up in the bay working up there and and you know 1 thing about flying is that it’s really, ah, a license to learn. It’s ah you know it’s a hobby that there’s always. You know something to stay proficient and learn about and I love being in that position and you know that’s also one of the things that’s so exciting about watty v is that there’s so much to learn in in this industry and so much room for improvement.

    Alejandro Cremades: And we’ll get into what I mean just a little bit now after school you know, getting all the degrees. Basically you ventured into being an engineer and doing a few things here and there so so tell us about what was that experience. You know, being a software engineer.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Correct.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Yes, I mean right? after grad school I transitioned into hgst which is a subsidi of western digital working as a software engineer I was there for about 2 years just you know on day-to-day basis doing programming. But. You know I I still had that entrepreneurship mindset of wanting to do more rather than just becoming a programmer. So after about 2 years I transitioned to a project management role at global ip which is a company that was on a mission to provide internet services for sub-saharan Africa. So that the project was more and involved on you know, creating a satellite with partnership with Boeing and and working with Spacex to launch the satellite and was there for about 2 years before migrating on to the next transition of of you know, tinkering around with with smart home automation. And creating a voice control device that works alongside vantage which is a a fairly well-known smart home toolkit but didn’t really offer any availability on on future proof of side of that of having voice control. Um, so I really just created that out of my own hobby and then. Decide. How could I you know sell it make a business out of it and and give it to so many others that are probably seeking the same thing that I was.

    Alejandro Cremades: So then obviously you know at this time you know too you were doing like you were saying your your site projects. So how do the site projects. You know all of a sudden you know, get you into the venture world.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, it stems from that problem solving mentality right? I’ll always looking at new opportunities and seeing how to create a new efficiency or a new opportunity out of it and you know myself my background isn’t in the transportation industry. But after you know a tremendous amount of research sort of created the idea of Watty V and and getting into electrification of the transport industry.

    Alejandro Cremades: So then so then tell us about you know, like how things came about you know with Wadi v.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Yeah, so watery v actually started with a lot of research in early Twenty twenty during the covid days where everybody was still stuck at home and stumbled upon an article on hydrogen and how it claimed to be the fuel of the future and offered. You know at that time advantages over electric trucks. So for instance, those advantages were faster fuel time lower weight and and probably more mileage but the the more research we dug into it in terms of you know, creating pure green hydrogen. Ah, prove to be a lot more costly, right? So if you look at how hydrogen is made today. The traditional method is using steam methode or forming which is by no means a clean way of creating hydrogen. So if you’re really going into you know truck collecterification and zero emissions the idea is to be as clean as possible. And to create green hydrogen you have to go through a process called electrolysis. Um, so at that point I was evaluating taking a property into development in the mojave area which is known for large solar deployments and you know creating a solar field that was dedicated to creating green hydrogen with the process of electrolysis. But that is a ah, very costly investment and then when it comes down to the storage and transportation of hydrogen that is also a very you know, costly additive. Um, and then we started you know, looking back at electrification and and and the battery electric realm and started seeing the the advancements in technology there with.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: You know the higher density batteries as well as megawatt charging which is significantly faster charging than what we see today with Ccs chargers and realize that long-term battery electric will still probably win and so started off with that mentality looked at you know the type of. Electric trucks that exist today and the opportunities that are available and how we can develop a business model out of it and then how we can scale it up to that next level of technology to have Benggawatt charging available as stations and have much more rapid charging electric trucks.

    Alejandro Cremades: So I guess for the people that are listening now um to really get it. What ended up being what Ev How do you guys make money to.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Yeah, so so wadivi’s vision was to really make it a lot more easy for shippers and carriers to get into 0 emissions Offerings. We wanted to become the main infrastructure provider initially of 0 emissions transportation. But you know after Creating. Um, or after starting development of Depots. We realized that we can’t just have depots that are sittingtting there idle and sort of created our own transportation. Ah company to act as the offtaker of those Depots. So the way that wadib makes money is that one all of our depots. Make money off of selling energy. But we also have our own transportation and ah division where we haul freight for a lot of the shippers using 0 Oissions Trucks. So the offering to the shippers is very simple. They can get into sustainability and meet their sustainability goals much faster. Without putting any of the upfront costs themselves. We just simply go to them and and start hauling freight for them and allow them to to meet their esg goals but the other offering is to the owner operators and carriers and a lot of the owner operators are smaller carriers that can’t necessarily afford an electric truck that costs. On average 4 times as much as a new diesel truck and they also can’t afford to put infrastructure in the ground or don’t have you know and sufficient power available to them at their locations to have infrastructure so our offering to them is is more of a truck as a service solution where we offer an electric truck.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: All inclusive of the vehicle maintenance damage insurance and ah charging a lot of fixed price per month on routes that we have already tested ourselves within the Southern California region so ah initially our market is more on the drage and Middle Mile focused in Southern California and then as we start, we’re rolling out more depots along California and other locations that are adopting similar mandates we can scale up and then all of our sites are also designed with future proof technology to help get from current technology to the next generation.

    Alejandro Cremades: So I guess a to how were the early days like and what was it like you know to go out and and do the proofing of sites and and things like that.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Yeah I mean at the very beginning when we you know first created watty v and and started working on our our first site which was in Bakersfield hesitation was that we were too early, but the more momentum we gathered the more grants we were able to. Procure and the more momentum we got with you know the the customers we realized that we were right on time of anything we were leading the industry and the the feedback has been very positive and we’ve been fortunate to be very successful in the grant funding. We’ve got a site that that’s operational in the port of long beach. That has the capability of charging 26 class 8 heavy duty trucks at once and then we’ve got other sites coming online soon in the inland empire were in a valley vernon bakers field area as well as ah, a network of sites that um, really electrify corridors. So the whole I five quarter that goes from the border of San Diego all the way up to Northern California we’ve ah identified sites procured 1 site in Sacramento that was recently awarded a ah $30000000 grant to build out the next level of of charging stations. And not all all of our charging stations are alike so there’s a lot of metrics that go into developing the infrastructure. Um, some of the challenges face theres is on you know, power availability ah bakersfield for instance is a site that we wanted to model.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: To a traditional truck stop. So a traditional truck stop is able to charge or fuel 200 trucks a day and when you convert that to electricity and and the demand needed that comes out to around twenty five Megawatts of power and getting that power from utilities is. Pretty difficult and can take years to get that power so Baker’s field we started testing the ability to have micro-grids and that’s a site that is one hundred and fifteen acres where we can have one ah hundred acres dedicated to solar to have twenty five Megawatts of capacity to charge electric trucks using our micro-grid. Um, that’s obviously going to be built in the stages as the demand picks up so the first stage is going to be five Megawatts of solar with the three megawatt hours of battery storage dedicated to chargers that are operating exclusively on the ah distributed energy resources and we also have a dedicated set of chargers that are on utilities. So having these sort of you know new innovations and new models helps test this and then on the equipment side of things. We’ve also created our own subsidiary company called charge America that procures and develops its own charging equipment so that we stay ahead of the current market. And you know the the reason why we created that is really that we saw a lack in in when where that technology was going and the speed of which we were going to get to that technology so chargermaker is helping really push that forward with the the next generation of of chargers which can accommodate both.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Current charging which is done using ccs at a rate of about two hundred and forty Kilowatts and the next level of technology which is megawatt charging which is a completely different connector different charge rates different cooling levels on the trucks but can charge at twelve hundred Kilowatts and can bring your charge time from 2 to 3 hours down to about 30 to 45 minutes which is nearly equivalent to a traditional truck stop.

    Alejandro Cremades: So I guess hey to for something like this, you need the capital as well and 1 thing that you guys did you know early on was raising money from grants. So how much money do you guys raise from grants and then.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, because it’s definitely work.

    Alejandro Cremades: And then also I mean how did you got? How were you able to be so successful at getting you know that amount of money from grants.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Yeah, it was really you know not only just grants but also a lot of ah capital that went in from our own side so we had um in early 2021 July 2021 timef frameme. We closed our seed round which was led by ah canon equity for. Ah, total of $6000000 and at that time we had also raised about 5000000 in a combination of 2 energy commission grants from california for our bakers field site to build out the ah battery storage systems as well as the charting systems. Um, and then as we started gaining moment and we got. Or more and more grants and to date. We’ve raised about 60000000 in grant funding. But again I mean that’s not 60000000 that comes to wadib’s bake account immediately right? I mean there’s sort of ah a delay period of when you can collect on those grants I mean some of some of those grants are based off of invoices. So you have to spend the money to get the money and then some of them are also after completion of a site and six months of of data collection. So there’s sort of that buffer period that you need before you can start collecting on your grants. But there’s also a lot of incentives that go towards truck procurement right? So an electric truck. Comparison is about you know half a million dollars compared to an like a diesel truck which is about you know anywhere between 150 to $200000 so that’s a huge gap in in cost. Um, and so you know having the ability to to tap into grant funding to really bring down that cost.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Really helps us gain an edge and and create an offering That’s nearly our part with diesel.

    Alejandro Cremades: So What about now? Um, you know you guys have a recently you know also raised money from um, some of the biggest private equity firms out there I mean we’re talking in the huds hundreds of millions without disclosing anything here because we don’t want to get anyone into trouble but in the hundreds of Millions. You know what was that experience to you know, raising money from private Equity. You know that type of profile as well.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: It definitely wasn’t easy I mean I can tell you that we raised money in a time that a lot of people were struggling to do so and the kind of conversation started early January of 2023 and and we were very happy to close our. Ah, series a around in November of 2023 so it was definitely a long time in the making and and was a long process but we’re very happy to announce that you know our series a closed with the 2 of the largest infrastructure developers apollo and vital. And which have offered tremendous amount of support and and will continue to do so to help us. You know, get from where we are today to having you know another 40 sites online and to someday having 400 sites online across the nation.

    Alejandro Cremades: So how how does the operation change when you have like private equity firms involved now.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, the operation fortunately hasn’t changed too much There’s obviously a lot more involvement which is not always a bad thing. It’s also you know good to have involvement from Apollo and be tall with the the amount of of of strength that they bring to the company. They’ve opened up a lot of doors for us. Vitol is is very is one of the actually largest users of of b y d truck so they’ve been able to help conversations on that end of seeing whered is with their current technology and what it takes to get towards. Ah, truck. That’s capable of charging at Megawatt Levels Apollo also has a very strong backing on on you know the infrastructure side and where they come from so they’ve been very helpful there. But it’s it’s really you know I think the biggest difference is that it allowed us to move a lot faster right? I mean for for. You know the entire operational period before series a we had to be very confident, cautious of how we spend our money and and be able to stretch it a long way and now having you know our series a behind us. We can move a lot faster to get to having more and more sites online and and scaling from the trucks that we have online today to. You know several hundred trucks online within the end of the year

    Alejandro Cremades: So for raising you know the money and getting incredible investors like that involved I mean obviously there needs to be a vision right? So when we’re thinking about the vision imagine you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of what Ev is fully realized. What does that world look like.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: It’s a world where you start seeing 0 mission strikes almost daily on the road right? I mean I am fortunate to travel. Um, you know on the seven ten freeway which is probably one of the the busiest. Ah, freeways used by trucks today and these are trucks that most of the time go from the port to in the empire and you can see the amount of pollution. You can see the amount of freight halt and having a world where all of those are electric trucks charging at the port or other depots. Really puts that division into picture and you’re you’re removing tons of co 2 emissions on a yearly basis and and helping shippers and carriers reach their sustainability goals. Um, so you know having a world that where trucks are are you know, not ah you know one in one hundred trucks. But. Every truck as an electric truck is is the future that we’d like to see.

    Alejandro Cremades: Now when when we’re thinking now obviously about bringing me money in. You know you got to also think about scaling the operation right? because now you’re fueling. You know this thing to to go much faster on the operational site. So I guess what have you learned when it comes to scaling things up.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, try yeah.

    Alejandro Cremades: So far.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Sure. Yeah, so just you know to give you a bit of a perspective in the port of l a and long beach. There are 30000 trucks registered to go inside those ports and those 30000 trucks predominantly are are operated by owner operators either smaller smaller fleets. Um. So ah to go from you know thirty Thousand Trucks diesel trucks to 30000 electric trucks is definitely not easy. There’s a number of challenges from again going into the utility where you’re going to find that amount of power to charge 30000 trucks to the cost of those trucks. How are you going to bring down the cost of those to to. Be able to get them in the hands of operators without relying on grants because eventually grants will run out. It’s a matter of of when so that’s definitely one of those models that you have to to account for um fortunately for us in California there is an abundance of. Grants and mandates to help both on bringing the cost down as well as encouraging the users to start adopting those but in terms of the lessons learned again. Long beach was the first site that we were able to get online. That’s a site that has ah five Megawatts of power and the ability to charge 26 trucks concurrently. But you know the the ability to scale comes on the the challenge of reducing the charge time so to to go from. You know a 2 to 3 hour charge time on current technology trucks down to about a 30 minute charge time

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Is what we see as being the need for success and for us we see that happening and in probably late 2024 Twenty Twenty five timeframe as the inflection Point. So today. We’ve we’ve already created prototypes of the charging Equipment. We have you know a prototype of the mewa charger out a facility. And are in close communication with a lot of the manufacturers of trucks to see what it takes to create a a megawatt capable vehicle and then on on you know the site procurement where we’re always staying ahead. Always communicating with utilities to see what sites have power um and creating our. You know, just site roadmap to to map out from going From. You know the the Dr and the middle mile to being able to go towards long haul freight.

    Alejandro Cremades: So so the other thing that thing that I like to ask you here. Is you know, let’s talk about consciousness because obviously you know climate change now that the way that people think about it is really.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, then.

    Alejandro Cremades: You know, incredible compared to where people thought about it. You know some years ago and I think that there’s even more and more consciousness around this. So how do you I mean I find that one of the critical things about being a founder tool of of a hypergrowth company is being at the right time in history.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Then.

    Alejandro Cremades: How do you think it has helped you guys you know getting the wind you know, blowing behind your back to on this.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Yeah, it’s a very good question I mean a lot of the conversations we have actually starts with the shippers. So these are the guys that have the freight that need to be moved and you know sure California has mandates to sort of force. It. Both on the truck acquisition side through things like the advanced clean truck and the advanced clean fleet rule but really a lot of the conversations start with shippers because those are the ones that have the sustainability goals have these esg goals that they’re trying to meet and they’re willing to to see what it takes to have their load moved with 0 emissions. Good. And by having by starting the conversations with that end customer. You can figure out how you can create that full ecosystem picture of okay I’ve got the freight now. How do I match it with the carriers. How do I match it with the owner operators so that they can start moving that freight with our 0 mission truck offering through truck as a service.

    Alejandro Cremades: And then also how difficult is to put together the infrastructure you know for something like this for what you guys are dealing with with what evi How tough is that and what are some of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way with it.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, yeah, so so infrastructure definitely takes time some of the challenges are permitting and some of it is is dealing with utilities and and procurement of equipment. Um, long beach I can tell you that took fourteen months from when we got site control to getting that online and that is actually record timing for a lot of cases. I mean there’s some sites that are still stuck with years of of work already done and still don’t have any power. Um, so that’s definitely one of the challenges. And some of the lessons learned is that a lot of the cost that goes into infrastructure is what you don’t see. It’s the amount of conduits and wiring. That’s all buried underground so coming up with solutions to how you can you know minimize that amount of labor through things like having a prefabricated system or um. Having ways to to improve. So you’re not you know, dependent on switch gear or transformers can oftentimes help and I can tell you one of the products that that we’re working on with our our subsidiary company charge America is is having charging of equipment that operates at medium voltage and in that case, you’re really. Um, reducing amount of the the cost right? So and in 1 case, you’re removing the transformer you’re removing the switch gear. So a utility come directly at medium voltage to give you power and be able to charge there other sides of infrastructure is is like I had mentioned with distributed energy resources.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, in some cases. The utility may say that there isn’t power available and it may take years before they can upgrade the distribution lines so having things to to offset those costs with or offset those delays with the battery and storage battery storage and solar can oftentimes help but on the flipside of that is is the Grant funding. And we right now rely on Grant funding to really bring down those costs. Um, obviously as you start scaling you expect the the economies that scale to bring down the cost of the equipment as well as the costs of the the trucks and and that’s why we’re having those conversations now with you know the truck manufacturers. To see what it takes to get to a truck that’s capable at the Megawatt charging level and be able to deliver on you know Thousand plus units of those.

    Alejandro Cremades: So Let’s say I was to put you now sallim into a time machine and I bring you back in time I bring you back in time to maybe that moment that you were thinking about doing something of your own and let’s say you had the opportunity of having a sit down with that younger Salim. In giving that younger Salim one piece of advice for launching a business. What would that be NY given what you know now.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Um, launching a business is definitely not easy. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of you know loss of sleep. But you know one of the things I say is is stay at it. Don’t give up I mean there is light at the end of the tunnel. There’s going to be days where you. Feel like you’re just getting run over and beat up by everybody around you but always being able to pull through and and you know being able to to work with others to to find the solution and find ways to path forward will always help and and and yeah, know that’s one of the things that I’ve seen with watig is that. And when we started this company There’s definitely a lot of work that went into convincing myself that it is viable and it is a good business opportunity. Um, and then it came down to making sure that it can make the company succeed and you know to to make a company succeed. It’s 2 things 1 is having the vision. And the second is having the team but I mean having the team to come in and and that really believes in in the vision of the company and is there to to push things forward both on the infrastructure the development side the operation side and I’ve been very fortunate to grow the company. We’ve got about 30 employees now and are growing pretty rapidly. And the the team has helped tremendously in in getting the company to where it is today.

    Alejandro Cremades: I Love it So Salim for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Yeah, so they can reach out directly on the website or they can email at info at wattyv.com

    Alejandro Cremades: You see enough. Well Salim. Thank you so much for being on the deal maker show. It has been an honor to have you with us today.

    Salim Youssefzadeh: Happy to be here. Thanks so much.

    *****

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