OBE Power was on a roll. In February, the energy startup had been installing its electric vehicle charging stations at a fast clip, it had just hired a CTO from Apple, and was in the middle of a capital raise. The company had enjoyed 36 straight months of revenue growth.
And then, COVID-19 showed up and ruined the party.
In an instant, it seemed, everything changed for the growing small business. Revenue dropped by some 80% in March. The conversations founder and CEO Alejandro Burgana was having with investors had to be put on hold.
OBE Power owns and operates an electric vehicle charging network and offers EV charging-as-a service at convenient locations with high levels of demand. It contracts with companies, multi-family communities and municipal governments. Its sister company, Brickell Energy, sells, installs and maintains the charging stations.
“We are accelerating the transition to e-mobility by building a smart and distributed ecosystem of EV charging stations at convenient locations where most EV drivers live, work, play and learn,” Burgana explains. “By working with municipalities, parking authorities, universities, developers and property management companies, we are the leading EV charging network in South Florida and the fastest-growing owned and operated network in the state.”
Burgana and the team are passionate about clean energy and doing their part in creating a sustainable world by reducing the footprint of transportation, so the companies’ survival was job one. In April, OBE Power and Brickell Energy put in place a COVID resiliency plan.
OBE Power cut its expansion rate in half, from its pre-COVID clip when the company was activating one new charging station every other day. It was already operating lean, but found ways to burn even 60% less cash during the months that would follow as it worked with vendors on executing the resiliency plan. “It was either that or shutting the door, and of course we didn’t want to do that,” said Burgana, who over the years has used the services of Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business.
At the same time, resiliency is about adapting a business model to a changing world.
OBE Power contracted with workplaces, but if people are no longer going to the office and they’re all working from home, at least for the time being, did that make sense? “So we put all the workplace projects on hold and we emphasized and tried to close with municipalities and multifamily condominiums and that’s pretty much what we’re doing now,” Burgana said
It worked. “The good news is we are now holding to our projections for our resiliency plan,” said Burgana. “We are recovering our revenue levels. We will be back where we were in February this year.”
What’s more, throughout the COVID-19 crisis, OBE Power and Brickell Energy retained their employees and electrical contractors. “We didn’t lose a single contract, a single customer or a single member of our team,” Burgana said.
What were the keys to success in the resiliency plan?
A shared commitment to success among the team: “We all demonstrated that high capacity to adapt and to be flexible and to cope with the circumstances.”
Communication with vendors and customers: “We maintained good payment terms or we negotiated better payment terms. We also communicated with each one of our host properties to make sure that they were safe and that the charging stations were operating properly.”
Flexibility and understanding. Getting inside properties for installations was difficult, and some installations had to be put off months until the host property was comfortable.
Said Burgana: “When you take into consideration all of these elements, we managed to stay alive and at the same time to grow in the process.”
Selling has accelerated again, including a string of new contracts with South Florida condominiums and apartment communities for new charging stations. Also recently, through a competitive process, OBE Power won and executed a grant agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to install EV fast charging stations in rest areas along the. I 75 Highway, particularly in the Naples region. Through the grant agreement, the agency will cover up to 75% of all the project costs.
What’s ahead? In the next few months, OBE Power is planning to resume fund-raising to fuel the expansion of charging assets as well as further development of its technologies platform. It sees fertile ground to expand beyond its home base in South Florida, throughout the rest of the state and the Southeast, where there are fewer charging stations than other areas of the country.
READ MORE STORIES OF COVID RESILIENCY ON GROWBIZ