PlugSurfing Aims to Connect EV Chargers Across Europe
When Volker Schöch purchased his first electric vehicle, he thought it would be easy to charge his car. Instead, he discovered that using charging stations in Germany is an expensive and inconvenient process.
“Basically to get around, you need from tens to hundreds of different contracts with different providers that have different authentication methods,” Schöch said. “You cannot support hundreds of contracts with monthly fees. You need a solution that either doesn’t have a monthly fee, or (one that) works for all the available charging stations.”
That’s where PlugSurfing comes in. PlugSurfing is an app that provides users with a single platform to locate and access charging stations. The service allows users to charge at any participating station—including those run by RWE and Vattenfall, two large utility companies in Germany—and pay with just one bill.
Before the Berlin-based startup launched its platform, EV owners in Germany either had to use the same charging provider or complete different authentication processes, some of which could take weeks to complete, according to Schöch.
“All I need to do now when traveling abroad is look up where I could charge and make sure that PlugSurfing works and that’s it,” says Schöch, who’s now a PlugSurfing customer.
PlugSurfing’s Challenge Cup Success
PlugSurfing now operates throughout Europe, but the startup has serious U.S. ties: It was an energy winner at the inaugural Challenge Festival last May.
According to Adam Woolway, PlugSurfing cofounder, European startups face obstacles when it comes to U.S. expansion. Once they have a product, the next step is U.S. exposure—but it’s not necessarily easy to do.
That’s why he decided to compete in last year’s Challenge Cup at Betahaus in Berlin.
“When you have someone like 1776 who’ll come to your city, you should take that opportunity,” Woolway said. “It’s sort of a local way of making a first step to a global market, and that was really good for us.”
When the startup competed in Berlin, they had just established a database with the location of all the charging stations in Germany. After winning the energy category of the Challenge Cup in Berlin, the race was on to develop a complete product in time for the inaugural Challenge Festival.
“We had to develop a whole billing system in order to make business deals with all the energy providers in Europe, so that we could gain access to their charging points,” Woolway said. “We just had to work and be very focused for nine months or so to get this product onto the market.”
All the hard work paid off: With a product in hand, the company went on to win the energy category in last year’s Challenge Festival. The win provided PlugSurfing’s team with the resources they needed to thrive. When Woolway went to European investors, he could show that the startup already was backed by American money–which compelled the European VCs to invest as well.
“It’s definitely helpful in terms of company valuation,” Woolway said. “I don’t think I could really even calculate how helpful it’s been.”
What’s Next for PlugSurfing
PlugSurfing is now available in five different countries, including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. This year, they hope to expand to cover all of Europe. As they expand, though, the distinctive geographical layout of Europe has challenged the PlugSurfing team to navigate cultural and linguistic barriers.
“One thing that we’ve had to do is really learn how to deal with Dutch people, with German people, with French people, with British people,” Woolway said. “We’re all on the same continent, we all live close together, but really we’re completely different.”
While expanding across borders may be challenging, Woolway said the demand and market for EVs has increased since he and cofounder Jacob van Zonneveld launched PlugSurfing.
“The question was always: Are electric vehicles going to be there in the future?” Woolway said. “Now that’s not the question anymore. The question is: When are they going to come, and how big are they going to be?”
Reflecting over his overall Challenge Cup experience and development process Woolway says it was all worth it.
“It’s really hard work, Woolway said. “But in the end, you look back on it and it’s really rewarding because we created this product and we’re still in the market leading with that.”