Designing portable energy solutions: Arcady Sosinov
Arcady Sosinov is the CEO and co-founder of FreeWire Technologies, makers of portable charging and power stations made with second-life batteries for charging electric vehicles. He is a graduate of the Haas School of Business, where he explored his passions around the automotive and clean energy sectors. Prior to FreeWire, Arcady had years of experience in quantitative analysis in the hedge fund industry, most recently focusing on emerging markets equities. FreeWire Technologies is part of the Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Program, which helps entrepreneurs and startups making a positive impact in the world get to market faster through access to free software, training, events, and co-marketing opportunities.
Tell us about yourself and your journey from being a student to the CEO of FreeWire Technologies.
I’ve spent a lifetime thinking about clean energy, having been born at the precipice of one of the worst energy disasters of our generation. My family and I are from a small town in the Ukraine, barely 50km outside of Chernobyl. My father helped with the recovery efforts, but it took almost five years to leave that place and immigrate to the US. I spent my time at Berkeley exploring those desires to help the clean energy economy flourish. Mixing in my passion for the automotive industry, I decided that electric vehicles would be my primary focus. Out of that idea, and out of hundreds of customer interviews, FreeWire Technologies was founded.
What inspired you to create and launch FreeWire Technologies?
Several years ago when FreeWire was formed, it was easy to spot one of the megatrends of our generation, which is the shift from fossil fuels to electrification in the transportation industry. Regulations, clean air policies, and consumer behavior are moving in the right direction, but there still exists a major barrier before electrified transport reaches a tipping point. Based on several hundred interviews with relevant stakeholders, we found that many were concerned about the inaccessibility of charging stations. Charging station accessibility (and availability) is inherently an infrastructure problem, and thus the Mobi Charger was born. Instead of needing 1 outlet for each car, our technology allows you to charge 10 cars using that same outlet. It also saves on energy costs by shifting consumption from daytime to nighttime, when rates are lower. What’s more, by reusing electric vehicle batteries to build our systems, we solved a major business and environmental issue for automotive manufacturers. Our battery-backed EV chargers require less power infrastructure, save thousands in energy costs, and can be placed in more areas, making charging more accessible for EV drivers.
What’s your entrepreneurship process like? How are you using your business management skills to lead your company from ideation, to formation and incubation, and now customer acquisition and revenue growth?
In this entrepreneurship process, I have learned so much from my advisors, investors, and teammates. During my Berkeley MBA program, I participated in Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad program, which teaches the benefits of the lean methodology. That skillset, more so than any other that I’ve come across, has given me the tools needed to run and grow a startup. In the real world I’ve found that everything I’ve learned during the program has given me a great foundation. No piece of knowledge has been an end solution without at least slight modifications but I’ve always had a good start to tackling new challenges.
What would you say is your strongest skill and how have you honed that skill over the years?
One of my strongest skills has always been my ability to gather and analyze feedback and take action. I’ve gradually developed it over my professional career. However, there was a clear point in time where I really had to put that ability to use and hone in. FreeWire was initially conceptualized as a company that would innovate on wireless charging for electric vehicles. As I concluded the series of customer interviews, it was clear that wireless charging would not address enough of the pain points felt by EV drivers nor the facility managers that dealt with the charging infrastructure. I had to quickly use the feedback and design a solution that would better address their needs.
How does the use of the design thinking influence the design process at FreeWire Technologies?
Design thinking is really what FreeWire is built on and it will continue to be the standard, going forward. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on empathizing with prospective customers to find pain points around their current experiences before we synthesize and draw conclusions from the findings. Prototyping and testing are the steps to follow. Applying design thinking helps us work within the time and capital constraints of being a startup. Once we have identified and designed the ideal user experience, it is easy for us to figure out where we can reduce time and costs that will not detract from the quality of the customer experience.
How does the use of Fusion 360 help your designers and engineers develop and communicate design ideas?
Fusion 360 has been an enormous help, from what I gathered from my designers and engineers. Our designers have had experience with other 3D tools like Cinema 4D and Maya. Fusion 360 was very intuitive for them to dive into. Changes on the models were also quick to make – extremely helpful when the designers and engineers were deciding on a design and could reach a consensus before the end of the meeting. Time is really of the essence at a startup. The startups that make it are the ones that respond quickly to market and technology changes. Having the right tools really help.
What are some of the future trends you are seeing in the design of electric vehicles?
Without a doubt, ranges for electric vehicles will extend and the rising adoption of electric vehicles will drive the desire for faster charging. Many prospective EV drivers are now concerned with the range of the vehicles – 100 miles, a common range for many EVs, is about a quarter tank of gas in many internal combustion vehicles. However, battery technology is improving at a fast pace. We are already hearing news that longer-range vehicles at affordable price points will be available in 2017. This will certainly encourage more drivers to go electric. There will be need for faster charging and access to more public stations. FreeWire has taken the steps to anticipate the increased desire of faster charging. Our battery-back DC fast charger will allow fast charging to be placed in many more areas without additional strain on the electrical grid.
Based on your experiences as the CEO of FreeWire Technologies, what advice would you share with students and emerging entrepreneurs and designers and engineers interested in launching a design based business venture?
These days, every business venture is design-based, so design principals should be applied early on. I’m not necessarily referring to an early focus on visual design. As our well-known mentor, Steve Blank, says, “a startup is a temporary organization used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” As entrepreneurs it is our job to hypothesize customer needs and desires and design experiences to fulfill and sometimes, simulate them. Almost always, it will be many hypotheses followed by a series of tests. Each iteration must be designed in the leanest manner until a desirable product, along with the scalable and repeatable business model, is found.