• Starting an EV Company - The DL S3E12

    Starting an EV Company - The DLS3E12 is now available on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, IGTV, and YouTube.

    In this episode of The DL, Diesel Laptops’ Founder and CEO, Tyler Robertson, is joined by John Gillie, Partner at Green Island EV and Founder & CEO at TruckTractorTrailer.com. John gives us some history on Green Island and why it is the perfect home for Green Island EV.

    As always thank you for watching and listening!

    CONNECT WITH JOHN GILLIE:

    LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/jgillie/

    Websitehttps://greenislandev.com and https://trucktractortrailer.com

    Transcript for Starting an EV Company - The DLS3E12:

    Tyler Robertson:

    Welcome, everyone, to another episode of The DL. I am your host, Tyler Robertson, the CEO and Founder of Diesel Laptops. And today we have a guest all the way back from season one. Episode 11, I believe it was. And we have a lot to catch up on because when we talked to him last, he had one thing going with one platform, one idea, and its grown from there pretty substantially, and I think he's gone back to his roots a little bit here, too, with buses and EVs and all kinds of things. So with that, I want to welcome John Gillie back on The DL, man. Welcome back here.

    John Gillie:

    Thanks, Tyler. Thanks for having me back and thank you for setting the pace. Yes, we have a lot going on with TTT and Green Island EV, but let's talk about the growth and expansion of Diesel Laptops. I mean, this is amazing, the pace and the standard that you set for me to follow you. So congrats on that.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah. Well, thank you. And I'll say, I'm amazed at our team here. It's unbelievable. We've been growing fast, and then we kept through January growing over 40% from the previous year, same month. It's just on a tear. Traffic keeps going crazy. I don't know what we're doing all the time here, but what we're doing is working. So we're just going to keep doubling down on it. So things are going great over here, and I'm really glad to get you back on here because you recently had a really big announcement that came out in January, and you mentioned it just a second ago, Green Island EV. Can you just break down everybody, what is Green Island EV?

    John Gillie:

    So I will tell you as much as I can tell you. We have certain NDAs in place and a lot of moving parts, but Green Island EV will be an original equipment manufacturer. We will be manufacturing or, really, assembling micro transit EVs in Green Island, New York. If you know where Albany is, Green Island is about eight miles northeast of Albany, right on the Hudson. I grew up in an adjacent community about a half a mile away from where the factory is going to be in Cohoes, New York. So shout out to my hometown. But what we're going to be doing is probably some last-mile delivery. So we're going to stay in our sweet spot of trucking, but last-mile delivery, and then going back to public transportation because we think there's a huge need for EVs that are made in New York for New York, by New Yorkers, right?

                Now, we're going to narrow our focus just to the New York market right now. But if you think about New York City moving to 100% EV, if you think about other pockets of New York and the push to go green, we think there's an enormous opportunity for us to build our business in Green Island. And what's interesting, Tyler, is that I tell people about the brand. Let's say folks in California or Texas, wherever they are, and they don't know where Green Island is. They think I've made up the brand as a brand name, and it's actually a place. So it's not an original idea. Green Island is a real place. It's a real dot on the map, and it's just a strategically perfect place to build our EV factory.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Well, there's a little bit of history, too, with Green Island, right? Besides the name green, what are the odds? Green. Now EV Manufacture. But there's a history here of automotive as well, and really, industrial revolution type stuff. So can you talk a little bit about that whole side of it?

    John Gillie:

    I can. So the history of the Hudson Valley, early Dutch settled the Hudson, the Hudson Valley, the Albany area. Albany was called Fort Orange. I mean, it's historically significant American history. And then because of the Hudson and, of course, the Erie Canal, that was built connecting the Great Lakes to, really, the Hudson River. The Erie Canal passed right through my backyard, basically, where I grew up. So the area has been heavily, heavily industrial, and then like most factory towns and areas in the Northeast, businesses started to pull out in the 1970s, 1980s. But going back to the origination of Green Island and, really, the property where we're building, and right behind me on my profile, shameless plug, Fort Green Island, that is the old Ford Factory you would think is a campus.

                The Ford Factory, Henry Ford ended up buying a good chunk of Green Island, really, for sport. He and his best buddy, Thomas Edison, would hunt and fish there and camp out for vacation, just for some time away with their friends, Harvey Firestone, and the environmentalist, William Burrows. So it goes back to, really, the early 1900s. And then, eventually, Thomas Edison, if you look close on the pic here, you'll see a hydroelectric facility, which is today Green Island Power Authority. But that factory, that hydroelectric plant, which takes energy from the Hudson River and converts it into electricity, that was built by Thomas Edison. And then his buddy, Henry Ford, says, "Hey, well, since you have the hydroelectric factory making energy, I'm going to build my factory, a Ford Factory here."

                And they did 100 year anniversary this year. So in 1922, Henry Ford built a factory, and there they made radiators and different parts that were eventually manufactured at the factory, employed up to about 1,000 people at its peak. And they would rail on rail bed from Green Island back to Dearborn for the finished product back at Dearborn. So they closed up shop. A lot of the big businesses, general electric, Ford, they were all pulling out, thinking of downsizing in the 1970s and 1980s. And by 1985-ish, the Ford Factory was completely shut down. And that factory location has been in Brownfield for almost 35 years. So it's our way of bringing high-quality jobs, manufacturing jobs, back to my hometown, back to my hometown area.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Well, I went to school in Rochester, New York at RIT, but then they kicked me out two years later because I got bad grades and never went to class. So beautiful area. I love the upstate area of New York. And it's also always amazing, too, when you read history to figure out Firestone Family was talking to Thomas Edison. All those people knew each other. They were all in that revolutionary type era. But I want to go back to what you talked about, like it was the products, and you used a term there that I'm not entirely familiar with because I'm not a bus guy. I'm a heavy-duty truck guy. You used the word micro transit. Can you unpack that a little bit for everybody? What exactly are you making here?

    John Gillie:

    So again, our bet is that we're moving to smaller, more efficient vehicles. I don't have to tell you about the move to EV, and it's all commercial. We're not going to build electric cars here. We're building micro transit. You would think of, Tyler, on the Ford 450 Chassis or the Ford 350, and you think about the type A school bus, you think about a Ford 450 type of transit bus. Think about last-mile delivery, either for UPS, for FedEx or other delivery, Prime, Amazon, that are now in every single neighborhood every minute of the day. I live in Manhattan now and I will tell you, it's just amazing seeing the delivery services here play out. And I think there's going to be a push, a movement to more efficient, smaller scaled units that are electric now, but that is a gravitational pull towards autonomous electric. Perhaps not in my lifetime or in this next decade, but certainly 20 years out, you're going to see a lot of autonomous electric, smaller platform vehicles on the roads.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Well, I want to say, I think you're right because I just happened to have someone in my office not too long ago, and they work at not a company that was a billion, but billions of years of dollars of revenue each year. And he was telling me they have this division of their company that basically they sit around and think about what the future's going to look like, three years, five years, 10 years, 20 years, because that's where they start to do their strategic planning. And I was like, "Wow, I didn't know companies did that." But obviously, they do that. And they said the exact same thing. They say, "As we look down the future, it's going to be a lot of that delivery type service, delivering things all over the place just really quick," and they just have specific things or a bunch of things. So very similar thoughts on the whole process.

                So that aside, the part that intrigues me here is launching a manufacturing operation is no small feat. I mean, it's capital raise. It's finding leadership, it's getting the building, the property, the land, the political side, all those things that need to happen to get permission to do things, especially in states like California, New York, it seems there's a lot more red tape than South Carolina where it's just kind of go. I mean, it was about a month ago I saw the article in January, two months ago, whatever that was. How are things going so far at this point?

    John Gillie:

    It's going extremely well. And listen, you called it spot-on, Tyler. It's all about the team, right? I think I've shared with you our methodology of building trucktractortrailer.com. We have a four pillar project management framework and methodology that we follow, and we're going to take that same project management leadership over to Green Island EV when we're launching Green Island. Pillar one is always, for me, people. And if you have the right talent, the right people, the right stakeholders, the right vendors, the right suppliers on the team, you can solve any problem, you can build any product, you can launch and execute anything, but it all starts with people. And I took our time, much like with TTT, we took our time finding the right mix of people for Green Island.

                Certainly, we have great community support from the village of Green Island with Mayor Ellen McNulty and Sean Ward and Maggie Alix at the village level. They are 100% behind bringing great jobs back to Green Island and the Cohoes area. The governor of New York is a big, big fan of clean energy jobs. Congressman Paul Tonko is very supportive. Assembly person, John McDonald, from our area is 100% backing what we're doing in Green Island. And so from, I guess, a political community support, we have 100% buy-in from the local community, and you need that to pull things off, and then you have to have your operating team. And we have a very strong core group. I can't mention all of them because some of them have day jobs and we're waiting for the right funding to come in.

                The other other really important barrier that I needed to plow through and overcome was finding a developer to actually work with and to take over a big project like this because this property, the Ford property, has been in Brownfield. So it's been an environmental challenge to overcome and to rebuild there. So I had to go with somebody that had deep experience with taking Brownfield locations like this Ford property, and converting it to something that is useful and contemporary and modern, because what we're going to build here, Tyler, is going to be, we believe, on scale with what Tesla is building, but it's going to be an up upstate New York. So it's going to be a showcase.

                Our partner on the development side, the design and development, is Luizzi. They're out of [inaudible 00:12:56], New York, which is adjacent to Green Island, strong roots in Troy, New York, strong roots in the capital district. Chuck Pafundi is our project leader. He's been on point. He takes a ton of my calls a day. He calls me back, a great young, professional visionary. And working together with Chuck and Peter Luizzi and his team, we were able to come up with this concept that I shared with you this morning, this beautiful layout, very contemporary, modern factory campus that's going to be the showcase for the air area. But you're right. You can't go alone. It takes a village, like the village of Green Island, but it takes an entire team to pull this off. And I'm pretty pleased with the direction.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Well, personally, I think it's a great idea, and I know you've got the strategy behind it. I mean, you just look at the EV push. It's coming. Government is obviously going to subsidize and encourage people to buy these things, right? They're going to do taxes, rebates and whatnot. You look at New York City. Obviously, a huge metro area that wants to go green and have EVs. So you've got a lot of things going in your direction, but I think people also need to understand this isn't like a snap your finger and you're making vehicles tomorrow. This is going to take a little bit of time to put together. Is there a rough timeline in your mind of when you think things will get going here?

    John Gillie:

    Yeah. So again, you got a lot of things at play, a lot of priorities to juggle. We're probably 36 months out from shipping and delivering anything, right? And we're going to have strategic investors that are going to be patient. We're going to have investors and stakeholders that are behind us on the safety issues and really put a quality unit on the street. We want to get this right the first time. We don't have a gun to our head. We have no ambition to go public or be backed by a SPAC. We're not going to have those kind of pressures. We're going to go slow to go fast, Tyler, and we're going to take our time and do it right. We've taken our time to this point.

                And I think that if you look at my background, I have a deep experience in EVs. Maybe not on the product development, but I'm now recruiting and sourcing world class talent that is from New York to come back home, basically, that are either from Rochester Institute of Technology, like yourself, or RPI, Clarkston Cornell, Union, the State University of New York System. So there's a lot of talent that grew up in New York, educated New York, went elsewhere, to Palo Alto, maybe they went to Tesla, to other EV startups that want to come home to help us build incredible Green Island EVs.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah. And I think that's the missed point I didn't get to, but you mentioned it there, is you know buses. You've been in that industry, and been there, done that before. And I do love your strategy as well. It's really a Diesel Laptop strategy. Let's just keep growing, going at our pace, doing our thing here. We don't need all those outside investors, in our case, right? We're just organic. A lot different when you're trying to scale up an entire manufacturing and distribution arm. I mean, that's the whole other part of it. These things are going to be all over the place. Have you started thinking about distribution and how you're going to support these things and that side of it?

    John Gillie:

    Yeah. So I think if you follow the EV sector, you know I do, and I'm sure you do as well. And a lot of these EV companies are founded with product geniuses, right? Electrical engineers that have a great idea, a science project at a college that they're taking to scale now. And I think a lot of the challenges that companies have, these EV companies, they don't understand how to sell and distribute and service. So we're reverse engineering. That's my experience. I've had experience in building an EV company, bringing an EV company here into the United States. I'm on the Empire Clean City Coalition Board here in New York City. So I'm exposed to not just what's happening here in the five boroughs, but nationally.

                Right now, we're TTT, we're helping the state of California figure out how to help small fleets and owner operators navigate the transformation to EV, and we've been retained for a number of months on this project and will be retained for a long time to help to solve the problem in California. And then we're going to help solve the problem for small fleets and owner operators in New York and probably right down the I95. So, yeah.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah. Since you mentioned TTT here, let's just go back in time. I mean, you were here a couple years ago. Season one, you were actually in my studio. We met and everything. It was great to meet you in person. How's it going with trucktractortrailer.com? How are things progressing there?

    John Gillie:

    It's going great. I think, knock on wood, I think February will be the first month we've actually turned a profit, which is extraordinary because, for us, it's about being self-funded, right? So you're not having to sell shares at 10 when you hope to one day sell shares in your company at 150, right? So to be self-funded at this point in our life cycle for a pure SaaS, 100% remote virtual platform, I think it's pretty remarkable. And that's a testament to the team that we've built and how well they work together on the technology, but also working closely with sellers and buyers.

                The challenge with TTT is because we're a two-sided marketplace, right? We're not really a listing site. We're not really an advertising site, let's say a Truck Paper. We're a transaction site. So we took on a big project here. It's the toughest thing to pull off. If you study online platforms, the toughest problem to solve, the toughest solution to take to market and make profitable is a two-sided marketplace.

                Again, if you look at our team, Sandy Muleady is our chief creative officer, Juliet Mazza came on as our chief marketing officer. We have Marty Lelugas who just joined as our chief operating officer. Marty spent 14 years at Ritchie Bros., was on the fast track there, rising star, and he's going to be a rising star with TTT. In fact, he's a star already. We have a new chief product officer, Andy Clevenger. If you look at Andy's background, he started at Volvo, spent time at Komatsu, understands heavy equipment, product development, actually making things. And then the second part of his career, he spent with online platforms, developing Iron Direct, working with Liquidity Services. So really, for me, putting Marty and Andy together at this juncture helps us go really, really fast.

                We have Alan Ignacio and we have Zach Miller. Alan's heading up the sales and marketing. Heather [Bumma 00:20:30] heads up our platform. And this core team has been together for a long time. And Zach Miller, I think, Tyler, not to compete with your DL Podcast, we have our own in-house media group. And you inspired that, right? Other people were doing it, but really, you gave me the courage to go out there and be bold and recruit Zach Miller, an expert. Zach had New York Truck Stop Radio. And basically, we took that model and we morphed it into STTTREAM, which is streaming with three Ts. And also, Zach is going to be building out the media for Green Island EV.

                The other part, Tyler, that you asked me earlier about Green Island in sales and distribution, much like what Tesla has done, a lot of people think Elon Musk was a genius with building the units. Really, where I think he was a genius and is in marketing. You would have to go to tesla.com to actually shop and buy a Tesla. There was no physical dealerships. We're going to take a page out of Tesla. Not that I'm Elon Musk. I'm far from it. But TTT has a DBA, and we're going to be the registered dealer for Green Island, the OEM in New York. So TTT will be doing business as greenislandev.com. And that will be a TTT managed digital dealership, and we're pretty excited about that.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah. I mean, I feel like we're both these entrepreneur people with these ideas and you start to get ideas and then you start asking yourself, "Well, why isn't this happening? Or why doesn't that happen?" And that's, I think, what a lot of people realize. And the other part I want to unpack there is it's not just build something and you immediately start turning profit and making money. Things take time. And I totally get you on the marketplace side.

                I remember reading stories about Reddit, how when Reddit first started, you need readers and you need posters and people creating content. And it's really tough to get those things going. It's funny. We're building this whole platform to sell truck parts. I have diagnostic tools, repair information, it tells you the part. Great. I got a whole bunch of buyers, and it's like pulling teeth to find sellers because they're like, "Well, we don't know. We're not sure," all these things. And you're like, "Man, this is the way the world's changing and going." So it's like dragging people through the mud, sometimes, getting them to understand.

    John Gillie:

    Well, Tyler, to that point, I think it's, and again, for us, you and I, we have flexibility and I think some level of courage and ambition to do things that other people aren't doing. I think it's, for us, at TTT, and I look at what you're doing with truck parts because I follow your story, obviously, is it's almost like a COVID refresh or a reboot. And some people got it, some people didn't, but I'm telling you right now, I don't have to sell to you. You're a deep believer in this. Everything digital is now cheap, right?

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah.

    John Gillie:

    Everything on the ground is expensive. And I think these online platforms, whether you're selling truck parts or trying to get people to buy and sell use 85 or $150,000 used trucks, I think it's advanced by 10 years during the COVID, and not everyone got it. And I have a message. And it's not even my message. You can look at the experts that I follow and you follow. If you're not part of this digital revolution, you're not going to be in business, I don't think I, or your business is going to change radically because COVID has reset the playing field. And you look at just the way people are buying and selling today, even at home, right?

                I know, personally, from our family, we buy a lot more online today than we did five years ago. And I think COVID really accelerated things. So I think keep at it. I think your truck parts online is going to be a huge home run. But I also want to talk to you today about our joint venture, which we haven't really figured out yet, but is evlaptops.com. Because I think if you look at the future of EV, a lot of it, a lot of your maintenance and preventive maintenance is going to be done remotely and diagnostically. And I can't do it without you.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah. So I mean, a couple things on that. I constantly get asked by people, "You're Diesel Laptops, EV is coming. What are you going to do?" And my response has been similar to what you said, like, "This is the great reset." I was to 20 years late to the diesel game and caught up quick. Now all my competitors in our space, they get to deal with me on day one of a new thing that's in the marketplace. So best of luck to all of us here. It's a race. And I totally agree. I think there's room and space there. You mentioned remote diagnostics. We 100% believe that is the future of trucks, is data coming off them, as they're driving down the road, and call centers are monitoring data and machine learning and AI is figuring out before you even have a problem and figuring out where the part is and where you should go. That solves so many problems.

                So we just launched a versatile diesel technician service. So currently our customers that buy kits, they get that anyway. But now we said, "You know what? Anybody anywhere that has any tool, or even no tools, they can pay a monthly fee, have access to our remote diesel techs. We'll give them free software. They can chat with us. They can call us, and we'll walk them through problems." So we are 100% agreeing with you, that is where the industry's going. And you already took my domain name. You already took my name from me.

    John Gillie:

    Someone's going to steal it. I told you, I said, "Tyler, if you don't do this today, I'm doing it because, if not, someone else is going to do it." So I did it.

    Tyler Robertson:

    You're my domain squatter I got to deal with, just like some of these other guys out there.

    John Gillie:

    No, I'm not that guy. Listen-

    Tyler Robertson:

    I'm just kidding.

    John Gillie:

    I did it for our joint venture.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah.

    John Gillie:

    Let's go back to Diesel Laptops for a second, because I'm very fortunate to sit at this cross-section of the old world and the new world, right? And it's a fortunate position to be in. I don't see diesel going away time soon, right? Lewie Pugh from OOIDA and I were just on a ... We're doing a series of podcasts together, Lewie and I with Zach Miller, talking about this very issue. And it's a hot topic with owner operators and small fleets. If the government doesn't buy them a new EV, they can't afford a 400,000 dollar or 500,000 dollar electric tractor to pull their trailer. And certainly there's a range of anxiety. So from my seat, I think diesel is going to be around, especially clean diesel, it's going to be around for decades.

                This is not an immediate transformation to EV. Let's be clear on that. The grid can't handle it, right? The grid can barely handle what it has right now, and less than one percent of commercial vehicles are electric, right? And so if the big power companies, the big electric electrical companies, let's say Con Edison and National Grid in the Northeast, down South, Florida Power and Light or Duke Energy, if they're having a tough time meeting current demand that's brought on by Tesla and other EV consumer auto, imagine when we start converting commercial to EV. So we're decades away from mass transformation.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah. We agree as well. I mean, especially if you look at the off-highway diesel world with earth moving equipment and everything else. That's a whole nother thing that needs to get dealt with, and farm tractors and all these things.

    John Gillie:

    Well, on that, I will tell you, it's interesting, and again, I can't reveal all my sources, but I'm in a couple of different think tanks on EV. John Deere is going EV.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah.

    John Gillie:

    So you think John Deere and you've got the diesel tractor and Farmer McDonald riding a diesel tractor, they're going to be autonomous electric before you know it, and old McDonald is going to be on his porch with a little remote diagnostics, watching the autonomous electric tractors plow the fields. I've seen it. It's happening.

    Tyler Robertson:

    I remember being at Disney world as a kid, in the '80s, and there was some future thing, and it was farm tractors all computerized and doing stuff. I'm like, "Man, that'd be cool one day." And we're almost there. So it's pretty cool to see that stuff. So yeah, it's just an interesting time to be alive. I mean, just yesterday, I don't know if you saw this, I know you've been traveling and doing things, but just yesterday, Cummins announced they're buying Meritor. And what everyone needs to realize is that's an EV play because Meritor is making the drive axles, the electric components that propel those commercial trucks, and Cummins, obviously, makes the engines, and they're saying, 'We need to be in this game." And they just put almost four billion dollars into it. So I think we're going to see more and more of these bigger companies defending their turf and trying to figure out how to play in the shifting landscape.

    John Gillie:

    So I call that the disintermediation of the value chain, right? And I think if you look back at 2021 and 2020, because of COVID, you had a lot of M&A, a lot of mergers and acquisitions, and lot of IPOs. I think what we're going to see going forward is even rapid consolidation of the value chain. So Cummins buying Meritor was not surprising to me. Obviously, I follow the Cummins group very closely. I know they're in EV. That's a big investment for them. But I think that's just the start of it. On the consumer auto, look at Ford Motor. They were late to the game. Tesla really forced their hands, and now they're all in on EV.

                And then you have the big OEMs, like Daimler, and they're driving force with EV now. And now that they've woken up, Daimler has 40% of the worldwide market. They're not about to lose a single point of market share, right? If they know that the market is going EV, they're going to be in this in a very big way. So I think the Cummins announcement yesterday was just yet a continued news announcement, and joint ventures diesel laptops and Green Island or TTT doing evlaptops.com is just ... It's academic at this point. It has to happen.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah. It's the evolution of business. I think every business owner, if they're listening to this, just look in the future. What's coming? Be ready for it. I actually got invited to Navistar's eMobility center up in Michigan. So I'm going up there next month to go check that out. So it's just exciting times all around, new products, new everything, and it's been great catching up with you. Did we hit everything that we wanted to talk about here?

    John Gillie:

    No. No. I think we didn't even do the top three.

    Tyler Robertson:

    We could probably do this all day long and keep talking about things, but we do got to call it an episode. So John, if people want to get ahold of you, learn more about Green Island EV or TruckTractorTrailer or STTTREAM, where should they go? Throw some websites or ... yeah.

    John Gillie:

    LinkedIn is my hub. LinkedIn. You can find me on LinkedIn. Just google TruckTractorTrailer. Search on LinkedIn, TruckTractorTrailer or Green Island EV. You'll find me. Send me a note. I'm happy to connect. And I think that's the hub, or you can find me on trucktractortrailer.com or on Greenislandev.com, and I'll get back to you.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Well, I think you're the guy that broke LinkedIn with so many connections. It feels like every time someone connects me, it's like, "This person is connected to John." I'm like, "Oh, wow." You're definitely out there. And it's been great having you on, great learning everything, catching up again. I think we're well overdue for a followup episode. So this has really been great.

                So with that, everyone, we're going to call this an episode. Every episode, it's just not diagnostics, it's diagnostics done right. But part of that is the EV world. Part of that's the entrepreneurship world, all these other things that are going on out there. So I want to thank everyone. If you're watching on YouTube, thank you. Like, subscribe, follow us, comments, all that stuff helps, Apple Podcast, SoundCloud, everywhere we are. So we'll call it. Thank you for watching. Thank you for listening. We'll catch you on the next one.

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