John Doran’s early bet on electric vehicle charging is paying off (By Mike De Socio – Digital Editor, Albany Business Review Jan 16, 2020,6:00am EST)
John Doran left a Ph.D. program behind, tried many careers and eventually became a business owner. Now he’s at the local forefront of a new industry.
What did you do after college? I came back east and I worked for my brother at his company and learned how to do things like accounting, QuickBooks and customer relations and all that sort of stuff. And then I ended up moving to Rhode Island because my girlfriend at the time moved there, and my father was there and I loved it.
I’ll never forget this too, because it was the day that the [O.J. Simpson] thing went on. I’m sitting there in the room upstairs watching the white Bronco and I go down the stairs. My father says, “That’s great, you have to get a job. If you don’t get a job, I’m throwing you out of the house.” I’m like, “Dad, I’ve been here like a week.” And he goes, “I don’t care. Get a job.” So I got a job as a painter.
And once that work dried up, you got a job at an electrical supply house. What happened next? I’m sitting at the counter one day by myself … and a woman walks in and she says, “Hey, do you know anybody who wants to be an electrician?” I just raised my hand. I said, “Yup, right here.” She said, “Why do you want to be an electrician?” I said, “Because I don’t want to do this.”
You eventually became a schoolteacher and convinced your friend George to do the same. But then George got laid off. I go, “Oh my God, George, I talked you into doing this. I can’t leave you hanging out there. What are we going to do?” He’s like, “What do you want to do?” And I’m like, “We got to start a company… but not an average everyday electrical company.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s millions of them… The next morning he calls me up and says: charging stations for electric cars.
So we started out and we were lucky. We got the first public access EV charging station install in all of [upstate] New York…. We got one, we got somebody who wanted to invest in it and then it slowed down.
How did you get work back then? Electric vehicles weren’t that popular in 2011. We would take anything, table scraps. We would take whatever we could find, all the while continuing to teach. But I had my summers off. So when jobs came up, it was perfect. I could jump in the car or the truck and drive to whatever the location was and do the installs. So that’s what George and I did.
We got this first contract and we installed a few and then things slow down again. But then with the introduction of more electric vehicles, namely Tesla, Tesla was the big game-changer for everybody.
Then what happened? I got a contract to install a hundred ports all along the Thruway corridor. And that was two years ago. So needless to say, at that point, I’m busy.
How did you balance all of that? My lunches were spent in my room with the door shut, the windows, the lights off, I had a Jetpack [mobile hotspot] and my computer and I’m working like crazy. And then lunch would stop and I would do my teaching.
And when did you decide to do the business full time? Now, here’s my conundrum. As we sit here right now, I have 19 years, four months of service as a schoolteacher. If I do five more months, I have 20 years. Right now I have a factor of 1.67 for my pension. If I do four more months, that factor becomes two. So I get 2% per year for 20 years. … So the difference in the amount of money is mind-blowing. But the potential that was here was much greater than the potential that was there. So I walked away.
Why is there so much demand for your services right now? There’s electricians out there, but they don’t know anything about this. … It’s not just about plugging in a car, it’s understanding where the car has the port and where you’re going to position the station, how far back the station needs to be. Is it ADA compliant? Can you plug in more than one vehicle? People don’t understand that.
What are your plans to continue growing the company? ChargePoint has asked us to expand into all of New Jersey. I have a brother down in Florida. He’s handling the Palm Beach area. In the next six months, we expect Florida to absolutely explode and the best part of all is, my brother’s got boots on the ground already, because he’s been out there, he’s been making the contacts.
What do you drive? I have two vehicles. I drive a Chevy Volt, which I absolutely love. And then I have the truck for the company. It’s a Toyota Tundra.
What have you learned in your previous careers that helps you as a business owner today? I treat everybody with the same amount of respect. If you talk to people who were out there with me, when I was a schoolteacher, I always treated the custodians and the secretaries, you got to treat them the best because they’re the ones that take care of you. And then now I’m in a position where because I was a schoolteacher, it’s easy for me to get in front of people and present and have conversations and things of that nature. But it’s also equally easy for me to talk to the electrician and be that guy.