Zingan Business. The interview with Oleg Stefaniuc, CEO and Co-Founder of EV Point, and his fellow Co-Founder Natalia Stati.
EV Point is a rapidly expanding international network of electric vehicle charging stations, with operations spanning the Republic of Moldova and Romania. Since its establishment in November 2018, the company has broadened its scope, partnering with EV POINT PARKING SYSTEMS in 2021, a firm specializing in innovative parking automation solutions.
As of June 2023, EV Point's network is thriving with over 100 charging stations spread across Moldova and Romania. Among these, a quarter are fast charging stations, with half of these fast chargers offering power outputs of 120 and 150 kW.
In addition, the company operates its own 24/7 call center and manages several parking lots in Chisinau.
Good afternoon, Oleg and Natalia. While we've had discussions before, today, I'd like to do something different for our readers at the Zingan Business Club. Rather than a situational interview centered around the news, let's take a step back and evaluate EV Point's current standing, future prospects, and the course it has traversed so far.
Oleg Stefaniuc. Indeed, history is crafted by individuals. Even though our CTO, Vadim Kotsofan, isn't part of this discussion, it was his concise 4-slide PDF presentation that marked the inception of EV Point. Although concepts about electric vehicles and associated businesses had been circulating in earlier discussions, this presentation truly sparked our venture. We predicted that just 17 stations would bring us to industry leadership.
If I recall correctly, your initial operations didn't include 17 stations, right?
Oleg Stefaniuc. That's correct. Our venture into the industry began when we imported our first two stations from Spain and entrusted them to our IT partner. This gave him the opportunity to thoroughly understand their operations. After a phase of consistent, qualitative growth, we decided it was time to go all out. We entered a UNDP tender and received a $36,000 grant—sufficient for 5-6 small charging stations. All other tender participants requested 5-6, or at the most, 7 stations. We, however, were audacious—we proposed a whopping 50 stations!
That's quite a gutsy move!
Oleg Stefaniuc: Our choice to take this big step was more well-thought-out than it may initially seem. We had a strong understanding of the market and its potential. It was obvious that Moldova's leading network needed to include dozens of stations. Yes, the grant didn't solve all our financial challanes, but we thought, "Why not go for it?" It was during this time that Natalia and I found ourselves talking about business. We had known each other for a while, but this was our first time diving into a major project.
Considering Natalia's background as a successful restaurant owner, it was quite surprising to hear about your partnership.
Natalia Stati: This decision was not made randomly. To me, our business is firmly linked to my personal philosophy and sense of responsibility. When I see the terrible impact of pollution on our oceans, the heartbreaking sight of sea turtles choking on plastic waste, and then experience the freshness of mountain air, I realize that the potential profit wasn't my only reason for choosing this industry. I truly believe that the decision to buy an electric car and power it from the grid instead of using petrol or diesel should be more than just cost-effectiveness. It's about being aware of our responsibility to our planet and future generations. The philosophy that EV Point brings to the world is one of the key reasons why I decided to join the company.
Going forward, I will address my questions to both of you.
Moldova is not the wealthiest country in Europe. However, EV Point didn't shy away from setting ambitious standards for its equipment selection. If I recall correctly, you've partnered with CIRCONTROL, a Spanish firm recognized as a leader in the manufacturing of charging stations, from the very first days, right?
Some people questioned why we didn't choose cheaper equipment, considering that for an unspoiled Moldova, 20-kilowatt stations manufactured in Asia should be enough. Nevertheless, we took a different path, committing to install stations that would remain relevant for many years to come. Time flies, and setting up cheap, low-capacity stations would only lead to their replacement within a few years. With our current strategy, we can guarantee that even a decade from now, the charging speed will meet consumer expectations.
What power capacity are you primarily focusing on now?
The most recent charging hub we installed for our partner on M. Viteazul Street includes five 150-kilowatt stations at one location. Three stations come from our continuing partnership with CIRCONTROL, and two are from Chinese manufacturers. Apart from Tesla's charging hubs, we believe there's no other site with such high energy density within a 3000 km radius, offering a significant edge in meeting the power needs of numerous electric vehicles.
Have you started importing equipment from China?
Indeed, it's a strategic decision on our part. We're noticing an increasing number of Chinese-made electric vehicles in Moldova and worldwide. These vehicles feature a unique charging port, and we want to avoid using adapters in our network, as this method isn't favored by station manufacturers. Notably, it took us nearly six months and extensive testing to find a high-quality manufacturer in China. Apart from equipment quality, we had additional criteria, like the responsiveness of the manufacturer's service department to our inquiries. We now plan to boost our import of charging stations from China.
Given that the network contains over 100 charging stations, this represents significant financing. Could you explain the structure of your investment program? Do you depend on grants or loans?
Indeed, we did receive a first grant of $36,000, followed by another slightly larger one. However, our investment strategy isn't solely dependent on grants. We've introduced partnership programs to the Moldovan market and have established a network of partners investing in charging stations. Within our broader network, we have "micro-networks" of one, two, or even seven charging stations, each funded by our partners. Essentially, an investor purchases the station, and we receive a predetermined management fee.
Could this be seen as a new investment tool for Moldova?
It's not just for Moldova, but also for Romania and other countries where we plan to expand. The return on investment in charging stations significantly exceeds the return on investment in, say, real estate. Furthermore, the investment reliability is even higher, given the global trend towards electric vehicles — a policy embraced not only by the European Union but by the entire world.
Interestingly, I just heard on the news that Volvo plans to switch exclusively to electric vehicles by 2030. But let's refocus on Romania. When did you start entering the Romanian market?
We began entering the Romanian market in September 2022. More specifically, that's when we installed the first of what are now five stations. We have a master agreement with the official BMW dealer in Romania, and we're setting up our stations at all their auto centers under the EV Point brand. Although our stations are located at BMW centers, they're open to all electric vehicles.
What are your plans for Romania for the years 2023-2024?
We aim to install a minimum of 100 charging stations. We're in discussions with numerous partners, including shopping mall chains and developers of office and residential real estate. Our plans go beyond Romania, as we're negotiating in several European countries. Also, we're venturing into a related business: parking lot automation, which includes their construction, management, and integration with charging stations.
Have you already started in Chisinau?
Last December, we completed a complex approval process with the tax inspectorate, which is a significant aspect of our business due to the evolving regulations for cloud financial printers. Following this, we launched three parking complexes - one on Calea Ieșilor near Fourchette, another in the city center on 31 August 1989 Street, and a third in Rîșcani, all under our management.
I recall paying for parking in front of Kaufland and seeing "EV Point" on my receipt.
Indeed, this marks the start of our city-wide rollout. We're in the process of planning eight additional parking facilities.
Do all your parking lots include charging stations for electric cars?
Absolutely! Furthermore, the time spent charging your car is deducted from the parking time. Payments for both charging and parking services are combined into a single wallet within our app, EV Point Be Charged. However, owners of conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines can use our specially designed app, EV Point Parking, to pay for parking at any of our current or future lots.
While Moldova hasn't fully implemented this yet, there's a proposed directive similar to those in the European Union. This directive would require every parking lot, regardless of its location or management, to provide electric charging for at least 5% of cars. This is something that all real estate developers will need to take into account in the future.
When recalling the EV Point journey, you'll probably say, "We found ourselves in the right place at the right time" quite often...
We already feel this way. EV Point has already grown into an international company. Our expansion plans are not limited to just Romania. In fact, we are currently negotiating with our Bulgarian partners to install our charging stations in major cities across Bulgaria. Furthermore, we offer our customers in Moldova and Romania a unique service: In Romania, customers can use Moldovan lei to pay at our charging stations. Similarly, in Moldova, Romanian customers can pay for charging services from their "Romanian wallet". Our goal is to make long-distance travel in electric cars so smooth that you won't have to worry about where and how to charge your car.
As a Moldovan, could I invest as a partner in your international network?
Definitely! We're always open to investment collaborations.
I think it's time for me to host a conference on alternative investment tools for the Zingan Business Club. I look forward to discussing your achievements in 2023, as I believe you'll have ample exciting developments to share.