By Jenna Greer
“They gave me the contract for 29 shuttles. It was the largest EV deployment at an airport in U.S. history, and I didn’t have a bus.”
-John Walsh, CEO of Endera
John Walsh, San Diego State University alumnus and founder of Endera Motors, made headlines in September when he secured a contract for the nation’s largest deployment of an all-electric fleet at a U.S. airport. Endera’s early success can be attributed to two things: Walsh’s do-it-yourself mentality and the fact that he secured a contract before founding the company.
Below, Walsh takes a deep dive into his entrepreneurial journey and his mission to transform the transformation industry via electric buses.
How Endera Began: Walsh has seen every side of the Southern California startup economy since his days at the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center at SDSU. After the founding of and seeking funding for two clean-tech startups, he was hired by the Los Angeles CleanTech Incubator to do round syndication for energy and transportation companies.
“I learned a lot about what not to do,” said Walsh. “Eventually I was assigned to this electric bus company. I helped them raise their round, and then I got dropped in to do business development. I learned the ins and outs of the bus industry.”
When management started breaking down around Walsh, his own stake in the company became vulnerable.
“There was this management feud between the founder and the fund, and I ended up being the only communication medium between the two. They started messing with my stock options and not paying me. I was in debt because of that company.”
It was 2019, and Walsh was working on a contract with San Diego National Airport and ACE parking through his contacts at State at the time.
“I just didn’t have any confidence in their ability to deliver,” said Walsh.
‘I resigned and then I started Endera the next day,” said Walsh. “I just took a consultative approach. I said to the airport and ACE parking, ‘let’s do this together. Let’s design this together.’ I flew them to China, Canada, the Midwest to have them vet this product and almost design it themselves. I was just getting their inputs and giving them what they wanted.”
Walsh was able to negotiate with suppliers because he had the contract, and has since won multiple contracts, raised a large investment round, and bought a manufacturing company.
“Now we have 250,000 square feet of dedicated manufacturing space on a million square-foot campus.”
Business Model: According to Walsh, Endera’s overall mission is for it to be cheaper and easier to go electric. The company is doing this by streamlining the EV integration process and becoming ingrained in the infrastructure from the start.
“We do charging as a service. We fund the infrastructure. We fund the charging station, the installation cost, whatever upgrades are needed, and then we service and maintain the stations for our clients. What our clients get is a similar model to what they’re used to, a monthly bill for their energy usage,” said Walsh.
By creating a model that deploys charging as a service, both parties benefit and Endera profits from another revenue stream.
“We bake in our service fee with the price of electricity and they don’t have to pay the upfront capital costs for the stations. We benefit from the sale of the vehicle and the services we provide,” Walsh said.
This business model isn’t just profitable; it eliminates the possibility of management miscommunication and disconnect between different contractors whose interests might not be aligned.
“As we grew and got more and more orders, we felt we needed to control the whole supply chain. When something goes wrong everyone points fingers at each other. People might not want to do something to make a better product because it’s not in their best interest.”
Endera has also won contracts for tech solutions outside of the EV market. When working with San Diego International Airport, Walsh noticed manual systems that made room for human error.
“I realized there was a huge void in software solutions to offer them. We just designed a facial recognition system that will count the amount of unique faces inside the bus and now we have a rider app, similar to Uber pool, for shuttles at the airport,” he said.
What’s Next: At the beginning, Walsh used subcontract manufacturing to deliver the first EV fleet, but with the recent funding and the purchase of a manufacturing company in Ohio, Endera is becoming entirely vertically integrated.
“We are focusing on the vertical integration effort, on growing every department. We now have the space to make hundreds of thousands of vehicles. We are currently doing both shuttle buses and school buses, and we want to continue building out Endera’s services.”
Timing: The Pandemic caused a boom in the electric vehicle market, further boosting Endera’s success.
“Companies that were about to be D-listed on the stock market became billion-dollar market caps overnight,” said Walsh. “All of a sudden, all this capital flooded into the EV market because I think people wanted to reset what our future looked like. People were seeing clear skies in L.A. for the first time. I think that really shifted perspective.”
Government mandates requiring a switch to electric vehicles and a shift in social sentiment over the integration of EV further solidified Endera’s growth and further funding.
Mentors and Advice: Walsh counts his success to his ability to listen and soak up information.
“I’ve always taken bits and pieces from different people,” he said. “You take the good and the bad from everyone and you learn from it. And when in doubt, say less so it doesn’t get misconstrued.”
Walsh highlighted a couple of his mentors throughout his entrepreneurial journey:
“He kind of took me under his wing a little bit, and taught me a lot. He taught me to get the contract first. With the first two companies I started I came up with an idea and a product first, and tried to fit a market after. With Endera, the contract came first,” said Walsh.
“Lavin and the Zahn Center were two of the best experiences I had in college, because they focused on the structure and education on how to be an entrepreneur and start a company. They didn’t focus on whether it was an accomplishment or not. The goal was to give you experience you could use to do something outside of college, in hopes you’ll come back and support the school,” said Walsh.
San Diego Tech Ecosystem: Walsh loves the entrepreneurial spirit of San Diego and contributes the energy to the community of college students.
“There’s definitely growth in the tech industry in San Diego,” said Walsh. “You have a large number of schools in one central location, which creates this great talent pool. You have schools that are engineering focused, business focused, law focused, and more. That creative diversity and youthfulness brings a lot of potential for innovation in the tech space.”
Walsh believes that San Diego is finally rising to the challenge of meeting funding needs for growing companies.
“You have to make sure you have funding support. You need incubators and resources that are supporting entrepreneurs. That’s what San Diego has lacked for a while – adequate venture funding – but it’s growing,” said Walsh.
Tacos: You can find Walsh back at his alma mater, ordering a Sigma Chi crunch wrap from Trijullios.