Tom Ward, cofounder and CEO of Epoch, is doing for boats what Tesla has done for cars – go all electric. His startup designs and manufactures electric boats with bidirectional energy capability. Currently pursuing pre-seed funding, the company hopes to dramatically expand electric boat sales to benefit both the environment and the power grid.
In this episode, Tom talks about how he came to cofound Epoch, the company’s current investment goals, and his future vision for electric boats:
- For Tom, boating has been a lifelong love – from solo sailing as young as eight to rowing on the crew team in college. After being trained as an electromechanical engineer, Tom worked in the recreational marine industry. Throughout his career, he came to notice how much annual maintenance was required on traditional combustion-powered boats. With Epoch, he hopes to take the hassle out of boating through employing low-maintenance electric systems.
- Epoch is focused on replacing boats in the sub $50,000 range. According to Tom, 90% of boats sold in the U.S. fall into this category, but are only used 10 days per year on average. This leaves a lot of extra battery power, which Epoch plans to feed back into the grid.
- Epoch’s patented hydrofoil design aims to decrease drag and increase speed. Tom describes how their design is fundamentally different from other hydrofoils on the market, including how it retracts, deploys, and manages stability for the vessel.
Peter Perri 0:00
Hey everybody, it’s Peter Perri. I’m excited to invite you to Energy Superheroes again. And today we have Tom Ward from Epoch. And Epoch is a designer and manufacturer of battery electric boats with bidirectional energy capability, the company is currently bootstrapped. So if there’s venture capitalists out there that are looking to do a pre seed round, you know, reach out to Tom, Tom’s got three full time really smart people working on this. Me personally, I love boats, and I see a big opportunity in the sector. So we’re excited to have Tom here on energy superheroes today. Welcome to the podcast, Tom.
Tom Ward 0:37
Thanks, Peter. It’s great to meet you. And I appreciate being able to join it today on the podcast.
Peter Perri 0:42
Really cool. So you got to tell me about Epoch. First, give me your backstory on how you decide to work on boats, because you’re the first company I’ve seen that’s really working on electric boats, and we’d love to hear your backstory and how you came into this.
Tom Ward 0:57
So I mean, it’s boating has been a lifelong activity for me. You know, back in the 80s, my dad had a heavy cat. And you know, he had me on that probably at an age that would make parents scream nowadays in the modern world. And, you know, went on from that learned how to sail solo, by the time I was eight, actually got to row in college on the, in the crew team. And then ultimately, as I went into my professional career as an electromechanical engineer, kind of, by happenstance found my way into the recreational marine industry and worked at Teleflex Seastar. We supplied 95% steering systems to the industry. So if you’ve ever been on like a Boston Whaler, or C Ray, you’ve touched products that I, you know, designed and developed and maintained, and then moved over to Lippert components helped grow out their Marine Division, and eventually was just kind of looking at the market and dealing with all of these test boats that I had under my control, and my personal boat, which were all, you know, internal combustion engine boats, and year on year was rebuilding carburetors and dealing with fuel line issues and water separators and all the real hassle that goes with that and said, I don’t want it anymore, right? I want to I want to follow the Tesla Model and Go Electric, and it will take away all that hassle and be a better product. And then the trick is just how do you deal with range anxiety? How do you make it make sense with a boat and pulled together the team for Epoch, we looked at, you know, a real first principle approach to this and said, alright, you have something on the water, we want to move it right, we want to move people so that they can do whatever activities fishing tubing, day boating, etc. How do we do that? How do we make it look different? How do we build it around an electric drive train. And you know, that kind of brought us into the hydrofoil system that we developed and patented. And then we took it the next step and said, now we’ve got these batteries on the boat, right. And I was looking at Tesla deploying their power walls. And I said, man, our storage on the boat is comparable to a power wall, in the smallest boat that we’re designing and building. And as we get into bigger boats, there is even more power. And I looked at that and said, Man, cars get used almost every day. Even still, they only see about 300 hours of active use. Boats get used on average in the US about 10 days a year. And it’s about 50 hours upon the water use. And I said man, if we’ve got 60 kilowatt hours of battery on this boat, and it’s never been used, essentially, as an effective utilization rate of 0.57%, we can do something really cool with that and use that as a behind the meter energy store and go help the grid and provide some really cool benefits to our customers and Epoch honors.
Peter Perri 3:38
It’s super cool. I think you guys approached it intelligently. And it’s a good point about the fact that there’s a lot more storage on boats and that people don’t use the boats as much here in Florida, they just the governor just made it, I guess illegal to not allow net metering. So net metering is going to is going to be allowed here in the state of Florida, which I think is a great thing for the for the solar energy generally, but also for anything related to electric vehicles, and bi directional charging capability for sure. I don’t know where you monitoring the activities down here in Florida.
Tom Ward 4:16
I saw that. I saw those headlines this morning and was a little bit surprised but grateful. You know, I think I think it’s the right decision. And, you know, certainly helps what we’re trying to do in our little small ecosystem of Epoch. But at a at a larger utility scale. I think it’s the right move. And I think it’s great for Florida and good for the world.
Peter Perri 4:37
Absolutely. So tell me about your team there at Epoch who How did you get these other two team members to come along with you where they founders that they join after the fact
Tom Ward 4:49
we all kind of came together. So jumping back to about a year ago, is when I really got the itch for Epoch and started looking at it and started really doing some deep research and Uh, you know, putting together some real skeleton models of what this looks like, from a market standpoint, what the customer, the customers would be, you know, what our costing would look like and kind of how we could deploy it. And over the summer, I kind of developed those and did the researches by the research by myself, and then started looking at, you know, what is the team need to be where are gaps in our skill sets. And fortunately, having been in the marine industry, for a while, I had some really great colleagues and former colleagues that I was able to reach out to and, you know, in the beginning, it was just kind of, hey, what do you think about this idea, you know, the original idea kind of morphed and pivoted and evolved a bit. And I had some really great people, you know, all 10x 10x people in their respective areas of, you know, operations or marketing or sales, and we kind of came together. And it was pretty much fall of last year, where we said, okay, here, here’s what this means to do a startup, right. It’s not our traditional kind of all of our experience was, was more so in the traditional large company, you know, corporate ecosystem and said, you know, this is going to be different, right, we’re not going to have our corporate salaries on day one, we’re going to have vesting schedules and stock options. But, but here’s the dream. And here’s what we can do with the puck. And, you know, fortunately, since everybody came out of the marine industry, everybody’s a lifelong boater. You know, we’ve got decades of experience as people that enjoy boats and around the water, we’ve got decades of experience as professionals in the marine industry. So really good context and be able to work the supply side of our business, but then also the downstream side with both dealers and marketing channels and all of our customers. And, you know, then we’re just at this point growing out and making connections into the energy side of it, because obviously, dealing with bi directional energy is a really complex issue. I would say it’s not incredibly complex from a technical perspective. But from a interpersonal and regulatory perspective, it gets complex because we have different state laws, different municipality laws, different utility regulations and requirements. And, you know, to your point a moment ago about how Florida you know, the governor of Florida just vetoed the bill that would ban net metering. Every state has different philosophies on that, and different ways that they use it. And when we look at demand response and Time Of Use metering programs, it means different things to customers, right? A customer in Texas might see a 20, or 20 cents per kilowatt hour differential. On their net metering, a customer in Arizona might see 50 cents. And as they go to look at products like Epoch that that will make a difference, right? Because you might save a couple $100 a year that 20 cent differential on your electricity bill, but then you can save, you know, 1000s. Plus, if you have that higher differential. So that’s kind of where we’re at right now, in terms of the bi directional aspect of the product is understanding exactly what that looks like and where it makes sense to deploy it in the early days, and I honestly expect that we will see more net metering as we progress into the future. And we adopt more renewable energy source and utilities look at it and say, hey, it makes sense for us to have this kind of tertiary power store that is owned by the consumer and distributed and deployable. But now we just need to connect with it and make sure that it doesn’t hurt the grid at large.
Peter Perri 8:26
Now, that makes a lot of sense. Let’s shift and talk a little about your go to market strategy. Are you guys planning to sell these to end consumers? Have you considered a fleet strategy? Are there other sorts of strategies that you’ve thought about? Or? Or is that a little bit out in the future?
Tom Ward 8:41
We are we are right now targeting and consumers. We’ve got a waitlist on our website, and we’ve got a number of people on it already. It’s growing every day. So our launch plan is to provide boats to them. And, you know, we kind of have a walk before you run strategy here, right? Because electric boating is a nascent industry. When we look at market statistics, I mean, 99 plus percent of boats on the market today have internal combustion engine engines on them. So we are in the very early days of that. And so step one for us is we need to sell a lot of electric boats, and we need to prove that we have the better use case. You know, nobody’s going to buy a boat just because it’s good for the environment. Or they might save a couple $100 on their electricity bill, right. They want to buy a boat because it’s fast, and it’s fun. It’ll get me where I need to go. It’s not going to have range limitations. And you know, it’s less of a hassle and that’s a big part of our initial selling point is we take the hassle out of boating, right? I mentioned before, no more carburetor rebuilds No more bad fuel filters, no more oil changes. I have an electric boat that I’ve had for six years and the only thing I’ve ever done with it is plug in my batteries, you know when I’m not using it. So that portion of it is really great. And with our hydrophone system, we think we’ve Solve the range problem and the speed problem that we typically see with electric boats. So that’s phase one sell to consumers. And then we do actually have some fleet level partners that we’re in early negotiations with. And, you know, I think that that’s a really great business model. Because at that kind of commercial scale, a fleet owner will tend to have, you know, the ability to leverage demand response and those type of rebate programs and much more than an end consumer will. And they’ll obviously have, you know, many more boats that are there to be able to provide power back to the grid. And that starts to become a really interesting proposition.
Peter Perri 10:37
Yeah, that for sure makes sense. I don’t want you to plug your competition. But are there any other players out there in the marketplace that are that are doing this? Are you watching them? And where do you see that shaken out?
Tom Ward 10:51
There are there are, there’s, um, it’s a hot industry right now. So the marine industry tends to lag behind the automotive industry by about 10 years. So if we go back in our time machine and see where Tesla was 10 years ago, and you know, as Rivia n was, was, you know, starting to boot up and get their operation going, and all the other major automotive players. So, come back to the future where we are today and say, okay, now’s the time, right, we’ve advanced the technology, it’s matured enough, batteries are getting 7% More energy dense every year. And they’re also decreasing in cost by seven to 12% a year. So we’re really at an interesting stage where, you know, there’s a lot of good tailwinds. And the technology is ready, and people are getting used to it, right, because they see a Tesla on the road, they see that low end torque and that great acceleration and, and that’s what you want in a boat, right. So we do have a couple of competitors out there, some who have tied into some of the really big institutional VCs and everything. GM actually recently backed a company with, you know, over $100 million in investment. And we see that all these great things, one of the nice parts about what we’re doing to Deepak is, we’re coming in with a pretty different perspective on the market. So most of the other electric boat companies are targeting the ultra premium level of day voting where they have $300,000 MSRP IDs. And we’re coming in, we’re targeting a sub $50,000 MSRP range, which about 90% of boats in the US that are sold, sell for less than $50,000. So, you know, our goal is maybe a little bit different than just selling electric boats, right? We want to sell a lot of electric boats, and then help them enable this larger, you know, goal towards helping the environment and helping the grid and scaling this energy distribution and storage system.
Peter Perri 12:42
That makes that that makes a ton of sense. Like the strategy. So what that leads me to ask is, you talked about the hydrofoil system without disclosing anything confidential what’s your IP situation? And do you think it’s enough to defend against, you know, some of the more well funded players?
Tom Ward 13:02
Yeah, we have a pretty novel way of it is novel, we have IP and process on it. And it’s, it’s fundamentally different in how it stores retracts deploys, and manages stability for the vessel than what we see on some of the other players. So there are a couple of other hydrofoil boat players. And if you look at the way that their foils are there, they’re almost all identical, it would be hard to tell for someone who isn’t really an expert in the space to say, am I looking at competitor A, or competitor B, and ours are different in the way that we approach it, the way that we generate lift with the foils. And, yeah, I feel pretty confident that we’re going to be able to protect that. And one of the nice things about the way that we’ve designed to develop it is that it doesn’t impinge on the interior of the boat in any way. So if you get into one of our boats and the foils in the retracted position, from the deck, it looks totally like a normal boat, and it’ll drive and act like a normal boat, just with an electric, you know, power train. And then when the foils are deployed, everything’s happening below the surface. So again, there’s no, there’s no real difference. It’s almost like a black box change for the pilot, or the captain of the boat. And I will say it is, as a lifelong voter, when the foils are deployed, and we’re running on them, it is one of the coolest experiences. I was actually out on the lake all day yesterday, running tests, and the way that the boat handles is just awesome. Like, I wish I was a better storyteller, so I could expand on that more, but it’s one of those things where you kind of have to think I think, get on one and feel it and it’s a it’s transformative.
Peter Perri 14:41
Very cool. Is it is it kind of like, you know, some of these boats I’ve seen or catamarans instead of a monohull, you’ve got, you know, sort of two hulls. Does it does it handle like one of those or is it a little is a different?
Tom Ward 14:54
It’s a little different than that as well. So our launch boats are all multihulls. You know, we have future plans to expand out the product line and get into this multiple designs. But we have when the foils are out there, it’s different than it just because you’re above the water. And it’s not, you’re not experiencing the drag from water, which was 800 times more dense than air. So it generates a lot of drag when that hull is in the water. It catamarans still have that issue, right? Even, even though they do some unique things with the multihull to try and you know, get above the water and reduce that. It’s on a different order of magnitude than what the foils do. So, again, I wish I was a better storyteller, I wish I could explain it better. And maybe in the coming months and years, I’ll, I’ll figure out a way to really verbalize it. But for now, just say anybody listening in like we’re going to, we’re going to do a tour with some of our prototype boats this summer. And, you know, we’ll be posting some stuff on social media about where we’re going to be and if we can get people scheduled and, and that’s going to be the best way is to just get on one and feel it.
Peter Perri 15:57
Sounds exciting. So that brings up some questions you’re going to do a tour of the boats. I know, Tesla’s are quite a bit heavier than a regular car, the boats a lot heavier than a regular boat, are there any challenges with towing them behind the truck on a trailer launching traditional way? Or what? What’s that experience like?
Tom Ward 16:17
So before I dive into what we have on the pack, I will push back on the statement that Tesla’s are heavier than a regular car. This is something that I’ve looked into quite a bit. And actually, if we take a Tesla Model three and compare it to a BMW M three, the model three is only 200 pounds heavier than the M three. And, you know, basically what happens is, when you think about an internal combustion engine, we take away, we take away this big cast engine block, right, we take away transmission, we take away oil pumps, and oil pans, catalytic converters in the fuel system. And that takes, you know, about 1000 pounds out of the car. And then if we replace all that with 1000 pounds of battery, you end up really close on the Eevee versus an internal combustion engine vehicle. And following on that, we actually are very close in terms of weight, we’re, we’re about the same, you know, within two to 300 pounds of a typical internal combustion engine boat, the only differential being that that’s when the internal combustion engine boat is full of fuel. So when they obviously burned down to, you know, 10% of their fuel capacity, they’re going to be lighter still than we would be because the batteries stay the same weight.
Peter Perri 17:29
Makes sense? Can you pull them on a trailer? Yes, absolutely. Very cool. And no issue with saltwater?
Tom Ward 17:38
Nope, no issue with saltwater. In terms of trailering and use case, because we’re focusing on consumers first. And because there is a little bit of a chicken and the egg problem with power available at docks and it slips, we are we’re initially focused on customers that do trailer their boats, and that would take it home, plug it in at their house and then be able to leverage, you know, whether it’s time to use for demand response or, or you know, even just using their at home one way charging infrastructure to make good savings versus paying, you know, gas prices at the pump. And then for on the water use case, you know, full disclosure, when we look at Blue Water boats that are going 100 miles offshore to you know, go to a canyon and do tuna fishing, battery technology, and UV technology really isn’t there today, we got that so many batteries on the boat that it would, you know, create issues with additional drag, and it just doesn’t work. So we’re really focused on near shore and inland use case. So no issues with saltwater. But if somebody wants to go, you know, 15, 20, 30 miles offshore, it’s not going to be the right solution today. But within a couple miles ashore within the intercostal waterway on rivers on lakes, it’s a great application. And we see about 70% of boat owners fall into the use case where we could just electrify them tomorrow. And they would see a benefit and real no degradation in terms of do they have the range that they want, you know, is they’re both going to be available to be on the water and we actually see it as a positive because again, it takes away fuel costs, it takes away maintenance events, you know, the boats are ready to go when people want to use them.
Peter Perri 19:21
It makes sense. Have you done any inshore fishing off of them? Yeah, yeah. Are they? Do you see a difference? I mean, in terms of are they quieter and easier to approach? Because I mean, I know a lot of boats will have sort of those electric troll motors for sort of stealth and quiet as they’re approaching some of the inshore fish. I don’t know if, if this makes a difference for that application.
Tom Ward 19:45
So we in terms of our power train, we actually are working with a couple of different outdoor electric outboard manufacturers, and they have different philosophies on how to put power to the propeller. So some of them have to direct drive electric motors that are in the water passively cooled by the water. And they are very quiet. When you’re, you know, in the pilot’s chair and you’re driving and, you know, at speed, you can have a nice conversation with the person next to you. I’m not sure if it’s a little bit louder for the fish or not in that configuration. We have some other partners who they position their, their power trains differently, where they have a more traditional, you know, gear driven prop in the water, and then their electric motor is up where the power head would be on a traditional ice outpoured. And in that case, you do hear a little bit more of the Eevee, you know, Moto wearing, were buzzing a little bit. So nowhere near as loud as what we would see on a combustion engine. But you know, there is a minor noise associated with it. And unfortunately, even though I love fishing, I’m a pretty poor fisherman. So I think I mostly just like being out there and having a fishing rod in my hand is a good excuse to be in nature. So I can’t I can’t give you good data on whether or not it scares the fish away. But I suspect it’s a little bit better than the ice counterparts.
Peter Perri 21:06
I would imagine. And you met you mentioned that you like to sail or that you grew up doing some sailing. Is there any applications for these on sailboats? I know a lot of sail boats have smaller motors I used to have one with like a little nine horse outboard. Do you see applications there?
Tom Ward 21:24
So I mean, the sailing racing industry is really the progenitor for this concept, in my opinion. And when you look at like America’s Cup, racing sailboats, they have hydrofoils on them, they use them and they’re, they’re specialized in their complex and you need to be a world class sailor to manage that. For a more consumer level sailboat, you know, a leisure yacht. Part of the issue with deploying a hydrofoil on it is that there is a minimum speed to get the net benefit of the hydrofoil. And so on our entry level 14 foot boat, we can use 10 to 15 horsepower, depending on how loaded the boat is, and we can achieve the speed we need to get the boat out of the water. But with a larger, you know, 1000s of pounds sailboat, a 10 horsepower engine isn’t going to generate the speed. So there’s probably not a lot of use case in that particular application.
Peter Perri 22:20
Makes sense. Let’s shift and talk a little bit about financing strategy. Have you guys been in the market? Have you talked to some investors yet? Are there any particular investors or type of investors that you’d like to see come into the deal? And what’s your timeframe for wanting to launch so your next round of institutional funding?
Tom Ward 22:41
So we are we are actively raising a pre seed round right now, a lot of our focus, and we’re somewhat early in the process, but has been on climate oriented venture capital groups and Angel groups. Surprisingly, the two, two areas of pushback that we’ve gotten, maybe I’m disclosing too much here, but one has been that we’re, we’re focused on consumer, and a lot of a lot of institutional investors seem to be a little bit unnerved by that. And then the other is actually around our, our build process. And, you know, I mentioned the team earlier, and how great, the team is amazing. We are, we’re well experienced in taking things from the whiteboard, to the test lab to the you know, the model shot to the test lab into production and scaling it and, you know, that’s what we do. So, there’s been some pushback of like, well, who’s going to build the boat for you? And it’s a, it’s kind of a funny question to me, because I’m like, well, you’re looking at it, you know, it’s me, and it’s the team like, this is what we do. And you know, we have a great network of people to bring on board as soon as we kind of get the round closed and everything and, and scale it out from there. So, you know, I think climate investors are a big one, because there’s a huge value proposition from a pollution reduction perspective, just taking this industry to EB and then also on the energy side, right, I think there’s a lot of kind of blending between energy investors and climate investors, as we shift into renewables, and, you know, secondary battery stores with iron flow batteries, and, you know, pumped hydro and things of that nature. And then, you know, getting into what we’re pursuing an Epoch with, with tertiary battery stores. So I think those are kind of our ideal, ideal investors who get the vision and kind of understand where it’s gonna go.
Peter Perri 24:33
Yep, yeah, that that sounds about right. There’s also a huge category of investors that fall under mobility. And there’s a good number of them that that are not afraid of direct to consumer models. How big is your raise that you’re looking to raise at this point?
Tom Ward 24:49
Right now we’re pursuing a $2 million raise to get us into early production and you know, be able to serve our waitlist right now and then you know, really prove out that the mark It gets ready for this style of boat and go from there.
Peter Perri 25:04
Very good. Well, to all the viewers out there, if you’re investors in the sector, you should definitely give Tom a call. It’s Tom. It’s been a pleasure having you on the energy superheroes podcast. It’s exciting what you’re doing there at Epoch and I look forward to having you back on the show. You know, call it in a year after you’ve done your, your fundraising and taking the company to the next level. And if you’re down here in Florida on your tour, I’ll definitely get on one of those boats. I’d love to try it out and see what it’s like.
Tom Ward 25:37
Absolutely. And thanks. Thanks for having me, Peter. And we will 100% be in Florida so I will reach out and we’ll get you on the water.
Peter Perri 25:46
Good stuff. Thanks, Tom.
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