060: Freddy Sidi (Chargello)

Freddy Sidi on Innovation City

“You’ve just got to be able to stand back up and keep going.” — Freddy Sidi

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in cooperation with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community. Venture Cafe is the largest combined gathering of entrepreneurs and innovators anywhere in the world. Events are held every Thursday in St. Louis, Miami, and other leading innovation cities around the globe.

Today’s guest is Freddy Sidi, President and CEO of Chargello. Freddy is a serial entrepreneur whose first company (started when he was just 20 years old) quickly became one of the largest CLECs in the entire United States. Chargello is a free phone-charging battery service and advertising platform designed for public spaces like restaurants, hotels, and airports. Freddy sits down with us to talk about being a serial entrepreneur, how Chargello solves three problems at once, and why sometimes you have to listen to yourself and tune everyone else out.

They discuss:

  • Freddy’s lifelong career as a serial entrepreneur, founding and building companies
  • What to expect when starting a business:
    • The need to pivot
    • Plans change, plans fail
    • Prepare to take your hits and get back up
  • The inspiration for Chargello
  • Solving 3 problems at once:
    • Everyone’s phone battery always dying
    • Venues struggling to manage charging guests’ phones
      • Guests leaving when their phones die and can’t get charged
    • A strong advertising platform with a positive payoff for sponsors
  • Bootstrapping Chargello before joining Endeavor
  • Endeavor is an entrepreneurship network that is helping them scale
  • The importance of getting the product right
  • Product or Service Provider? Why not both?
  • Scaling for different venues; any public arena where people stay for a long period of time, they will want to charge their phones.
    • Restaurants, hotels, banks, hair salons, doctors’ offices, banks, gyms, hospitals
  • The phone charging demand was bigger than Freddy and his team expected
  • They are now looking at sporting event venues, MIA airport
  • Two models: paid service or ad-supported
  • Their biggest challenge: the ad industry is very old and behind the times
  • The struggle of getting traditional brands to advertise on digital (and on batteries!)
  • How to prove advertising value without solid numbers
  • The challenges entrepreneurs face:
    • Financial
    • Customers’ expectations
    • Personnel
    • The Unknown
  • Why sometimes you have to trust yourself and not listen to outsiders
  • The importance of making sure your users are happy
  • What new challenges Freddy faces with Chargello
  • The difference between being in the software business and being in the hardware business
  • “Are you solving a problem?”
  • Solving problems that are unknown often offers the biggest opportunity
  • The trouble of inventing solutions that don’t scale
  • Products can work in Miami, or San Francisco, that don’t work anywhere else, because of the specific ecosystems of those cities
  • “Solve a problem. Make sure that it scales. Make a difference that matters.”
  • Funding is easy in certain markets and very tough in others:
  • Networking and fundraising in Miami is completely different than New York or California