Meet Jamari Jackson, a McKendree student who turned a road trip idea into a thriving EV charging business. Explore his path to entrepreneurship!
We’re Bruce and Karen Carlson. We recently moved to the Metro East area of Illinois. It’s a whole new world out there. Our goal with this website is to share our exploration of the Metro East area. As we find businesses and services we use in our daily lives, we’ll share how these businesses and services have helped make our lives better and easier to live.
We’re calling our move to the Metro East area retirement, but we’re not quite sure what that means. By sharing our story with you, we hope you too will gain a better sense of what the Metro East area has to offer and how their businesses and services can improve your lives and build a better community.
Karen and I recently attended an O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce event at McKendree University. We were so very fortunate to meet Jamari Jackson. This young man has the positive energy and drive to make changes in the world. He’s someone who can see issues and work to solve them. His positive energy will leave you with a good feeling that the world is going to be a better place. So enjoy what Jamari has to say.
Who is Jamari Jackson
Let’s just start with an intro to who you are, what you’re doing, what your plans are.
I’m a senior, and my name is Jamari Jackson. I’m majoring in Business Administration, with a minor in Legal Studies. I was born and raised in Belleville, and I came to McKendree for debate. They found me at Belleville East High School, where I was a debater for three years. They told me, “Hey, we have one of the top programs in the country. Would you like to come join us?” And I enthusiastically replied, “Absolutely!”
So they gave me a scholarship. I came out here and really just participated in debate and academics. For the first two years, I was involved on campus with some student organizations, such as the Black Student Organization and student government. I also served as a student ambassador to the Alumni Board. Those three organizations, along with my debate courses, were my life up until two years ago.
That’s when I got bitten by the entrepreneur bug as a junior, and it bit me hard. One summer, I guess, my family and I took a road trip to Myrtle Beach, and while we were in the car, we saw two or three electric vehicles on the way. In the middle of the trip, there weren’t many cars on the road.
You just see your typical combustion engine. And we were all like, man, we hadn’t seen these newer EVs that we just saw at the start of the trip. You saw your standard Teslas, but, like, whoa, where are the new cars coming from? And who’s powering them? That was the conversation, and that was the question that started everything.
When I asked that question, my folks looked at me in the rearview mirror, right? And they sort of looked up, and they’re like, wow, that’s a good question. We don’t know. So it’s a 13-hour road trip. Two and a half hours are now dedicated to us just doing research and discoveries if you will.
The birth of an idea
They were my first R&D department, so we’re looking up competitors. We’re looking up what are EVs. How do they charge? And what we realized was that outside of major cities and the coast, not too many companies or entities were focused on expanding electric vehicle charging. We said, well, who’s going to do something about this? My stepfather looks at me in the mirror and says, “Why not you?” It’s one of those questions where you toss it up in the air, and you’re, yeah, okay. You hear it, you think about it, and then you tuck it away in some corner.
I just kept gnawing on that thought, and it kept, you know how they say when toddlers are teething that sensation? It does something for them, right? Playing around with the idea of solving that problem just tickled my brain in a way that debate organizations and schools alone hadn’t yet.
I called up my former high school debate coach, who was also a McKendree alumnus. He had contact for McKendree’s debate team, so I reached out to him because he is not only a debate coach but also a serial entrepreneur. He’s always starting new businesses. I asked him if he could come over and help me brainstorm a solution to an issue I had in mind. He eagerly agreed and that’s exactly what he did.
That’s how I’ve gotten here. That’s what started it. I guess I’ll go a little further because that would take us to what I do now. When my coach came over and we whiteboarded the business, he basically put me in contact with different individuals who could help us build out the skeleton of the company called Wattsco. Wattsco was an electric vehicle charger service provider focused on placing EV chargers at multifamily apartment complexes.
Birth of Wattsco
I bought them in bulk from a manufacturer, placed them at properties where the property owner wanted them, and maybe couldn’t afford them or just had the space and said, “Hey kid, if there’s the traffic for it and you give me a cut, you can place them there.” And that was the approach in building that company out. We did it very lean, right?
You must have something that’s bringing in money on the first and the 15th, like power washing, painting, and lawn care, or you have to have an idea big enough to use other people’s money. I was just a junior in college at the time, so one of the resources that the coach put me in contact with was a firm called Gusher, based out of Delaware.
Gusher allows you to hire people for performance-based equity. I was able to get a CFO for 2% of the firm, regardless of the fact that I had no money upfront or revenue coming in. What made their work impactful for the firm is that the value of the firm grows based on the work they’re putting in. It’s like this mutual or symbiotic relationship where they’re incentivized to put out quality work that pushes the bar for the company.
It reminds me almost of sweat equity.
That’s exactly what it is. You quantify that by saying that if and when you’re profitable, the exit is whatever that sweat equity percent is. In our case, what it continued to give us was just opportunities to pitch investors, people who say, “Hey, we’ll either give you money, a connection, or a place, right?”
We call those LOIs (letters of intent). And so ideally, with the right amount of money, with the right amount of letters of intent, and those letters of intent coming from the right partners, commercial businesses, the idea is that you take that to the bank, you scale up from there. In the process of doing that, we met the vice president of the company I currently work for, which is Eagle Global. At the time, it was just the manufacturer of LED lights.
Moving on up
We were the manufacturer, distributor, installer, servicer, and even the in-house financer. With that said, what kind of lights? From internet modem lights to office fixtures, and up to commercial-grade plant lights, we make over 850 fixtures. 150 of these are our top sellers, which are like our bread and butter. When we met the vice president or the president of this firm, he basically told us that they had been wanting to roll out EV chargers.
He explained that electricity goes where you want it to go and does what you tell it to do; it’s just a matter of engineering. The same electricity powers the phone recording this and the light fixtures above. They had been building prototypes and designing different things.
They just hadn’t found a person to help them roll out the sales side of it, the consumer side of it. And that’s where my expertise with doing what I was doing with Wattsco came in. Because I knew how to approach some of these entities, what information was valuable for them to hear, that sort of thing.
So that’s who I am. That’s how I got to McKendree. That’s where I guess McKendree led me. I thought McKendree was going to take me to a standard business admin degree and then who knows what. But when that bug bites you, you go wherever it goes.
Well, you really answered the first two questions I sent you, or at least gave information for it. So let’s go to the third question, that’s your elevator pitch.
Yes, yes. So it’s very similar, shortened to the overview. Hi, my name’s Jamari Jackson and I’m a senior majoring in business admin with a minor in Legal studies at McKendree. Two years ago, I got bitten by the startup bug and I founded an electric vehicle charger startup focused on putting chargers at multifamily apartment complexes. At the end of this summer, that company was acquired, and I got hired to become the National Sales Manager of EV Products. And I’m always open to connecting with mentors, mentees, or property managers. Right now, it’s you.
Next this question, “What makes it such a special place?”
Okay, yes, with that one, alright, I have the word, it’s like whether we prioritize expanding in this area. And I can say the best way is that the greater St. Louis area is definitely home. To specialize, like a city, specifically because it was just a broader question, so I perceived it as where does the company plan to go? And right now, it’s here.
Right now, we’re starting, you know, it’s been Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, Belleville, O’Fallon, Fairview Heights. Everywhere is home.
I’d like you to expand a little bit on the idea of where you’re placing the units. Help me understand that part of the community.
Absolutely, first, I need to make it clear, the difference between what I had done with Wattsco and what I currently do now. So, as Wattsco, I was the middleman who went back and forth between a different manufacturer and the end user. The end user isn’t the person who plugs in.
You would think it is because they have the cars, but that’s not the person buying the charger. They’re just buying power from the charger. In our world, the end user is the property manager, the building owner, the landowner, facility managers, commercial groups, and those sorts of things, who own multiple facilities at a time.
We go directly to them and say, “Hey, what new projects do you have? What current projects do you have?” Ideally, high-traffic projects or high-traffic areas are the best marketplace to go to. However, I have to show that difference because I only represent the manufacturer now. I shifted from being in the middle to pick a side.
Picking a side
As a manufacturer, we’re not worried about that person who’s looking to own their own private network across multiple spaces. Right. With Wattsco, I would’ve had ten stations across five different locations, per se, and I would’ve owned them all. And this would’ve been like my network. Whereas in this case, I’m the manufacturer of these things.
I’ll sell them to the end user; the end user owns them. That’s their network. Do you see the difference? It removes the middleman and eliminates the need for someone to be paid for sharing space or arranging transportation. We view our products as data products that you buy to use for your building.
Does it complete the transactions?
I complete transactions now, instead of being the guy who facilitates the interim. That’s also why I couldn’t sustain being the middleman in the long term in a world where I have to share a percentage of what the manufacturer charges me for the item, as well as the property owner I have now placed it with. And then I have to operate the business and support myself in between. Right now, it’s just you’re the manufacturer, they buy the unit, and then they create whatever world they want to be in.
Do those types of units require much in the way of maintenance or repairs?
We have your back
They do, but they shouldn’t for the first ten years. Typically, in our world, what happens is as we come out with new tech, we propose a new tech team for it because, as I said, we are the manufacturer, distributor, installer, and servicer. If and when a problem arises, you call us back up and say, “Hey, the thing you did that was supposed to work didn’t.” And you don’t have to pay any more for that because what you buy once, you always work with the first.
This is very interesting because you’re in a technology that is going to go all sorts of places.
I think the best part of what I do, if you will, is, when I get on the road and see a new EV. Specifically, one I haven’t seen before. I’m like a kid in a candy shop. I’ve been handed something new, and I’m ready to break it and take it out of the box because the industry is just that. It’s so new, it’s so emerging.
This is the technology that we will look back on and like it revolutionized the world. Steve Jobs shows up with an iPhone one day and says, “We’re getting rid of the screen.” Everybody with their Blackberries is scratching their heads, like, what do you mean we’re losing the brick breaker game? We can’t be.
Technology is advancing
What do you mean we’re losing our multi-press buttons to get text? And now here we all are with phones where it’s nothing but screen all the time, and they’ve only gotten bigger. Right, and brighter. In a world where EVs are just coming out, let’s take an early example. The Ford F-150 Lightning, a standard EV, is Ford’s first EV pickup truck. If your house goes out, the car can act as a generator for the home.
Fundamentally changing how the world works. If you were to tell somebody in the 1700s with a horse and carriage that, hey, we no longer have a horse and carriage. We just have a car that is the horse and the carriage. And not only that, this horse and carriage can provide heat and everything else back at home, they would lose their mind.
Are you kidding me? We’re not even in the first decade of this technology being rolled out by multiple competitors. Tesla came out in 2010, but Ford, Honda, Nissan, Volvo, Volkswagen, and Toyota – they all have it too. And it’s just getting started. If that’s the starting point It can power your home in the first decade. Where will we be in five decades?
It really is a springboard. I think if you look at it, it’s either a three-meter or a ten-meter springboard. How high do you want to go and how far are you willing to jump? It’s so expansive. It’s sort of mind-blowing in a way, just thinking about things totally differently. And that’s some of the stuff that we’re being disruptive. I don’t know if you saw that, but it’s disruptive. It’s changing the way things are done. It’s changing the way you look at things.
Is it just a fad?
I would agree. Something I got a lot of pushback on early on was when I said, “Hey, EVs are coming. This has to be true.” We see the commercials and people say, “Well, yeah, EVs are coming, but nobody’s really going to pick them all up or just, we’re not going to sell them.” People are still going to be driving gas cars.
And I think if the public accepts the reality that EVs aren’t here to replace every car on the road, they’re here to replace just a small percentage. And any percentage is better to offset this global climate crisis they say we’re facing. If that’s true, any attempt to improve the infrastructure to support that is going to be successful. It’s just a matter of how it’s deployed and what it looks like. So it’s very exciting.
It’s going from gas-powered to hybrid. We took one step, we partially went there, and then you have the ones that are totally electric, right?
I would agree. Now, there’s a downside to all of this. If the exciting part is it’s an emerging industry and whatnot, because it’s the wild, wild west, if you will, it’s dangerous, right? Not the technology, not the hardware itself, but how it’s being perceived publicly and then adopted publicly has just been tumultuous.
It’s been a little bit rocky, it’s safe to say. Electric vehicle infrastructure and the cars themselves have been a little politicized. But also, it’s dangerous because those who wanna be the disruptors, those early adopters, don’t even know how where, or if they should be.
People who are the early adopters are the disruptive thinkers and they are drawn to those things.
It’s the wild, wild west
Once again, it’s the wild, wild west, right? There are those who went out there, for the gold rush, if you liken it to that, and you go out there and you run that high risk, high reward. What I’ll say is this: I’m in a unique position now. I consider myself very blessed, number one, but a unique position now because all the networking and rooms that we were putting ourselves into paid off.
And not everybody can say that. At one point, I was a kid working three jobs, running two Orbs, and pursuing school full time. I had little to no sleep. And it was the sacrifice that I was more than okay with making. I can afford to do it when I’m young.
That’s the first thing. But the stats also show that consistency and time yield results, whether you believe in EVs in this industry someone else believes in gas in the next, or another person believes in whatever they’re passionate about. However, if you’re consistent and patient, something is bound to happen. I’m just in a really unique and blessed position to do what I’m doing and be a disruptor.
You said you had some other points or things in addition to the questions. Did we cover those yet? Because I want to hear what you’ve got to say. I think you have a great story here.
I did have a little joke. I said it’s a little dangerous. That’s the downside of it, is you’re just sort of navigating that. What does that look like? It means you do have to have those conversations of, we don’t know if it’s coming or if it is going. Why is it so pricey? Or what is this? What is that? It’s hey, this is part of what’s coming. And if you don’t believe that, no worries. But you’re going to go home and you’re going to put the TV on and an EV commercial is going to come on, and you called me two weeks later.
Pioneer or settler?
What I’m hearing from you is a great vision of something. You’re almost a prophet in the sense that you’re proclaiming something different. As you said, you’re not the settler, you’re the pioneer.
You’re taking the arrows in the back because you’re going ahead of everybody else and doing something. How does that in the long run, do you see that helping the local community, how does that raise up the community?
I think it’s okay if the community is first inspired. What I mean by that is the community won’t support people who are on the edge of being pioneers. If you’re pioneering something that doesn’t make sense, essentially, they’ll allow you to be a martyr. You’ll fall on your own sword or the sword of your enemy, you were just that, a martyr. And so in this case, I think it’s all about where we’re at.
Illinois knows that they’re one of the top producers in the EV industry. Governor Pritzker is putting out a lot of legislation saying, hey, we want a bunch of these cars on the road. He made a bold claim back in 2020 that he wanted a million EVs in Illinois by 2030. Quite frankly, I don’t think that, but I definitely think we’ll be above 500,000.
500,000 EVs by 2030
Well, isn’t it California that said, was in 2025, they’re not going to sell any gas power cars?
They’re so aggressive now. Even then, there are some repercussions. It’s a different political landscape over there, a different actual infrastructure landscape because their big cities can support these short commutes as the car’s range begins to increase.
So they’re getting about 300 miles per battery. Once again, if year one powers the house, it won’t be long before we’re at the 500, 600, 700 range mile batteries. And so when that’s the case, there’ll be more states that will say let’s move away from combustion engines.
It’s adding value. I think the bottom line, I think what I hear is when you talk about how it adds to the community, it’s adding value.
I think, as I mentioned before, with it being on the edge of Illinois, it’s important to note that there are jobs coming to the area from both car makers and car battery manufacturers. Additionally, we’re actively supporting the infrastructure of the city. These chargers aren’t like a standard product that I sell to you. Once you have it, you, as the owner, keep it. You provide a service to the public and the public benefits from it.
Let’s make a deal
You’re essentially the newest MotoMart, Shell, BP. So people can’t go anywhere without first coming into contact with you if you have an electric vehicle charger at one of your properties. And that speaks volumes. Right. Because let’s say I have just a little residential plaza and you guys have a sandwich shop.
I dropped an EV charger here. You guys can drop a discount in conjunction with this sandwich shop saying, hey, people come in and they charge. And so a symbiotic relationship can begin to coexist. And the connections, relationships, or just the business, if you will, that comes from that, I think is good for the area and everyone else involved.
That’s the community point that we’re bringing in is then, how do you work with the businesses here, which then supports the local community. You’re showing them how to promote their product by being able to say, I have a service that everybody else may not have. There’s that relationship.
Now, what’s the craziest thing you’ve run into?
The craziest moment may have been when we founded the company Watttsco, and it got selected to go to the Rice University competition. That’s a large business competition with different schools, including LSU, MIT, and Arizona, some of the top schools.
Oh, it’s personal
Hearing those names didn’t faze me because I was also facing those people here for debate, kicking their behinds. In my best season, my team finished 17th in the nation, which was really, really good, but we were up against some of these titans. When it was time to go up there and represent my company, oh, it’s personal. I’m coming here for McKendree.
When we did that, they skipped over us. They didn’t pick us the first time. The selection date was February 23, and they picked 23 companies. None of them said Wattsco, and then, of course, you as a team have to figure that out. Alright, well, what do we do now? We were hoping to make some connections there.
Two weeks later, I received a call from the competition director. Hey, are you Jamari with Wattsco? It definitely is. Wells Fargo has granted us the opportunity to represent a cleantech startup, and your profile is a perfect fit. Your team, your mission, all of that. We would like to fly you out to Houston, even though you weren’t initially selected.
It’s those crazy moments when I set out, I would give myself a year. At the time, I was a junior. I said, “You have a year to figure this out and see what happens.” And it could cost you. It could cost you heavily. Right. Since then, what it has definitely cost me is some trade-off with school.
So I’m still here, finishing off what is my final year. But I said, when I set off, let’s see what happens, and this is what happened. But when we got selected, I was like, okay, I’m still within this year’s time frame. Something else will come. Just keep working, keep working, keep working.
For us to get that callback and then for it to lead to all the connections and conversations that we had, was a relief. It was an affirmation. It definitely motivated us to keep pushing and figure out what comes next. But everything since then has continued to be just one of those things like what takes you to the next thing. What is it that I want?
You’ve been telling us all about the work world and everything at school. What do you do when you get time off?
I’m deep into books of any genre. Now, of course, I have my preferences, but I’m open to any book. A mentor of mine once told me that if you get one good idea from a book, it’ll be worth everything you gain from it. Good idea. But also all the time you spend reading it. Right. Whether that’s two weeks, a month, or a month and a half.
If you get a tiny something that changes your day-to-day, and you’re slowly accumulating knowledge, isn’t that power? You accumulate all these little tidbits and grow as a person. I’m always reading and running because that’s how you work out. I like going for runs. I ran in high school, but I chose debate over running just because I thought arguing was better. So reading, running and, I am a bad golfer, but I like it. You can be bad at it and do it. Those are probably the main three.
You’ve got a fantastic start here, but how do you see your future evolving? Do you know, five years down the road, do you have any particular goals or ideas?
My youth and me being naive
Oh man, that’s actually a question that, when I saw it, I laughed a little bit because I was, oh no, Forbes sounds nice, right? Like 30 under 30 could be cool. I’m 22, I’ve got eight years. Let’s see. On one hand, I know that’s my youth and me being naive, but at the same time, there was a point where I thought that about my business. I thought I was just a youthful kid who was naive and could figure something out, and it’s gotten us here.
Of course, I have those big goals like, oh yeah, you wanna have that achievement or that achievement. But more than that, I wanna be able to go back to some of the places that have impacted me and then impact them. If it’s true that now I’m the EV guy and I’m representing this manufacturer and we’re putting all these out, eventually I need to go back to some of the places that have impacted me and say, hey, let’s put you guys a station down because that’s what it looks like.
To embody the sense of community that supports the pioneer, to go ahead and not the martyrs. You know what I’m saying? So I guess I have the personal goal to continue to strive for those successes and ambitions, but I also want to continue to inspire and show that the same gusto that I took while pioneering it gets you here. And when it does, you can give back.
One of the biggest things I take the most pride in when it comes to my business card isn’t the logo, the name, or the title. The marketing team has been handling that. It was a culture shock for me to go from a startup to a global entity with an IT team, and a software team, and be involved in those executive calls. That was a big culture shock.
But anyway, I tell people that I take so much pride in just the words “EV products”. You could scratch my name off of it today. You could black it out, and I wouldn’t care. You could black out the company name, and I wouldn’t care about my numbers either. EV products. I could just have a card that said that because it reminds me of that youthful kid who sat up in a car with his parents, and who’s going to do something about this?
And they said, “Why not you?” So I take so much pride in just that one piece, and it keeps me grounded. I think that’s another thing that makes me want to continue to just give it back, right? We can all figure something out. We can all figure this out. It’s been a journey. I loved it. I still love it. Hysteria, the feeling of almost insanity, being crazy is one that isn’t foreign to me.
It’s one I’ve become very comfortable with, and yet in spite of that, you still have to show up and perform. I take all of that, all of these feelings about the journey. I’m just like, okay, and it’s cool, but you still gotta be on the edge. You still gotta be the adrenaline.
So, there were some members of the Chamber of Commerce who met me last year. When they met me, my elevator pitch wasn’t what it is now. I’m Jay, and I’m a student. I’m involved in organizations and whatnot, and I’m studying and doing debate. And that’s where it ended. Maybe I told you about some past work history and told you what I was thinking about and working on as a writer, but without any tangible success. Since then, it has sounded a little crazy. Right?
Level of success
So now that I have obtained a certain level of success, there’s a weird feeling because you didn’t have it before, you have it now. You’re the same person, and there’s a new journey ahead.
As a child, my mother founded a non-profit, so I grew up with that non-profit, which serves low-income women and children. But now, I clean up the office building for the non-profit as a way of giving back to the community. It’s one of those things. However, giving back to a company needs to be more than just a mission statement. It has to be tangible, right? In my world, I love the possibility that the tangible reality is like, “Hey, you folks need stations?”
I had a thought is there an app where you can locate a charging station or something?
It’s called PlugShare, and it registers all stations that can connect to the internet and have Cord D built into them. The moment stations are plugged in and have that connectivity, they ping up. This is also the kind of stuff that updates on the cars themselves. Which helps with the trip planning, destination to destination.
Depending on how many miles you’re going, you have to make sure you can get there right.
150,000 more stations
You don’t want to fall short, but we need at minimum 150,000 more stations just to implement and support state-to-state travel. And that’s like one station every 70 miles at minimum.
Do they have road service?
Do you know what? Early on, when we were rolling out Wattsco, a lot of our advisors were asking us to make that shift. They were, “If you can be your own privatized network, and because you’re your own privatized network, people who use you can always have access to the windshield wipers or air pressure, just whatever, that sort of thing. It’d be great.”
There are other companies out there that will have, portable power. So, you log on. Let’s say you park here, and they don’t have chargers. You can order a charge if you know you’re going to be here all day. So they’ll pull up with their van, plug into your car, and sit there for a little while.
There are a couple of unique fixes out there right now, just because that’s how bad it is. Imagine ordering gas for your car. Why would you do that? I mean, there’s a gas station. You can be in and out, right? But with these sorts of things, it takes a little minute.
How long does it take to charge the car now?
There are three levels. The lowest level can take 8 to 10 hours. The medium level can take about three. Some of the fastest levels can range from 9 to 15 minutes to an hour, hour and a half. Our best piece of technology is better than Tesla’s level two Charger, which is their standard. They sell it to all their buyers because it comes with the car, like the level one in-the-box charger.
They’re not very good. That’s that, eight to ten hours. You’re never going to be using that, it’s like 3 miles an hour. So Tesla’s, I think, is about 44 miles an hour. Ours does 77, about double 80 close to that. So it definitely cuts down the time. But once again, what’s gas, right?
Well, I know your time is valuable, I don’t want to delay you or make you late for something, but it’s been absolutely fascinating to have some time with you and hear your story and hear your excitement and all that’s happening and stuff. Pretty cool.
I’m really grateful for the opportunity. It means a lot to me.
Well, thank you.
A great conversation with Jamari
In this remarkable journey, Jamari Jackson transformed curiosity into innovation, reshaping the EV charging landscape. The key takeaway: No matter your background, a simple question can spark incredible change. Jamari’s story highlights the power of vision, determination, and making a difference. It’s a reminder that anyone, like you, can influence their world in unexpected ways.
We hope you are enjoying these articles and are willing to continue to follow along as we share our adventures of learning about life in southern Illinois, This is an exciting area and we are so happy to be part of this area. Our lives are being fulfilled by the people we are meeting. Bruce & Karen.