Plugged In - with Dan Caesar of Fully Charged
Balancing the books, striking the right chord and tackling Twitter is no easy feat, but it’s one Dan – Joint CEO of Fully Charged – manages unnervingly well. We talk to him about the extraordinary growth of Fully Charged and how they coped without any live events during the covid pandemic.
“This is about getting people to switch to an electric car. Or even convincing people to get rid of the car and get an electric bike or to put solar panels on your roof. It isn’t about money, but without money you can’t grow and achieve those objectives.”
I’m talking with Dan Caesar – Joint CEO of Fully Charged - about running a commercial enterprise while remaining true to their mission of convincing the world to “Stop Burning Stuff”.
Fully Charged, if you haven’t been paying attention to the internet, is a global YouTube phenomenon that has arguably done more than any other digital platform to fuel the explosion of interest in EVs and clean energy.
Or at the very least, it feels that way if you’ve been following the channel for long enough. After all, Fully Charged started with humble beginnings and propped up entirely by Robert Llewelyn way back in 2010 – it’s easy to forget that Robert and the channel has been pushing for a transition to cleaner energy and transport well before Fully Charged became the worldwide “influencer” it is today.
Building a business to accomplish the mission
Now the channel has well over 850,00 subscribers and counting. To keep things running smoothly it has a team of enthusiastic professionals behind the scenes, but it’s Dan who brought the commercial knowhow and helped take Fully Charged to the next level when he joined Robert in 2016.
“YouTube does not pay the bills," Dan states. "If you are one of those young guys who does Minecraft videos or something you might make some money out of it. But for us YouTube does not make any money.
“When I started working with Robert five years ago, I said ‘I think you could create an event or series of events and ultimately you could franchise or licence those out.”
The first Fully Charged event took place at Silverstone in 2018 and was a huge success, showing the way forward for the business.
And yes, I said business. It isn’t a word Dan shies away from. Even when you have a noble goal like that of Fully Charged, finance is still required to fund the journey towards that goal.
“The Fully Charged Live shows dominate our bank balance. It is the biggest thing we do by a distance," he says. "So, when we didn't do it for a year-and-a-half due to the pandemic that actually hurt us a lot. It was really, really quite painful and we were without a very high percentage of our revenue.”
Dan explains how the team had to “pivot” to try to balance the books until things returned to some sort of normality. Electric car cinema drive-ins were organised, an EV “world cup” was hosted – anything to meet the dual aims of promoting clean energy and transport, but also bring in some cash to keep things going.
Perhaps the biggest commercial addition was the creation of Fully Charged Plus – a second YouTube channel still focusing on the world of clean energy and sustainability, but importantly allowing businesses in those sectors to showcase their products and services. On top of this, the production team is also contracted out to clients, helping to create another new revenue stream.
Dan describes it as “a plane now having two or three engines rather than the one [the main YouTube channel] which is nice”.
Honesty and personality
I’m taken aback a little by how transparent and willing Dan is to talk about the commercial side of Fully Charged. It’s obvious this is needed to fund a large and growing team, but refreshing nonetheless. I ask him if it’s intentional.
“We're not a faceless organisation. We're small. We're close to being a family business," Dan says proudly. "We really rely very heavily on people who give us money through Patreon and the crowdfunding platform on YouTube. So, I feel it's our responsibility to talk to the audience directly.
“YouTube is a great medium for talking to people directly rather than having production staff and scripting and PR people telling you what you can and can't say. I mean, part of my background is in PR, so I'm not daft," Dan says chuckling. "But at the same time, looking down the lens and being honest is what the channel has always been founded on. I've always said if the business is to grow, it's got to keep its 'Robert-ness'. He is a very open and honest guy so, from my point of view, the business should have the same personality.”
And it’s personality that Dan feels has largely driven the success of Fully Charged citing Robert’s passion, energy and being an all-round “lovely guy” as being the key to the growth of the YouTube channel and beyond.
“I think the success is down to Robert to a large degree, but we’ve got great personalities across the team. We've had some very good presenters in the past and we've got some very good presenters now."
Dan continues: "I think the topic of sustainability is obviously becoming more mainstream too. It’s certainly something I could talk about in the pub now and people would be interested whereas before two years ago, I'd be largely talking at them.”
EVs hogging the limelight
The level of interest in clean tech, the green revolution, or whatever you want to call “it”, is clearly growing. But the focus has mostly been on transport and the inexorable climb of electric cars.
The rise in popularity of EVs has been a huge factor in the increased interested in related topics, such as cleaner home energy. As a result, Fully Charged covers EVs a lot especially now it has resident car expert and presenter Jack Scarlett who joined the team in 2021.
But I wondered whether Dan felt the majority of attention being directed towards large, two-tonne metal boxes on wheels (cleaner though they may be) was actually a distraction from the more holistic objective of getting people to walk or cycle or use public transport, or put their effort and finances into other ways of reducing their carbon footprint.
“We're very interested in other stuff that reduces carbon, for example we're quite interested in a society that eats less meat and we have covered stuff like that.
“But typically, when we venture slightly away from our core topics, it's not unpopular, but it gains less traction for sure. What is interesting is when we first did Fully Charged Live in 2018 it felt like we were creating a bit of a movement," he says with a heavy dose of nostalgia. "So we definitely don't want to focus on just transport and the home energy series [which aired in 2021] is an acknowledgement that we'd like to do more in that respect.”
Dan agrees with me that EVs certainly aren’t a solution to the climate crisis and air quality issues on their own, but they can be an entry point to a wider discussion around clean energy.
“We tend to say fewer cars, lighter cars, smaller cars, more shareable cars. But actually, let's just have less in the first place.
“Obviously, the cars are the thing that excites people. But the reality is, we want to get people excited about the other things - the cars are quite good as a lure because lots of us get very irrationally excited about cars. But they are a powerful thing because once someone gets an electric car, they typically start to look at switching energy supplier, so it is a bit of a means to an end, but ultimately “Stop Burning Stuff” is our real mission.”
“Twitter is in its gawky teenage phase”
While Dan has largely been behind the scenes at Fully Charged, save for a few choice appearances such as his home energy series, he is notably vocal on Twitter and has over 22,000 followers.
It’s clear the content and strong personalities of Fully Charged has struck a chord with its growing subscriber base, but I put it to Dan that the same approach on social media doesn’t always put the “pro EV” or sustainability agenda in such a positive light. Is Twitter just too polarizing to have any sort of meaningful discussion?
“It's really interesting to look at the media now and the way things are communicated, and you have to say it is basically made up of different silos.
"I won't go on Facebook personally. We have promoted our live show on Facebook in the past and the comments about electric cars were full of a lack of understanding.”
“I spend quite a lot of time on Twitter, though, and I've met some extraordinarily funny people, have had some incredibly positive debates and I still love it as a platform because I actually think I've got far more out of it than I've lost. But I think it can be very difficult.
“We're kind of pushed into this binary thing on Twitter because you’ve only got a few characters to make your point whereas we could have a sensible drink in a pub together and have a sensible conversation and we could agree on a lot of stuff and maybe differ on a couple of little things and then still walk away as friends. On Twitter, that's really, really hard.”
Dan describes how he and others on Twitter have confronted misguided or even quite aggressive individuals online in a way that is almost like defending the honour of EVs and clean energy as a whole.
But Dan is encouraged by the fact that his Twitter feed has become “calmer and calmer” as people have either embraced EVs or begun to accept them as the way forward for the automotive industry.
“Typically in the past, when we felt there was quite a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt being spread by people, we've pushed back very hard but we don’t have to do that as much now so I am very relaxed about it now because the move to electric vehicles is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.
“Social media platforms like Twitter are kind of in their gawky teenage phase. I think it’s down to us all to work out how to use them and use them better.”
Now that things are looking a little easier when it comes to holding events, growth is firmly back on the agenda for Dan and the team at Fully Charged.
He’s expecting Fully Charged Live 2022 to be 75% to 100% bigger than the last live event the team held in the UK in September 2021.
Aside from being bigger in almost every way, Dan is excited about some new additions.
“Fully Charged Live is going to be bigger outside and inside this year to take advantage of the amazing 12,000m of indoor space at Farnborough International. But as well as seeing our audience again, and getting them excited about the tech we cover, we have some exciting new attractions like the Future of Flight and the Home Energy Advice Team. To top it off, Fully Charged Business is joining the main show floor and will run over all three days, so that will become a bigger element of the 2022 show.”
Fully Charged Live UK takes place at Farnborough International on April 29th to May 1st.
If you want to buy tickets for the Fully Charged Live 2022, head here or get more info on the Fully Charged website. Or if you want to catch up on their videos, head over to the Fully Charged YouTube channel.