Less than two weeks ago Better Place announced the company founder, Shai Agassi, had stepped down as the CEO and would remain on the Board. News is now circulating that Agassi has since stepped down from the Board, and there are rumors of a layoff.
Haaretz, reporting on a news conference held by the new CEO Evan Thornley, formerly CEO of Better Place Australia, described what sounds like a company running low on cash and having difficulty raising a capital infusion from investors. Company management claims to be confident of raising capital from existing shareholders, but also notes the company failed in a bid to raise capital from institutional investors.
Due to the cash crunch, Better Place may undergo a large layoff of as much as half its workforce.
At the time of Agassi's resignation as CEO, the company positioned the move as the replacement of a founder entrepreneur with a seasoned hand who can see the company through to maturity. However, in retrospect it appears Better Place was trying to put a nice face on a serious situation.
The Jerusalem Post, reporting on the same press conference, quotes Thornley saying is first priority is to clean up the lines of communication with customers. The goal is to ensure customers understood the value of driving an electric vehicle with a switchable battery pack. He's quoted saying “We don’t do the best job explaining to our customers the value of what we offer.”
A second priority is to expand partnerships with large companies around the world, in addition to the company's existing partnership with Renault.
Thornley also described treatment of Agassi in the press as disgraceful, noting that he and Agassi are friends, and is quoted saying “This is the first time I signed on for someone else’s vision. His vision was more compelling than anything I’ve ever come up with it. He is a giant, and his impact will be felt worldwide. I assured him we would continue that vision.”
Better Place offers two services in the electric car market. The first is an electric car recharging network similar in scope to the ChargePoint or Blink networks. The second is the service the company is most famous for, stations to allow quick battery pack swaps so that an electric car owner can "recharge" their car within a couple minutes. The latter service offers the same illusion of infinite driving range that gasoline car owners have with ubiquitous gasoline stations. In both cases when the "tank" (or battery pack) runs "low" the driver goes to a station to "refuel" (or swap the depleted battery pack for a fresh one).
Coincidentally, Better Place was an indirect recipient of a grant from the California Energy Commission yesterday. The grant provides additional funding for a demonstration project of Better Place's battery swapping technology in a taxi fleet for the San Francisco Bay Area.