Here is an interview I did with Nick Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of ParkingPanda.com on October 4th, 2011. This will give you an inside perspective on an internet startup and what it takes to get it started. This is Part 1 of the interview, stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3. I thought it would make it easier to read and be more fun to post the interview in parts. If you haven't already check out my article on ParkingPanda.
Nick Miller: We just got back from NY, we were in a tech accelerator up there. Now we are located right down the street here. (Canton in Starbucks).
Adam: Cool. How many employees do you have?
NM: It's just the two of us now. Two of us run it full time, myself and Adam [Zilberbaum]. We have contract help that is helping us and an intern that is helping us as well.
A: What was the flash of genius? Where did the idea come from?
NM: I have sort of experienced both sides of the problem. I went to Georgetown. When I was living in DC I actually at one point had a townhouse with a driveway. So I was sitting there with an empty driveway and I wasn't doing anything with it. After I had moved out I was up here [Baltimore] at a Raven's game and there was a guy standing there with a cardboard sign, “Park Here $15 bucks” over at Federal Hill, way cheaper and way faster to do that, so I parked in the driveway. Having experienced both sides of the inefficiencies of parking, “There has got to be a better way to do exactly this!” Why can't I just put this guy's driveway online, and not drive around and hand this guy some cash! So it was actually having experienced both sides of it. It made it apparent this needed to be done.
A: Yeah I actually live right near the Hopkins campus, pretty close to the stadium. People park all up and down our street. A few years ago I actually kind of had the same idea. You should be able to just put this online or something. Hey, we do have spaces here!
NM: Once in awhile sometimes people post on Craigslist and it is so inefficient. You gotta sit around your house waiting for the guy to come with $10 dollars, so is it really worth it? [With ParkingPanda] People don't even have to be there, you can set it up once and never do anything again.
A: What is your main market for the website? Who is using it?
NM: We are starting out targeting people going to events. Ravens football games. We launched at the Grand Prix here in Baltimore. That was our first big event. Just because the demand around events is larger. It is really apparent really big. People see the value immediately around events. Ultimately we want to grow it away from events to people going to dinner in the city, or going shopping, and also long term for commuters as well. If you are gone from your space everyday, you're right by Hopkins, from work and you know there is an Hopkins employee that could pay you $50 or $75 a month instead $150 for a garage. They could just come rent the same space everyday.
A: Really ultimately anytime you need parking in a high-density area, this should be an option?
NM: Not that everyone is going to use it as opposed to a garage, but it should be an option. Hopefully a lower cost more efficient option.
A: So I am renting out my space and let's say I need it. How do you work out those types of issues?
NM: So there is a really easy calendar on the site. You can actually set when it's available and the amount of time. So if you know you are gone every Tuesday and it's free, you can make it available every Tuesday. You are home every Wednesday and Thursday you don't have to make it available. If you want to set it, as long as nobody has booked, you can change it at any point in time. You are going out of town for a month, you can make it available for a whole month or if you are sick and going to be home for the whole week you can take it off the market.
A: Is it a Google Calendar?
NM: We have our own calendar built in. Basically you can click or drag over dates. You can set when it's available and when it is not. It is one of the reasons we started off launching around events around daily parking, you rent it for the whole day. Basically what you need for the event, even if you are not there for the whole day. We reduce a lot of the complexities around “I get home around 5, what if someone is still in my driveway at 5:15?” Obviously we can deal with that, but it creates more and more complexities the more you do that. So we are starting off with dailies, but we will do monthly and hourly as well.
A: How many people are on the site currently?
NM: The first weekend at the Grand Prix we booked about 117 spaces over the course of the weekend. I think it was 117, it was just over 115. Now what we have been focusing on is we want to have a large inventory of spaces before we have tons of people who try to book spaces. If they come to book spaces and they aren't any there, it's useless! So we have close to 40 spaces in our inventory now. In any given time, not all those are available. In the middle of the week on Tuesday, you might only have 4-5. On a game day, for a Ravens Game, there will probably be 20. Some people list once a month, some people list their spaces every day. It really varies. We are really focused on filling up our inventory more and more. Once we have 100 spaces in our inventory, every day there will be a lot of value in different neighborhoods and different parts of the city. Once we have that inventory it will be useful.
A: Do you see expanding to parking buses, rvs, or other vehicles?
NM: We think that the community model is lot more compelling than a lot of the other models. We have talked to parking garages before and ultimately we may do some work with parking garages and help people make relations with parking garages, but really that takes care of the issue of whether parking is available before you leave home. It doesn't help you avoid the traffic of the garage and it doesn't necessarily save you as much money. Plus you are not helping out your community making a little extra money as well. From a parking space owners side, in a bad economy it's a little more. Why not make a little extra cash?
A: Do you have a expected growth rate? Currently you are just in Baltimore, right? You want to move into other cities?
NM: We will be in DC soon. DC is the next city. We will probably roll out to DC in 2 months or less. In Baltimore we launched first we only have a certain number of inventory. In DC we won't launch until we have say 50 parking spaces there. That way as soon as we go live, we will launch around an event down there, as soon as we go live there will already by a lot inventory and spaces. We are already building the inventory in DC, so that when we go live there will be a lot of parking space available. After DC we will go to Philadelphia. We will focus on those close markets first, because it is a great way optimize what works, what doesn't. We can refine what we are doing. Once we really have if figured out in Baltimore, DC, and Philly. Then we will expand more Boston, Chicago, San Francisco. Start moving North, start moving West. Baltimore and DC and great markets. We really want to figure out that best way to do it and it's a great place to figure that out.