A recent Baltimore-based start-up called ParkingPanda.com, run by Nick Miller and Adam Zilberbaum, has definitely piqued my interest. Why? Because they aim to revolutionize parking as we know it.
The idea is simple. You need a space in Downtown Baltimore, say for a Ravens or Orioles game. You don't want to spend 30+ minutes driving around aimlessly looking for parking. So you log onto ParkingPanda and find someone who might have a parking space downtown, but is away for a few days or just might not need it. They rent out their parking space to you, for less than what it would cost to park in a garage. That person makes a little cash on a personal parking space they otherwise would have not been using and you get to find parking quickly and cheaply! It's great for all parties involved!
Nick Miller is the Co-Founder and CEO of ParkingPanda. Like most great internet ideas, the company was conceived during his college days in our nation's capitol, “I went to Georgetown. I was living in DC and I didn't really need a car. So I was sitting there with an empty driveway and I wasn't doing anything with it.” Then he had the challenging experience of trying to find parking. “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 that was like, “Park Here $15 bucks” over at Federal Hill, way cheaper and way faster to do that, so I parked in the driveway.” This got Nick thinking, “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.”
This led Nick to take part in Startup Weekend Baltimore, an intense 54-hour technology competition where teams build a website or application over the course of a weekend. Nick met Adam [Zilberbaum] and told him about his wild idea for a peer-to-peer online parking community. The two hit it off and spent the weekend developing the idea. Needless to say, ParkingPanda won the competition! For winning they received the necessary funds to incorporate ParkingPanda. Once incorporated, the company got additional money which led into marketing and building up the website.
Then the dynamic duo spent the summer in a tech accelerator in New York City. This gave them three months of office space in Times Square and the chance to make connections with well-known entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. They also got $25,000 in seed money. The culmination of the tech accelerator was giving a pitch to all the companies involved, and to potential investors.
The company launched at the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix. “The first weekend at the Grand Prix we booked about 117 spaces over the course of the weekend.” says Nick. Not bad for a first weekend.
Currently ParkingPanda operates exclusively in Baltimore, but they hope to expand. “We will be in DC soon,” Nick says, “We will probably roll out to DC in 2 months or less.” ParkingPanda has big aspirations for getting into other cities and markets as well. “After DC we will go to Philadelphia, Then we will expand more: Boston, Chicago, San Francisco.”
Even with big aspirations and hopes, the duo want to get the formula right. “We will focus on close markets first [Baltimore, DC, and Philly], because it is a great way to optimize what works, what doesn't. We can refine what we are doing.” says Nick.
During my conversation with Nick, we drew comparisons to Airbnb, a website where you can rent out rooms from people, Couchsurfing a similar service but free, and RelayRides a website that enables you to rent a neighbor's car. “People really see the value of earning a little extra cash with their assets and with helping out the community in general. If people are willing to let you share their car, I feel like there are people who are certainly willing to let you use their driveway. You have to be confident in letting someone get behind the wheel of your car, but your driveway… there is a pretty low barrier to entry there.” says Nick.
We also discussed other parking websites, which enable you to reserve spaces in a garage or parking lot in advance. Nick pointed out the advantages of ParkingPanda. “They offer you the ability to reserve a space and know exactly where you are going. We also offer the ability to save you money and to avoid the traffic associated with the garage or the parking lot, and the idea is it is peer-to-peer so you are supporting your community. Someone can be renting your driveway when you are renting someone else's.”
ParkingPanda is such an intriguing idea, I actually signed up to use the website. In the future I will definitely look for parking through the Panda! I might even list my parking space during Hopkins lacrosse games, due to limited parking in the area when games occur. I see people driving up and down our street looking for parking all the time. You can find free street parking but as Nick points out, “You risk getting towed or ticketed. Particularly if you don't know the law.” The advantage to using a service like ParkingPanda, is that you don't need to worry about that.
Nick lays out ParkingPanda like this, “You can sit down with someone and in two minutes they know what we are doing. It is not some crazy ad-technology, where two months later they are like, What are you talking about? How does it work? This is a community marketplace for parking. We want people to share their parking spaces with one another. It's straightforward!”