ParkingPanda strives to Revolutionize parking

The Panda!

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.

Nick Miller, Co-Founder & CEO

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!”

Want to know more about ParkingPanda?  Read my interview with Nick Miller, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Watch it in Wet Weather!

I am sure everyone in the Baltimore area and Maryland experienced the rather quick switch in weather from sunshine, to heavy rain, some sunshine, light rain, sunshine, heavy rain!  It was a little bit ridiculous.  It's a good reminder to be prepared for anything when driving and to stay alert.  You need to be constantly aware of the driving conditions you are dealing with, espicially in wet weather.

A few weeks ago when I was headed to the Baltimore Grand Prix Economic Press Conference, it was raining like nobody's business!  Not far from my house these was this accident.  It was pretty serious as you can see from the pictures.  These two small SUVS did a lot of damage hitting each other, at what I assumed was relatively low speeds.  This was most likely due to the fact that one of the drivers did not adjust their driving for wet conditions.  Since they were relatively the same size and type of vehicle, it seemed nobody was seriously injued. (Actually both were Honda CRVs).  Consider if one of the vehicles was a truck hitting a compact car.  Not good!

The Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, a Successful Racing Weekend for Everyone

Pits next to Camden Yards at the Baltimore Grand Prix

Baltimore had an amazing 3-day Labor Day weekend with the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.  It had everything you could ask for. huge crowds, good food, checkered flag-girls, tons of media, and a whole lot of fast cars.

In the Izod IndyCar series Will Powers won the Baltimore Grand Prix in a stunning victory. He came out early in the race commanding the track over his rivals and won with 10+ second lead. The win wasn't a complete surprise as he lead the pack during practices.  Second place runner up was Oriol Servia, who felt his name helped him in the humble city of Baltimore (Oriol translates from Spanish meaning Oriole.  Passing Camden Yards must have been good luck!)  He came from a 14th place start.  Third place runner up was Tony Kanaan, who rallied from a 27th place start and recovered from an interesting accident where he flew over Helio Castroneves during the warmup session.

In the American Le Mans series Guy Smith won the in LMP1 class, Kyle Marcelli in LMPC, Wolf Henzler in GT.  An accident where he lost one of his tires during a qualifying lap could not keep Jeroen Bleekemolen from winning in the GTC class.  Amazingly he jumped out of his car grabbed the tire put it into his car and drove into the pits to get it installed.  Luckily nobody was injured and nor was Jeroen's Porsche 911 GT3 racing car.  A great win for Jeroen!

It's clear this was a great event for Baltimore.  “We've set the stage to make this a staple event for Baltimore and the region…We had 160,000 fans over the 3 days.” commented Jay Davidson president of Baltimore Racing Development, the private company that oversaw the planning for the Baltimore Grand Prix. “Baltimore has a successful event to build upon for next year and for years to come.” exclaimed Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, The Mayor of Baltimore.  Scott Artherton president of the American Le Mans series added,  “For a first time event.  Honestly it could not have gone better.”

Many drivers commented on how great the weekend went.  Will Powers winner of the Baltimore Grand Prix noted, “That was the best podium ceremony of my career!”  Other drivers lauded the event as well.  “I couldn't believe the incredible number of fans who came out all three days. Street courses are always a good way to draw a good crowd, and the way the circuit was laid out… reminded me of the huge events we've had at places like Surfers Paradise, Long Beach, and Toronto…  I know we as drivers loved racing in Baltimore.” said Helio Castroneves on ESPN.com.  Tony Kanaan, third place runner up, “It's a beautiful track, bumpy and interesting.”  Oriol Servia “This track is a challenge for both drivers and engineers… I think it is fun.”  Scott Artherton on all the positive feedback from drivers, “Race car drivers are the first ones to offer up an opinion.  Normally it is not constructive and normally it is not good.”

Fans were extremely pleased with the event as well.   “It's awesome.  I go to a lot of these races, Long Beach, St Petersburg, Indianapolis.  Top-notch street course for sure!” said Peter Romero, an Albuquerque Lawyer and immense race fan. “This could be the second crown jewel in the IndyCar circuit…This venue is nicer than Long Beach.  It's crazy!  It's a perfect storm for a street course.” referring to all the hotels and accommodations located around the track.  Many other fans and spectators were equally pleased and enthusiastic about the weekend.

Even with all the delays on getting the track open on Friday for practices, issues seemed to get resolved for the rest of the weekend.  “It's part of the growing pains of dealing with a new track and new race.” said an Andretti Autosport team member whom I spoke with about the delays.  The general confusion among the staff seemed to be resolved as the weekend went on as well.  Everything was smoothed out by Sunday.

This was the first big racing event for the Mid-Atlantic region since Washington DC had a Grand Prix race in 2002.  IndyCar and American Le Mans feel this is a market that needed to be tapped and judging from the crowds, they could not have been more right.  It was truly amazing the sheer number of people all weekend..  The energy was sky-high everywhere.  The event was blessed with great weather, as it came after Hurricane Irene and before an immense amount of rain in Baltimore the following week.  The fans, drivers, media, and policy makers of Baltimore have spoken and many hope racing will be here for a long time to come.

Baltimore Grand Prix Economic Benefit Press Conference

The Mayor, ALMS President, IndyCar Commissioner, and lots of people I don't know!

Yesterday there was a press conference regarding how Baltimore's economy benefited from the Baltimore Grand Prix.  I was invited and attended to hear what they had to say and even got to ask a question.  Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Mayor of Baltimore, and Jay Davidson, president of Baltimore Racing Development were in attendance.  To my surprise Terry Angstadt, the Indycar Commissioner, was in attendance as well as Scott Atherton, president of American Le Mans series.

The early numbers look good.  Hotel revenue taken from 11 hotels around the track had a 44% increase in revenue from last Labor Day weekend.  City parking garages showed a 119% increase in revenue.  (No shit!  They charged $40 for a parking spot.)  The media coverage is valued at 3.5 million, which I am not sure how that is tallied.  Jay Davidson said, “We spent more than 3 million dollars on local vendors.” which included D&T welding and Sparks Fencing.  So obviously a lot of money was spent with Maryland businesses to put on the event.

I thought there would be more numbers on how the weekend went.  More comprehensive numbers will be released by Forward Analytics on October 1st after Baltimore's Mayoral election on September 13th.  Mmm… I find that very interesting.  Don't you?  Rawlings-Blake, “I don't have any preliminary numbers.  As soon as I do I will make them available.”  It's early but with computers you can't come up with numbers faster?

After leaving and talking with several of the PR and Marketing bigwigs of the city, I realized this press conference was mainly to applaud the people who put on the Baltimore Grand Prix.  Nothing is wrong with that, since it did take a leap of faith.  I was expecting some better numbers though.  We will wait and see.

 

Pictures from the Baltimore Grand Prix

 

Verizon's Indy Car, driven by Will Powers who won the BGP

Pictures from the 2011 Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix!  It was an awesome event.  It made me want to jump in a car and drive fast!  The first day was shaky and not well organized (that is really an understatement) but by Saturday and Sunday the operation was a lot smoother.  You can check out more pictures on my Flickr page.  Even more pictures to come.   I hope to see more great racing next year in Baltimore.