Interview with Nick Miller Co-Founder & CEO of ParkingPanda – Part 3

This is Part 3 of my interview with Nick Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of ParkingPanda.  Click Part 1 and Part 2 for the whole interview.  If you did not see my article on ParkingPanda, check it out!

 

Nick Miller, Co-Founder & CEO

A: So you are looking for a big investment?

NM: We were in this tech accelerator, and the culmination of that was a demo day. All tech companies in the accelerator, we all gave 7-10 minutes pitches and demos to a room full of investors. In addition to all the people we were meeting with and talking to throughout the summer. That kicked off the process of, ok we are out here we are live now. Now we want to raise a little venture capitol to grow the business and expand. On day 1 we made money on our first transaction. We really need to be widespread to make a lot of money. So taking venture capitol will help us accelerate that process. So that's what we are in the process of doing right now.

A: Have you had a good amount of people interested in the business?

NM: Yeah, you know it's always a process and a time consuming thing of people digging into your business finding more about it, finding more about you. Your growth, and all of that stuff. It's going well so far. We are meeting with a lot of people interested in the idea and the space. Meeting with a lot of individual investors and venture capitalists. We are definitely hopeful, it continues to go well.

A: If I rent my space for $10, you guys take a 20% commission?

NM: Right, we take 20% and the rest goes directly to you.

A: You get a check?

NM: Right now we send you a check. We are working on integrating the ability to get PayPal payments or Direct Deposit payments in your bank account. So you will have the option to get whatever you want. If you want a check mailed to you, that's fine. If you want direct deposit in your bank account, that's fine as well. That 20% we take covers all the operating fees and credit card costs, all that maintenance. We want to keep that as low as we can, because we want the community to benefit from it. If people aren't making money on this, then we are not making money on this either.

A: How are you promoting and getting the word out about this?

NM: We love to talk to people like this. A lot of what we do is local focused, we want to build up Baltimore we want to build up DC. We go to commuter areas.  We talk to people, we go to football games, talk to people, pass out flyers.

A: So Guerrilla Marketing

NM: A lot of grassroots type guerrilla stuff, because buying Google Adwords for us, it's expensive and it's not relevant for us. Not too many people Google search “Where can I rent out my parking space?” not a big thing. Once you get out there and talk to people about it, they see the value of it. That's what really does it for us.

A: I assume you are trying to use Social Media?

NM: Of Course! Both Adam [Z] and I, and the company are on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, everything. We encourage friends, people who use the service when you book space. “Hey I'm using this” or “Hey, I just made a bunch of money using this!” Particularly with our early users if you refer your friends or neighbors.

A: You get a discount?

NM: Right, you get a discount. So you know we really want to encourage people's friends to sign up. If they don't want their neighbors to sign up with the same spot, but maybe their friend on the other side of the city. The more spaces we have available the more we will focus on bringing people in. For most people with their parking spaces they have found money.  The Worst Case Scenario it's exactly the way it was before. The best case is you start making a bunch of cash on your driveway.

A: Since the Grand Prix, which was about a month ago, you have had no problems with people saying “Oh this person was causing problems in my parking space?”

NM: So far we haven't! We have built in as many things as possible, in our terms of service. We have backs-ups if there are any issues, we are there to handle them as quickly as possible. So far you know the community aspect of it naturally protects itself. It is bound to happen if we get big enough, there will be a bad experience for someone. We will do everything we can to protect from that.

A: Yeah, with Couchsurfing at first you think, “This is really weird. I don't know if I want to do this.” Then you try it out. You realize the community aspect does work itself out somehow.

NM: Even with Couchsurfing you can see if people have hosted before. We are building in reviews as well. You can see on both ends of the spectrum. So you can see this person has used our service 10 times and this person has 15 thumbs-up, it is a great space. A little thing goes a long way. Protecting people's reputation on the website. Providing that extra level of security.

A: Do you have anything else you want to tell me?

NM: I think we covered it! Working out of the accelerator with these other companies, our concept is simple. You can sit down with someone and in 2 minutes they know what we are doing. It is not some crazy ad-technology, where 2 months later they are like what are you talking about? How does it work? There is a community marketplace for parking. We want people to share their parking spaces with one another. It's straightforward!

A: Where did you come up with the name, ParkingPanda?

NM: We first built the prototype, the initial version of the product, at the Startup Weekend Baltimore which is a weekend long start-up business event, where you create a business, Friday night to Sunday night. Buying a domain name is very difficult, everything you think is cool or good is taken. We were looking and couldn't find anything. I don't remember who said it, but someone said, “You guys should get a mascot!” I think Adam [Z] might have been like “the ParkingPanda” and it became a running joke throughout the weekend. Then ultimately, we were like, this is fun, people love Pandas.  It fits with us, our attitude, the way we approach the business. It turned into a great marketing thing, people love ParkingPanda! When it gets out there people recognize it. So we just went with it. After start up weekend, we actually won the start-up weekend event.

A: Do you get money from that?

NM: We got a little money to help us incorporate. Once we incorporated the company got money.  Adam [Z] and I didn't collect anything from it, but the company did. So that led back into our marketing and building out the site.

A: Were there domains that you thought were really good, but they would not work or were not available?

NM: For the longest time we wanted ParkingSpace, we tried a million different things, but they were all taken. We didn't let ourselves linger. We went to check and if it was taken, we were like “Eh!” That's the way domain names work now, it is hard to get them. That is why you see all these ridiculously named companies. ParkingPanda is a little bit ridiculous but it is fun and it works.

A: It took a while for me to come up with my Blog name, Adam's Auto Advice. When I thought of it though it was like “Oh! That's great!”

NM: That's what happens when you build this out in a weekend. We are happy with it, it has worked out great. It is recognizable, we have our little logo which is a car Panda.

 

Click Part 1 and Part 2 for the whole interview

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.