Can Parking Panda Make Parking Less Stressful?
When Nick Miller was a student at Georgetown, he lived a block or so from M Street and had a small driveway that went largely unused. It was a waste of prime real estate. And then a light bulb went off.
Years later, he and Adam Zilberbaum launched Parking Panda to revolutionize an industry that had hardly been touched by technology. Today the Baltimore company has raised over $5M, expanded to 40 North American cities, grown to 30 employees and works with over 3,000 parking locations. Its mobile app allows drivers to reserve, access and pay for a parking space. The user base has grown through additional channels, including partnerships with 15 professional sports teams (Caps, Wizards and Mystics), and transportation providers like Amtrak and Megabus. The most recent announcement was with Greyhound, which helps travelers reserve a parking space at bus terminals. The sports teams help event-goers book a parking spot before heading to the game.
Nick, whose background is in tech, says the company started out using the Airbnb model for unused parking spaces, inspired by Nick’s Georgetown driveway and by watching Baltimore residents rent their parking spaces near M&T Stadium during Ravens games. At the same time, collaborative consumption was catching on. Adam and Nick realized parking was a similar commodity to an airline seat or a hotel room and decided to scale the industry through commercial lots. “The experience was dated and we saw an opportunity to make it better for the driver,” says Nick.
The parking industry is innovating and Nick says it will be great for the consumer…one day. Right now it’s confusing because there are so many different apps. His company is working toward being a single point of consumer contact for all parking. (On-street parking could be incorporated one day.) Many Parking Panda users are able to use the app for finding a space, paying for it, and then using their phone to get in and out of the garage. But even as connected as DC is, the ability to use the phone to scan the driver in and out of the garage isn’t always available. “Parking needs to be as easy as Uber,” he says.
Nick doesn’t see the car business waning anytime soon, despite predictions that Millennials aren’t interested in car ownership. Bloomberg recently reported that Millennials accounted for 27% of new car sales last year, making them the second-largest demographic of new car buyers after Baby Boomers. That number was just 18% five years ago. While DC has one of the better transit systems, it’s still difficult to get around without a car if you live in a neighborhood like Georgetown, says Nick. As cars get smarter, so will the parking experience. Nick says Parking Panda could one day be imbedded in the car dash, allowing a seamless experience where the driver pulls up to the garage, a gate opens and their credit card is charged as they pull into the garage.
Nick, a Baltimore native, was inspired to go into business by his parents, who own and run a company that sells industrial machine parts. The entrepreneurial bug kept biting when he went to Georgetown and did an internship doing research and ad network development at Click Forensics, whose technology verified if a real person was clicking an online ad. He also spent time in consumer product at LivingSocial, Crowdtap and Group Commerce.
By 23, Nick saw leaving a good-paying job to launch a tech startup as the norm. In the early days of Parking Panda, he shared a Manhattan studio apartment with co-founder Adam, sleeping on air mattresses on the floor, while working 16-hour days and doing an accelerator program in NYC. Now at 27, he's grown to appreciate the advice he received along the way, but also realizes that entrepreneurs only really need to listen to about 10% of it. Find a mentor who can be a guide through the ups and downs of running a business—like hiring and firing people and running a management meeting. And recognize and accept what you’re not good at and hire smart people.