A Startup Journey to Make Parking Easy

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Two years ago, my co-founder Aboud and I started thinking about how we could solve the parking problem in congested cities. In all the cities we lived in, our parking experience was terrible. We were not the only ones. Millions of people who need their cars to get to work, to take their kids to school or to run errands were facing the same problem.

The more we looked into it, the more it was clear that parking was broken because of lack of information and not because of lack of inventory. If a person knows that it is not possible to park on-street, she would park in a garage 4 blocks away and walk to the destination. There were plenty of parking apps out there, none of them was answering our need.

We first started working on an app called Sweetch. It helped drivers find on-street parking by enabling them to swap spots for $5. We wanted to make drivers collaborate to help each other find parking. The $5 was a deposit that would incentivise drivers to report the spot they were leaving. Long story short, many people did not understand our vision and hated the concept. We received a cease and desist from the City of San Francisco and we decided to stop.

Our next project was VATLER. It started as an experiment: what if people texted us 10 minutes before they arrived at a destination and we took care of their parking? We would park their cars a few blocks away in a cheap parking garage and would charge them a premium fee to cover the cost of the valet. It started like crazy. We raised money from top angels in the Valley after YC Demo Day, got press coverage and started growing. We quickly realized that the best use-case to make money was the restaurant business. Parking was cheap, the valets were not wasting time in traffic and existing incumbents were not using technology. Right when we started having both traction and good unit economics, the City worked its magic again. We lost 60% of our business in a week which was a setback we couldn’t afford given the money we had left. We had 3 options : fight it, move to another city or do something new. We looked at our remaining funding, at VATLER’s margins and decided to move on.

We decided to work on SpotAngels, an app that we had hacked a few months back to avoid getting parking tickets. I still remember the day we got our car towed and paid $579.

The app is straightforward. It automatically detects when you park and sends you a reminder before street cleaning, alternate side parking or any other parking regulation.

Drivers in US cities pay on-average $65 a year in parking tickets with a maximum of $400 a year paid by drivers in San Francisco. Our objective is to give back to the community the $20B collected by municipalities in parking fines. To do that we need you. We need a strong community where everyone contributes with data and makes sure the regulations stay up-to-date in his or her neighbourhood and city.

SpotAngels is free. We want the community to be the largest possible. You may wonder how we are going to make money. We will never sell your personal data. We sell the parking regulation data to car manufacturers, rental car companies and 3rd party applications.

What’s next for us?

We plan to launch SpotAngels in the 10 largest US cities in the next year.

We already cover San Francisco and we are super excited about the first feedbacks we received. We are working very hard to save you from parking tickets. It’s a lot of fun. If we succeed, we won’t stop there. Making parking easy has always been our end goal and we believe we can do it. Stay tuned :)

Feel free to email me at hamza@spotangels.com or to tweet @SpotAngels if you have any questions or suggestions about SpotAngels.

Thanks to Mehdi and Aboud for reading drafts of this.

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