Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Interview with Sam Friedman, Parking In Motion
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
A couple of weeks ago, Santa Monica-based Parking In Motion, a developer of parking information apps for mobile devices, announced a new round of funding, from IDG Ventures and Fontinalis Partners, the venture arm of William Clay Ford, Jr., the great grandson of Henry Ford. We sat down to talk with Sam Friedman, CEO of the company.
What is Parking in Motion all about?
Sam Friedman: Parking in Motion's mission is to make it easier for people to find, and eventually, pay, for parking. Our environmental and green spin, is that 30 percent of traffic congestion is caused by people circling the block, trying to find parking. We want to get people off of roads, and into parking spaces more quickly. The way we do that, is by bringing real time parking information to users, through alerts, availability, pricing, restrictions, and every other type of information you could think of, in an easy to use, user friendly format, on automotive devices, navigation systems, and mobile phones. We also have our own, branded mobile phone alls. We effectively have two distribution outlets-direct to consumers through mobile phone alls, and working with companies like TomTom, automobile manufacturers, and OEMs, to supply them with our data. We are working with mobile app developers to get in front of as many people as possible, and help as many people as possible.
How did you get into this?
Sam Friedman: (Laughs) I did not grow up in a parking family, and when I was younger I did not want to be in the parking industry. Really, where it came from, is I had just graduated from college four years ago, and the idea came out of road rage, and the notion that the way parking is really sucks, and there has got to be a better way to park. I had tried to figure out if there was a way to reserve parking, get more information about parking, and it turns out, there is none of that. So, I thought--let's start a website and company that can do all of that. Three years later, it turns out it wasn't as simple as a web site, it was really about designing and changing the way the entire industry works. The parking industry is a huge industry, extremely archaic, and it's very ripe for disruption. I think it's much like hotels--parking is one of the last real estate plays which has not been moving online or onto mobile applications yet. We see a huge opportunity to do that. While you now see hotels going mobile, via distributions networks, global distribution systems with airlines, and so on, parking information has not been terribly effective or accessible. There is a lot of opportunity out there.
Is there enough critical mass of parking spaces you can actually monitor?
Sam Friedman: Great question. It turns out that there are more parking spaces than one would think are actually connected electronically, although that doesn't mean they have a sensor in them. It turns out that any garage that has a gate or ticket dispenser made in the last ten years actually has the ability to transmit data via an API to us. We have integrated with all of the top vendors of equipment, who can send information to us. That's for off-street parking garages. For on street parking meters, if it can take a credit card, we can tap into it. The same thing applies--we work with meter vendors and manufacturers, and gather their APIs and take transaction information to help correlate it. There are more than 150 cities across the country with this kind of information, including huge cities like Chicago and New York. Los Angeles actually is not a great example, we're sort of late to this. Most major cities have smart meters with APIs, and we've worked with individual cities with meters, and with garages--there are about four major parking operator sin the entire country who have 80 percent of the market--for that information.
How far of a geographic reach does your service have?
Sam Friedman: We have static data across the globe, effectively, with all of North America, Europe, and Australia. For real time information, we have coverage in probably ten of the ten major cities in the US, in various pockets. There are a decent number of cities and metropolitan areas in alpha stage, as we rollout across the US and Europe. Part of our Series A financing round is expanding to Europe, because we're interested in European parking data as well.
We see that one of your investors is the investment group of Bill Ford, Jr. -- how did you run into him?
Sam Friedman: To be honest, it was at a parking convention. We did not meet Bill Ford himself, but folks at his firm. It turns out two of the folks there are often at parking conventions, and had made a few investments in parking-type companies. We've actually been talking with those guys for the last two years, when we weren't quite ready to take venture capital. When we were, we contacted them, and found it was a really good fit.
We notice you're in Santa Monica, which must be one of the hardest cities around here to park in. Does your service work there?
Sam Friedman: Yes, you can look at your iPhone, and see real time information in a bunch of different lots in Santa Monica. It obviously is a pain, particularly on weekends, to park here.
When will the data you have start showing up in vehicle information systems and elsewhere?
Sam Friedman: Our projection is that you'll start seeing parking information in cars by mid- to end of next year, maybe even sooner than that. We've already signed deals with folks to include it in devices.
What's the whole revenue model behind providing this information?
Sam Friedman: The model is data licensing to third party, B2B developers. Those developers could be anything form car companies, to companies like TomTom and other personal navigation manufacturers, to mobile app developers. We think that if they want to provide premium parking data in their products, they can come to us and we can help them with that. It's much like real time traffic, which in the last five to 10 years has been sold and licensed around the globe. We think it's not enough just to have a navigation system in your car and connected services like weather and traffic, we think folks are also willing to pay for parking information.
Finally, whats the next step for you?
Sam Friedman:Our next step is to make a very good iPhone and Android app, and really engage users in the US. In the U.S., we're hoping to really engage users with our mobile apps, and will be rolling out more real time cities, creating viral and social components around parking. Although that might sound weird, we think there is lots of opportunity, by tapping into the social aspects of it. to make parking fun.