City parking is one of the most frustrating aspects of urban life. Finding a reasonably-priced place to park can often be so difficult that people decide against driving downtown or forego owning a car altogether.
SpotHero is the new solution, streamlining the parking experience in 12 major cities by letting drivers reserve a spot in a parking lot or garage ahead of time.
It’s simple. Just enter a location and the time you need to be parked, then the website or mobile app shows a map of possible parking areas with prices above each one. This makes it easy to compare several parking options. After reserving a spot through SpotHero, just show up at the location and you’re all set!
According to the SpotHero website, this lets consumers save up to 50 percent from the posted parking price.
The idea for SpotHero came when co-founder Jeremy Smith amassed $5,000 in Chicago parking tickets – in just one year! He was frustrated with the current parking system and figured there had to be a better way.
Smith had “zero entrepreneurial experience and zero web development experience,” but he teamed up with his friend Mark Lawrence and together, they began building the company.
At first, SpotHero started with reserving parking at individual Chicago houses, even allowing people to rent out a space in someone’s driveway, garage, or backyard. This model was difficult to execute and carried a distinct set of challenges, but SpotHero kept pushing forward – soon catching the attention of a major parking company.
“They took a chance on us and said yes,” said Smith. This jump-started a new vision to seek out parking garages and build strong relationships with more large-scale parking providers.
It’s a win-win for these companies. At night, Smith said that some of these garages fall to 20 percent occupancy. SpotHero helps fill their empty spots, also creating more transparency in pricing as consumers know exactly how much to expect (a common barrier to choosing the cheapest parking garage is that rates are often not posted until you turn in).
Generally, cities are supportive too. SpotHero’s model gets cars off the street and into parking garages more quickly. This reduces traffic – urban planning expert Donald Shoup estimated that as much of 30 percent of traffic in business districts was caused by looking for parking.
Customer service is key. The SpotHero team tries to respond to any problems immediately. If you arrive at your parking garage and there is not a spot for whatever reason, you can call SpotHero and they will remedy the problem right away.
Sitting in the SpotHero office, it was fun to overhear some of these customer support calls – the employees sounded like they were actually enjoying talking to customers, blending professionalism and problem-solving with a friendliness that would make me actually want to call customer support.
Though SpotHero was founded just 3 years ago, the company has already raised $7 million in capital. Almost 200,000 people have downloaded the SpotHero app, and word is spreading quickly.
As the company took off, SpotHero wasted no time expanding to other large cities. The newest, San Francisco, marks the 12th city supported. The company also has a large presence in Washington, DC, making it easy to find cheap parking near major landmarks with the click of a button.
Drivers in these cities have different reasons for coming downtown, so SpotHero has to devise the best strategy to build awareness for each market. “Challenges operate by different city, but there’s lots of opportunity that’s picking up in all the markets we’re in,” said Smith. He hopes, in the next 5 years, that SpotHero spreads to all of the major cities across the country and perhaps even internationally.
Smith’s experience makes him optimistic for entrepreneurs in America. “There’s never been more opportunity than exists right now,” he said. The key to finding a good idea, he believes, is looking at your own challenges. “If you have a problem every single day that you need solved, chances are there’s many other people out there like you who are waiting for a solution.”
Smith also praised the amount of technical resources that exist to educate and prepare entrepreneurs for running their own businesses. “Right now, it’s really just about putting yourself out there, not sitting around, being proactive, getting yourself educated, and trying to solve problems that you have.”