Sam Friedman, 28, recalls driving to a movie theater in Santa Monica, Calif., in the summer of 2007 to see Live Free or Die Hard, then spending a fruitless hour and a half looking for a parking space before giving up and going home. Drivers circling U.S. business districts in search of an empty metered space or a cheap garage account for 30 percent of urban traffic congestion, according to an IBM survey. After his movie no-go, Friedman decided to build an app that allows users to outsource the chore.
His Santa Monica-based startup, ParkMe, gathers data from Web-connected parking meters and garage ticket machines to display available spaces in real time to car navigation systems, as well as iPhones and iPads running the software. Friedman’s app isn’t the only one of its kind, but rivals Parking Panda and ParkWhiz focus solely on reserving a garage space online. ParkMe also provides local garage rates and discount offers, and flags the parking location on users’ phones. “It’s really about the notion of informed, intelligent transportation to reduce your carbon footprint,” Friedman says. “Plus, I hate parking and didn’t want to always be stressed about it.”
Friedman didn’t think much about the $30 billion parking industry while earning his bachelors in economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he says he spent his time “mostly beer drinking and skiing.” Shortly after graduating and moving back to California, though, the Los Angeles native’s 90-minute failed-parking episode led him to start hiring coders to build a parking app, then called Parking in Motion. Early on he enlisted several friends to bike around the area and use walkie-talkies to build a real-time central database. Once, Friedman says, the late-night jaunts nearly got him arrested by a suspicious cop: “He thought I was crazy or something.”
Relaunched as ParkMe in February 2012, Friedman’s 22-employee company is expanding into cities including New York, Washington, San Francisco, and Austin, Tex. It’s licensing its app to parking garage companies, which often personalize it under their own names. Last year the company began landing customers such as ABM Parking Services, which operates 2,000 garages in 39 states and the District of Columbia. “We chose them because they’re really flexible and have been willing to work as partners with us to create new ways to reach our customers,” says ABM vice president Leonard Carder. Friedman says a car company he declined to name plans to integrate ParkMe into its new models later this year.
ParkMe gets a piece of licensees’ parking charges and purchases with its discounts, and also sells user data to interested companies. It has yet to turn a profit, but has drawn $6.5 million in venture capital from investors including IDG Ventures, Angeleno Group, and Bill Ford’s Fontinalis Partners. Former Ford executive Mark Schulz, a Fontinalis partner, says ParkMe’s “high-energy team” was a strong factor in their decision to invest.