Baltimore Startup Takes Parking High Tech

Ninety-two million dollars in fines later, D.C. residents must be getting fed up.

According to AAA, the District of Columbia’s parking enforcement had a busy 2011, issuing 1.6 million tickets. That amounts to the mind-boggling $92 million in fees.

But two young entrepreneurs have an idea to make parking a whole lot easier and help answer the age-old question: "Where do I park?"

The company is called Parking Panda and its aim is to alleviate your parking woes by doing several things. First, it acts as a sort of broker for homeowners who want to rent out their driveways to drivers in popular city destinations. Second, it works with drivers to get them discounted parking rates at commercial lots that aren’t filled to capacity. And third, the startup is helping drivers bid more for parking spots in advance at big events so that they are assured the most coveted prize of all: a spot.

“Parking is a pain point for a lot of people right now,” said Adam Zilberbaum, the co-founder of Parking Panda. “So we want to make it as easy as possible for people and make this experience really user friendly.”

Zilberbaum, along with co-founder Nick Miller, only met a year ago at a Baltimore startup event where the concept was brought to life.

“While at Georgetown, I had a really prime parking space at a town house that I lived in, but I didn’t have a car,” explained 24-year-old Miller. “And I never used it so it just went to waste even though it was only a block away from the best shopping and dining in D.C.”

Still, he said, he didn’t consider doing anything about it until he moved back to Baltimore and went to Startup Weekend Baltimore, a two-day hackathon.

“Adam and I met at the event and built the very first version of it in a single weekend,” said Miller.

“I had no idea that it would turn into a real business, meet my business partner and that it would be something we’d be able to be working on full time a year later, hiring employees and expanding into new cities,"

- Adam Zilberbaum, co-founder of Parking Panda

The two won the competition and immediately began working on a more substantial prototype for the now the 5-person company, whose vibrant office culture appears contradictory to the seemingly mundane business of parking.

“I went into it thinking it would just be a good networking event,” said Zilberbaum. “I had no idea that it would turn into a real business, meet my business partner and that it would be something we’d be able to be working on full time a year later, hiring employees and expanding into new cities.”

But that’s exactly what’s happening.

Started in Baltimore, Parking Panda recently expanded into D.C. and has plans to be in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco later this year.

The company, which gets 20% from every parking spot reserved, isn’t profitable yet but is in the midst of closing on a $750,000 round of seed funding.

“Parking is an industry that has barely changed since they put credit card machines in parking garages and we’re just starting to see a lot of technological innovation in the market,” said Miller. “People spend tons and tons of money on parking--and we’re trying to make it more efficient.”

Follow Christina on Twitter @ChristinaScotti

Six Shooter with Adam Zilberbaum & Nick Miller

What is your favorite quote and why?

Adam: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value” – Albert Einstein

I love this quote because I truly believe that the key to success in anything is providing others with as much value as possible, rather than just trying to be successful.  If what you are doing is actually helping people, success will follow, and you will get more than you give.

Nick: Honestly I'm not really sure, but there are two great Steve Jobs quotes that come to mind and kind of explain the same thing in very different ways.  The first is "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do."  The second is "It's more fun to be a pirate than join the navy."  In very different ways these explain why I started Parking Panda instead of working for a big company like Google or Microsoft.  I wanted to love my work and because it is more fun to work at a small company and make your own waves.

What is the biggest misconception about starting a business?

Adam: The biggest misconception is the fact that starting a business is always fun and easy, especially for start-ups.  It’s easy to read Mashable and Techcrunch and read about how all of these hot new companies are receiving a ton of funding.  They make it seem like anybody with an idea can raise money, get a cool office and build what they love.  When the reality is that building a company is hard work, and getting others to believe enough in your idea and your team to raise capital is even harder.  Not to say that we are not having fun and doing what we love, but there has been a lot of hard work to get where we are right now and way more hard work ahead of us.

Nick: People often think starting a tech company is easy and that you'll get overnight success.  The way the success of companies like Pinterest or Airbnb is reported, people often end up believing that these companies became huge hits overnight.  It is easy to overlook the 2-year struggle before the success when the company almost folded every month.

Is being a young entrepreneur all that it’s cracked up to be?

Adam: I love being an entrepreneur and would not have it any other way. I tried to fight my entrepreneur genes at one time in my life, but now I embrace it and am very thankful for the fact that I was brought up in a very entrepreneurial family comprised of a lot of successful business owners. I was brought up with the values of working hard and going after what you believe in, and I hope that is something I can pass down to my children as well as everyone I interact with in my life. We need more self-starters and idea people everywhere.

Nick: That really depends on your personality. For me, absolutely. It isn't easy and if you want stability, short hours, and a 401k match then it isn't for you, but if you want to build something you love and solve real problems every day then it's an amazing experience.

What do you wish you had more of: time or money?

Adam: This is a tough question to answer, but I guess I would choose money. With more money we could be more aggressive and get more customers using Parking Panda in more cities or even go international. We know once someone uses us they will never go back to parking the old fashion way, and our goal is to impact as many people as we possibly can.

Nick: I'm not sure they're all that different really, especially when it comes to growing and building a company.  More time means that you can get more done in a day/week/year, but more money means you can grow the team and do more work. Either way, it is all about making the product better and reaching more people. Plus, one of our company values is "do more with less" so we make it work with whatever we can get.

Why will Parking Panda be successful?

Adam: This goes back to my quote that I choose from Albert Einstein. I know that Parking Panda is providing a lot of value to everyone that uses it. We make the parking experience a pleasant one, instead of having the nightmare typically involved with finding parking in crowded urban areas. We also check in with all of our customers to see how we can make the parking experience and our service even better. Customer service and customer satisfaction is a core value of our company and something all of us really believe in, and play a crucial part in our success.

Nick: We believe Parking Panda will be successful because we are solving a real problem for everyday people. Whether your 16 or 86, if you are driving to a densely populated area or an event, parking is an issue and we can help.

You met only met Nick a year ago but it seems you work well together. What do you think he adds to the business and do you think have a co-founder is crucial?

I do believe that having a co-founder is important, especially one that has strengths where you have weaknesses and vice versa.   Nick and I complement each other nicely. Nick has a strong product background, and great vision and passion to help lead our company. It is also great to have another person experience the highs and lows of starting a business from nothing--and I literally I mean nothing. Nick and I at one point were not taking a salary and sharing a single room in NYC with no furniture except two air mattresses, while building our business in an accelerator in Times Square. That is how you know your co-founder is as committed as you are, and shares the same vision of creating a something that will be used by millions of people.

You met only met Adam a year ago but it seems you work well together. What do you think he adds to the business and do you think have a co-founder is crucial?

Adam has a lot more experience with the technical side of the business, but coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he has a lot of experience with marketing and operations as well. I think the decision to have a co-founder is really a personal one about how you work.  For us, it was great and honestly I think for most people it is a good decision. Sometimes it is really difficult to step back from what you are doing and see a simple issue or problem clearly when you've spent all day working on the same thing. Plus, it makes working long days a lot more bearable when you aren't doing it alone.