Small Business Saturday: Meet SPOT, ‘the Uber of Parking’

Young woman backing into a parking space

A new app called SPOT allows users to rent parking spots in dense urban areas when they’re not in use. Photo: SPOT

For those living in overcrowded urban environments, the routine is familiar, and frustrating.

You battle rush-hour traffic to get home each day, only to spend another half-hour (or more) cruising slowly around and around your neighborhood, in ever wider circles, in search of parking.

And when snow is added to the equation, finding on-street parking practically becomes an all-out battle. This winter in New England is a prime example – with drifts of six feet or higher making parking a dwindling and highly coveted commodity.

It is this type of frustrating daily experience that inspired 31-year-old Boston resident Braden Golub to launch his own business recently — a new smartphone app called SPOT. Made available to the public in December, Golub’s free app connects those on the prowl for parking spots with those who have privately owned parking spots available for rent. Golub likens his creation to Uber and Airbnb.

“Disruptive technology solutions like Uber and Airbnb use existing technology, combined with an actionable commodity, to create a micro-community,” says Golub.

In this case, the actionable commodity is parking spaces – thousands of them.

More than 190,000 cars commute into the city of Boston each day, and more than 30,000 private parking spots exist, according to SPOT research.

Golub’s app allows parking space owners to list spaces on their terms, whenever they’re not using them — whether it be to rent for a few hours or a few weeks.

Parking space renters, meanwhile, simply enter their credit card information one time on the SPOT app, then all subsequent transactions are quickly and easily processed through PayPal, Venmo, or direct deposit to the parking space owner’s account.

Those simple parameters inspired the growth of one of the country’s newest micro-communities – the parking space economy. People are cashing in on tiny chunks of real estate.

In the three months since SPOT launched, 11,000 people have signed up. Starting in Boston, the company plans to expand to Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco this year.

“A parking spot is a small sliver of real estate. It’s a concrete slab of real estate,” says Golub, who lives in one of Boston’s most notoriously challenging communities for parking – the Back Bay, a ritzy neighborhood characterized by beautiful brownstones, abundant shopping, trendy restaurants, and a dearth of parking spots.

In an effort to ease his own parking troubles, Golub rents a monthly space behind his Back Bay apartment building. But his girlfriend still fights the daily battle of finding a parking spot when visiting Golub, and that’s, in part, how his business idea was born.

“I was coming back one morning from feeding my girlfriend’s parking meter, and I noticed that half of the parking spots behind my building were empty and I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.'”

Golub, who at the time was vice president of business development for a real estate-based technology startup named Rental Beast, decided he would develop a better way to deal with Boston’s parking struggles himself.

Research, Research, Research

So what does it take to go from idea to reality when launching your own app?

Days and weeks of research, a panel of experienced advisors, and money — to name a few key essentials on Golub’s list.

However, an advanced business degree and experience designing and coding apps? Not so important.

Golub is a 2006 graduate of Indiana University who spent several years working in various capacities at a variety of businesses that had nothing to do with designing apps. Fresh out of college, he worked as a real estate broker for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Manhattan. His next stop was real estate broker for Marcus & Millichap Commercial Real Estate Brokerage in Chicago, and then he served as business development manager for Youk’s Kids, a Boston charity.

“I was unfamiliar with the coding process before I started developing SPOT. And yes, truth is, I am not an MBA, I didn’t go to grad school and I did not know how to actually code, but I have been enamored with the startup process since I graduated from college just based on the fact that an individual can make a difference in someone’s everyday life by providing them with a solution to a problem … all from a singular idea,” says Golub.

“What I did to understand the market behind this was a lot of research,” he adds.

That research involved investigating market size, both in Boston and nationally, as well as identifying obstacles to specific parking-related issues. Golub also studied the legalities of what one is allowed to do with their private property from a leasing perspective, and also delved into the liability issues for all those who would be involved in parking-space rental transactions via SPOT.

After about three months of studying these issues, Golub felt comfortable enough to move forward with his business idea.

What followed next was about eight months of designing the SPOT app. Six full-time coders and one head architect were dedicated to the project.

Golub initially came up with his idea for SPOT in July 2013, and by June 2014 he had launched the beta version. That’s about 11 months from initial idea to reality.

“It was much, much longer than I intended it to take,” says Golub. “It should have taken closer to like three to four months for start of tech development to prototype, depending on the sophistication of what you’re building. SPOT happened to be quite intensive to build from the ground up. I also spent a solid amount of time researching market size, legal aspects of my idea, and developing an understanding of the processes behind how to make something like this work.

“Before deciding to move forward and saying ‘go’ to a tech development team, I wanted to be 110% positive that this was a viable and sustainable solution to an archaic and antiquated industry,” he adds.

The answer to that question – whether SPOT would be a viable and sustainable solution to the city’s age-old parking problem – has thus far been a resounding yes. The proof has materialized on many levels.

The first source of evidence Golub points to is the cold, hard cash the app is making for parking spot owners around Boston who have signed up to rent their spaces.

“We just saw a South Boston parking spot rent for $450 a month. People are making some serious money from our app. That’s validation more then anything,” says Golub. “There is one parking spot owner that we’ve paid more than $3,000 in roughly five months.”

There is also the previously mentioned evidence of success in the form of thousands of SPOT users – 11,000 in less than three months. SPOT makes a 15% cut from every transaction.

All of which would seem to add up to success for someone who had little experience coding and took a chance on an idea.

But when you ask Golub if he feels successful, his answer, while upbeat, is a mixture of cautious optimism and an ambitious vision for the future that leaves him far from ready to settle for being called a success. Ever the businessman, he is instead working diligently to accomplish more, to fulfill his initial goals and dreams for SPOT.

“I definitely think we are building a product that can change the way people park,” says Golub.

“I’m not where I want to be for a variety of reasons, but I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished. … My eyes are on the prize, and the prize being going national by the end of this year. I’m very proud of the team I have around me, and very proud of what we’ve done so far.”

Here’s some of Golub’s advice about how to launch your own app:

Seek Guidance From Those With Experience

One of the first steps Golub took was establishing an advisory panel of experienced mentors. It’s a step many successful entrepreneurs take and one Golub strongly advocates.

“I would highly encourage anyone starting a company, who has not done it before, to find people who have,” he says. “There is zero education that you can read or watch that can prepare you for what you need to deal with on a daily basis. I spoke with a lot of people and found four trusted advisors who have helped me immensely.”

Not only do you need to assemble a panel of trusted advisors, you also need to be prepared to compensate them in some way, says Golub.

“I understood early on that I would need to give up some equity. I was very up front and forthcoming about giving equity,” Golub explains. “My advisors put a lot of time and effort into making this a successful company.”

Finding the Right Coder/Developer

The coder is the person who brings your vision to life (if you don’t know how to code). This person can make or break your project, says Golub. Having a good relationship with your coder and finding someone who understands your vision is key.

“That’s probably the most difficult thing I had to do – find someone I trust to build my baby,” says Golub. “There’s no getting around it. The really, really good developers either have their own shop or are working at Google or Facebook. … It takes a lot of interviews. It is very difficult to find someone who you are comfortable with and who can get the job done.

“Hiring a developer who you are not comfortable with will be the beginning of the end,” adds Golub. 

The Cost to Design and Build Your App

Expect to spend $150,000 to $300,000 on designing and building your app, says Golub. That may sound like a huge sum of money. But think of it as an investment.

“It’s not like that investment goes away,” says Golub of the app you are sinking so much money into building. “It’s a tangible asset. It’s an investment that you know you will get a return on.”

Testing Your App

Testing the public’s reaction and interaction with your fledgling app is a critical part of the development process. So how do you conduct such tests?

Golub worked with a group of MBA students at Bentley College. But essentially, you need to find a focus group of people – not your friends – who will tell you honestly what they think of your app and how it functions.

“You need people other then yourself to look at the product,” says Golub. “We had focus groups that tested out the app. And we had two-way mirrors so we could see their reactions as well.”

Mia Taylor
Contributor for The Simple Dollar

Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. She has worked for some of the nation's best-known news organizations such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Taylor holds a graduate degree in Journalism and Media Studies and had a fellowship to study journalism at the San Diego affiliate of National Public Radio. Over the course of her career, she has won numerous journalism industry honors, including five awards from the North American Travel Journalists Association and the 2011 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.

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