Helping millions to JustPark
Tell us about JustPark – what does the company do and how does the business model work?
JustPark is reinventing parking for the digital age. Parking shouldn’t be difficult, yet it’s one the most dysfunctional parts of our daily lives. By digitising this old-fashioned industry, we’re making parking easier for drivers. Our app and website lets you find parking in seconds, wherever and whenever you need it - and you can even reserve and pay for a space in advance, allowing you to get on with your day without wasting time or worrying about parking.
On the flip side, our platform helps over 20,000 property owners to maximise the value of their parking assets - from underused driveways to parking at offices, spare land to commercial car parks. We use technology and data to help those with spare space make more efficient use of it - and gain access to an additional revenue stream through our user base of over 1.3m drivers.
JustPark takes a cut of each transaction on our platform. Listing a parking space or driveway is completely free, and the property owner sets the price they want to receive; the driver then pays an extra service fee on top of this when reserving a space (included in the price) which is typically 20%.
What inspired you to launch the business? Can you remember the lightbulb moment which sparked it?
A friend and I were trying to find parking for a San Francisco Giants baseball match, whilst I was studying at the University of California, Berkeley. There was no space at any of the nearby car parks, but I kept seeing empty driveways outside people’s houses, and thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could knock on that person’s door and ask to park there’.
That was the seed of the idea - I realised there was a big win-win opportunity for drivers and property owners, and when I returned to the UK in 2006 I began turning that idea into a reality. Since then, we’ve built up a network of tens of thousands of parking spaces across the UK - expanding into the B2B market on a large scale in the last few years - and also begun operating our own car parks too.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up and study and what previous jobs had you held?
I grew up in London, where I first came to understand the true size of the parking problem. My primary interest as a child was chess and I represented Britain internationally from the age of 11 to 18. I studied mathematics at Leeds University and the University of California, Berkeley, and it was whilst in the States that I came up with the idea for JustPark.
My first job was as a clumsy waiter at Bella Italia in Leeds. After university, I started on the graduate scheme for Deloitte - but after just six weeks I quit to focus on JustPark (or ParkatmyHouse as it was known until 2014) and to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams.
Did you receive any support when starting up and getting it off the ground?
I started the business at 23, with very little previous business experience. I taught myself to code in order to build the first version of the website (my father is an enterprise software engineer so I got some support on that side of things from an early age). I then ran all aspects of the business myself, with help from my family, for 5 years - from web development to customer service - which was very tough. I was utterly broke most of the time and had to take on extra paid work to keep the business afloat. At one stage, I was £30,000 in debt.
In 2010, JustPark was only making £1,000 per month, and I was working gruelling 18 hour days to keep it going. However, by 2011 the company had over 100,000 users - PR helped us massively in the early days to generate interest and hype around the product - and had somehow managed to make it onto the radar of venture capital firms and large companies, leading to the investment from BMW.
Throughout those early years especially, I benefited hugely from the incredible support of my family and friends - who were all totally behind me and wanted the company to succeed. At times, certainly in the beginning, setting up your own business can be an isolated and lonely existence - and sometime it’s tough to keep going. But those closest to me have always had faith in me and the company, and their support has been truly vital to JustPark’s success (and my sanity!)
What challenges have you had to overcome since? How did you overcome them?
In 2013, with JustPark and the trend of driveway rental on the rise, we began to attract unwanted attention from some UK councils who deemed it unlawful. Residents received letters from local authorities threatening fines of up to £20,000 for renting out their parking spaces without planning permission. Thankfully, after considerable negotiation, common sense triumphed: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles pledged support to these micro-entrepreneurs, and government guidance was drawn up that has enshrined the right of homeowners to rent out their driveways.
Another major challenge for the business was the rebranding to JustPark in 2014, which was something that took a lot of thought and work to get right. Having started to work more closely with a growing number of businesses and car park operators, we felt it was time to move away from the purely peer-to-peer, sharing economy feel of ‘ParkatmyHouse’.
‘JustPark’ reflects the more comprehensive inventory of parking spaces we now provide and the ease of use of our apps, which are now our leading platforms. However, it was a long and arduous process (full of animated discussions) to reach something we were all happy with - and we then had to execute the rebrand in the right way so as to get all of our users on board with the new philosophy. It could’ve been a disaster but the whole team did a really awesome job - and we haven’t looked back since.
How did you raise the finance to continue growing the business?
Securing investment from BMW i Ventures completely changed things. It allowed me to hire the first few employees at ParkatmyHouse and start to really grow the business. Before that, I was on my own and struggling to attend to all aspects of the business single-handedly. From then on, I had the necessary funds to start building a team that would propel the company forward.
Since then, we got the backing of one of Europe’s leading VCs, Index Ventures, in 2014 - and closed what, until recently, was a record crowdfunding round in 2015, raising over £3.5m from over 2,700 investors via Crowdcube.
How did you manage to attract names such as BMW and Index Ventures? Also, how big of a boost have they been?
BMW iVentures is the venture capital arm of the company, and they were looking to invest in emerging urban mobility technology and smart cities projects. JustPark was an exciting new concept, and by 2011 was making a few waves across the industry - offering a pioneering solution to the parking problem, and disrupting a sector which was in real need of change.
Obviously the capital was a huge boost for us, but there are other big benefits. Taking strategic investment from a major company allows a startup to benefit from the “halo effect” of its corporate investor. Secondly, this type of partnership offers the opportunity to collaborate on new business - which in our case was the world’s first in-car parking app that lets a driver find, book and pay for parking directly from their dashboard, which we built with BMW in 2014.
Index Ventures are arguably Europe’s leading VC, with a superb track record in getting companies to IPO - offering a different type of expertise to BMW. They have a particular experience when it comes to working with marketplace businesses like Just-Eat, Farfetch, Funding Circle and BlaBlaCar - and to receive their backing in 2014 was a big moment for JustPark. The advice and support from them and our board member Robin Klein has been incredibly valuable, and has helped us negotiate the challenges and grow into the company we are today.
You’ve also raised money from crowdfunding, how big of a boost was this? Why did you look to the crowd?
Our interest in doing crowdfunding began with us posing the hypothetical question - “would you invest” - to a subsection of our customers via email. After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from these JustPark users, we had all the encouragement we needed to go for it.
It was an experiment, and one we were thrilled that our two VC investors, BMW and Index Ventures, supported us on. But we were confident from the outset that it would prove a success: it allows us to tap into the passion and enthusiasm of our customers, shared by members of the crowd, through inviting these people to be involved in the business.
We now have over 2,700 people who are evangelists for JustPark. Our crowdfunding investors help us to build the business - supporting us on social media, telling their friends about our products, voting for us in competitions - as well having a share in its success. That is the power of the crowd - not just the capital it provides in order to grow a company, but the positive sentiment for the product that it taps into.
How much has the company grown since its launch?
We now have over 1.3 million drivers registered and over 20,000 parking spaces on our platform.
What do you put this growth down to?
Parking is a big problem - drivers hate it. From surveys we’ve done, we know that there is some kind of pain at almost every stage of the process. We’re addressing this pain, providing an elegant solution to the problem which caters for both sides of the market - making parking easier for drivers, and helping operators and property owners maximise the value of their parking assets. I think we’ve really struck a chord with drivers through the peace of mind and convenience that our products offer (the tens of thousands of drivers who use JustPark every day are testament to this) - and present a smarter solution on the supply side, using technology and data to utilise space more efficiently.
We’re solving a real problem in an intelligent way, and that’s why people value us - plus we have an obsession for the user experience, constantly looking to improve our products to ensure they’re the best on the market. I think that’s why we’ve seen such impressive growth over the last few years.
Looking forward, what are your plans for the future?
We want JustPark to be the parking app of choice for every driver, to be the only handheld companion they need to find parking on every journey they take. We’re going to keep focussing on growing and improving our apps, to make parking as easy as possible for drivers, and continue to offer a higher quality of car park management on the supply side - bringing efficiency to a notoriously inefficient industry, for the benefit of drivers and operators across the country (and, in time, the world).
Finally, if you could give three tips to an aspiring entrepreneur, what would they be?
Have confidence in your own ideas - and be prepared to work hard to make them a reality. There will always be challenges, especially if you are a disruptor pushing the boundaries. Companies such as JustPark are mapping new territory, and inevitably there are tests along the way. However, these test make you stronger, and making mistakes is a good thing - it’s how you learn.
2. Get to know your industry.
Attend events, be part of the business community for your field, become a face that people recognise. Being proactive and visible in your sector helps to start and grow useful relationships - as well as keeping you fully abreast of industry news and developments.
3. Remember to live.
Don’t forget your health, your family and your friends - 18 hours days aren’t good for anyone, and working too hard puts a strain on relationships as well as your own physical and mental wellbeing. Creating and building something that’s your own, and something that you love, is brilliantly fulfilling - but try to find time to relax and get some sleep at some point too!
Published: 20 March 2017