Will This Company Need a Passport?
By John Van Horn
It is our policy at Parking Today not to do articles on companies that have no product in the field. We have always thought that it was important that a product be proven, and past the “vaporware” stage before we talk about it in the magazine. However, in this case, we are making an exception. With so many startup companies in the wings, we thought it would be thought-provoking not to talk about a new product, but to describe the process one company is going through to bring it to market. We met with Passport Parking’s founders in Atlanta last month, and in upcoming months we will follow them from their beginnings through their launch and first installations. Editor.
Why another company supplying revenue control equipment? There are already a baker’s dozen established, multinational organizations that supply hardware and software to the parking industry. Do we really need another one? Charlie Youakim, his cousin Bob Youakim, and Khristian Gutierrez think so, and are committing time and treasure to find out.
You bring a product to market to solve a problem. First, you have to know what problem you are trying to solve. The Youakims and Gutierrez have done their research and found that parking facility owners and operators have a number of major challenges:
• Due to heavy cost structures, companies sacrifice revenue to reduce costs (wages as a percentage of industry revenue continue to increase).
• Companies prioritize cost reduction over driving productivity and organic growth.
• Investment in the right parking solution is not often cost effective (automated solutions such as central paystations and mobile pay alternatives).
• Integration of various technologies makes retrieving real-time data or applying changes difficult.
In the end, the three Passport Parking executives concluded that these issues resulted in lower overall customer (parker) satisfaction.
They determined that a most effective way to approach these issues was to create a true “cloud-based” software solution. They had observed that pure-play vendors (those that focus on a single approach such as on-street, off-street, pay-by-phone, software, etc.) introduce integration issues to the marketplace. They also felt that it was difficult for existing players to migrate current products/services to a cloud-based model.
In their company literature, they quote Harald Raetzsch in a December 2011 Parking Today article: “Many vendors even tried for some time to simply adapt what they have and call it a ‘cloud’ offering or an online system … to prolong the life of a non-cloud architecture under a new cloud logo or product name.”
“As [parking facility owners and operators] start to feed operations and customer data into the ‘cloud’ … they can leverage the mobile, personal, local, social and contextual trends that are transforming the parking industry and the world,” noted Barney Pell of Onti Corp. and QuickPay Parking in the December 2011 issue of Parking Today.
The Passport Parking trio felt that by starting from scratch, they could leverage their experience as an operator and create an integrated hardware and software platform that utilizes a completely cloud- based system and be uniquely positioned to win market share with a disruptive technology.
Their approach was to build a cloud-based software system and integrate all aspects of off-street parking, including pay-by-phone, RFID-enabled parking monitoring for contract parking and uncontrolled lot enforcement, plus fully automated pay-in-lane, pay-on-foot, and pay-by-space options. All systems would be integrated and accept a cloud-based validation system, including validation for pay-by-cell.
Charlie Youakim’s hardware and software design background, Bob Youakim’s business development and auditing experience, and Gutierrez’s investment banking background all blended to assist the fledgling company in its initial design and development phases.
The cloud-based software that supports pay-by-phone is in place. It offers a number of options, including pay-by-voice and pay-by-text. The contract parking management system offers a web-based registration process, year-round open enrollment, and if required, a complete fulfillment system. The mobile pay and remote management applications are on location in Charlotte, NC, where they are collecting customer feedback. The pay-in-lane/pay-on-foot equipment will follow, the executives said.
They believe that the company’s management system will be most attractive to operators and owners as it will enable them to have real-time control over all locations and receive real-time management reports on all activities.
“The goal has been to minimize the amount of hardware located in the parking facilities and enable customers to use cloud based software,” Bob Youakim said. “This greatly reduces conversion costs and enables smaller parking operators and owners to leverage their operations staff and have similar tools that were at one time available only to the largest operators.
“Our goal is to ensure that our business models will attract small users,” he said. “We are stressing low upfront capital costs with transactions fees typically structured as pass-through costs. The larger operators may control 30% of the locations, but that leaves a huge market out there.”
Passport Parking has developed relationships with local developers in Charlotte, their home base, plus a working relationship with its largest local university. Also, the company has been selected to help promote Charlotte’s movement to be a greener and more tech-savvy city in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention in late summer.
The first major Passport Parking launch will be at the 2012 IPI Conference & Expo June 10-13 in Phoenix.
Article Abstract from March, 2012