Disruption: A Great Thing for Customers
“Venture Capital is designed to help companies accelerate the pace of creation and adoption of new products and services. It allows new companies to enter a space and forces existing companies to adapt and change. VC money isn’t meant for the long term. Companies funded by VC groups will be eventually
be sold off. That is just how the model works.”
Parking Today sat down with Kevin Uhlenhaker, CEO of NuPark, to discuss our industry, its changes and challengers. He talks about our industry as “a space” and how outsiders affect it.
“There are a lot of opportunities for efficiency gains. It’s a renaissance of usable data on how parking is being utilized and who is parking where. Having better data and better enforcement of our industry’s customers allows parking operations to sell more permits and delay or avoid building new garages.
“Today, big players in the financial, technology, and automotive industries are taking a serious look at the parking space. If you look at the enterprise side of our industry, many of the established companies are 10 to 15 to 20 years old and their technology looks like it. – VC money has allowed new innovative companies to compete and take market share away from those older companies. There are more people looking to put more money in our space – it causes more disruption.”
We asked Kevin if he thought this was a good thing.
“It’s a great thing for customers. Competition almost always improves customer options and overall service. From an industry perspective, ours doesn’t like change – We will be forced as the old timers, myself included, to continue to improve our offerings. We won’t be able to just get away with what we have done in the past.”
What about the Uber/Lyft affect?
“They impact different parts of our industry in different ways. Overall I see it as a disruption, not a threat. If I had a valet operation I would be a little worried. If I had a downtown garage I would be worried about short term parking. The operators who have data about what is happening and can make changes based on that data will be able to adjust to this phenomenon. Those that don’t, won’t and will suffer the impact of those choices.
“For universities, airports, shopping centers and corporate campuses the challenge is different. Who do you allow to drop off and where do you allow that to happen. How do you control access? The tech companies must get in front of this and begin to understand the needs of these entities.
“Cities are seeing Uber and Lyft causing traffic jams and have to adjust their curb areas to provide drop off while maintaining parking availability. This is classic disruption. It is an opportunity.
What is the biggest single parking tech innovation?
“Seriously, I don’t think there is one singular game changer. Our industry is to varied and complicated. It’s different by sector – for an operator, aggregators like SpotHero and ParkWiz can make a huge difference, for a university not so much. I think that the different technologies like LPR, Pay by Cell, parking guidance and the like offer different options that can solve problems different ways.
“The most important thing is that the industry has the willingness to take on different solutions. In the past, parking operations seemed to shy away from technology. Now we see a willingness to take on different approaches to problem solving.”
Will we see autonomous vehicles in our lifetimes?
“Absolutely, but there will be different vehicle ownership models – someone else owns, you own, a combination. No one model going to win. Let’s face it, when the price comes down and I can own my own self driving car, it will drop me off in front of the building and then go park. Most people think it will park far away. I don’t. What they are missing is people’s unwillingness to wait. They want their car and they want it now. If it’s an hour away, that’s a nonstarter.
“It’s a pricing model. Am I willing to pay more to have my car park closer and a shorter wait, or less money and have a longer wait? We see that happening already in event parking. For owners who value time over lowest cost, there will have to be parking garages close to my office to provide that option.
“We will be forced as the old timers, myself included, to continue to improve our offerings. We won’t be able to just get away with what we have done in the past.”
“There will be monetizing pick up and drop off points - plus service and maintenance for these vehicles. All these are profit centers for our industry.
“We will be able to park more cars in a smaller garage but have to keep the blended transition of the standard and autonomous vehicles. I see that there may be combined parking, on one level autonomous parking with six inches between the cars, and another level with standard parking. Of course, different charges for each. No one has a crystal ball. Experts say they know what is going to happen, but if they did venture capital funds wouldn’t need to invest in 10 companies to get 1 or 2 good exits. No one really knows for sure, they are just making an educated guess stated as fact knowing there is very little accountability if they are wrong.”
Talk about Smart Cities. We see it as term in search of a definition. But there is a tsunami rolling over cities across the country. Parking industry is not involved we have no place at the table.
“I agree – I don’t think we have a seat at a lot of tables, Smart City discussions not withstanding. The perception is how hard can parking be? Many times the higher you go in an organization, whether it is mayor, a chancellor, or CEO the more that leader thinks they know about parking. However, good data about parking can help parking professions combat those preconceived notions and demonstrate the value of true parking expertise in larger city planning.
“Smart Cities is a buzz word invented by companies that have a better marketing strategy (and a larger budget) than we have in our industry. But even after a city becomes involved, and you ask them what they are doing, its hard to get a good answer. It sounds cool and looks like you are doing something innovative. That is important to people looking to be elected or stay in office. It think cities are going to spend a lot of money to be ‘smart’ and will find that they are really nowhere near where they thought they would be. I am afraid the value that’s sold to these cities isn’t going to match up to the results.
“These programs are very long term. The administration that starts it and is behind spending money will be out in a few years and the new one may find places they see the money better spent and the smart cities program will die off. We have seen this happen in many areas particularly when the actual results are hard to measure.
“If it sounds cool enough, they will buy it. It reminds me of the “hope and change” messaging used by President Obama. It was brilliant because it meant different things to different people. The Smart Cities tag is very much the same. It has different meanings to different people so when its being sold, many different interest groups can get on board because the meaning can fit in their wheelhouse.
“From my perspective we believed we had a better overall solution and we saw the positive impact even from our first installation. We live by the idea that if we do a good job of taking care of our customers they will take care of us. We know that when they switch to us, they are taking a risk. Our goal is reward that risk with a better outcome than they could have expected, both for themselves and their parkers.
Kevin UHlenhaker graduated from Texas Tech University in 2003. He first joined the parking industry as a student worker at Texas Tech Parking Department. Before co-founding NuPark in 2013 Kevin spent time at both T2 Systems, and ParkingSoft. He current resides in Austin, TX with his wife and four children.