ParkUpp Startupís Big African Dream
A parking service startup is utilizing modern technology to link drivers with property owners in South Africa as the concept of commoditizing vacant parking bays in shopping centers, co-working spaces, commercial and residential buildings gains a foothold in the country.
ParkUpp (Pty) Ltd, a property technology firm, is utilizing an online platform that lists available private vacant parking spaces in properties mainly in cities.
The startup, founded in 2016, has been active in the South Africa parking space more as an intermediary client linking parking services supply and demand.
Available vacant parking on the platform is listed by the day or longer “but not by the hour,” according to Mark Bradford, the chief executive officer of Docklands Ventures, which has recently acquired ParkUpp.
Bradford, a 30-year real estate veteran, says his property investment company acquired ParkUpp’s parking business, website, brand and data and is revamping the startup before expanding across South Africa and selected cities in Africa in the future.
In South Africa, the property industry’s lobby, South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA), says the country’s office vacancy rate is now at 15.4 percent, a new all-time high, a trend ParkUpp and similar startups want to ride to monetize the vacant parking space in office, commercial and residential buildings in major cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
SAPOA says nearly 1.3 million-square meters were vacant at the end of 2021, which is over and above the vacancy rates reported 20 years ago.
With Covid-19 still influencing the supply and demand for the office property segment, many companies have scaled up the remote working option and cut down on their office space requirements.
“Because of an oversupply and compound effect of COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a scenario where vacancy levels, particularly in office buildings, is highest in decades,” says Bradford.
But thanks to ParkUpp, drivers in need of long-term parking space can log on to the company’s website and browse vacant parking options listed by private property owners.
ParkUpp picks a 15 percent commission of the total parking fee payable to the private property owners once a long-term parking deal has been concluded between the drivers and parking bay owners.
“Whenever offices are vacant, the corresponding parking in the building lies empty and landlords sometimes think parking and office occupancy is directly linked to one another,” says Bradford.
“What we are doing at ParkUpp is to say, hold on, parking in a building can actually be an independent revenue generating commodity,” he explains.
“In Africa, owning a car is an aspiration of many people working in offices largely because public transport is not that brilliant and, therefore, demand for parking space is going to increase eventually,” adds Bradford.
“Inherently, you will have shortage of parking in coming days and what ParkUpp is doing is to say to property owners, we have this level of demand for parking and if the building next door is vacant, why doesn’t the landlord lease it out until the building attracts main tenant,” says Bradford.
The concept behind founding of the ParkUpp innovation is new in Africa.
The startup was co-founded in 2016 by Palesa Moloi, the company’s first chief executive, and who has taken up a spinoff of the concept to the States.
“This innovation had gained momentum, then COVID-19 came and obviously with the lockdowns, people were not going to work and this suppressed demand for parking,” says Bradford.
But now that COVID-19 is slowly ebbing out and society is learning to live with it, Bradford says he is “pleased to inject a little bit of capital into the startup because it is a concept I love, and comes as a great brand with a really good track record.”
Bradford has hired an additional team of software developers and real estate experts to revamp ParkUpp and make it appealing to property owners and drivers.
“Drivers have a problem of parking, but may not necessarily be aware that we at ParkUpp have a solution,” he said.
“We are currently rewriting the software on the entire platform, and also improving on what there was before Dockside Ventures took it up, but we are retaining the startup’s DNA ahead of a re-launch in April 18,” Bradford added.
He says he is excited and finds it “pretty impressive to deal with far and wide range of parking industry options such as the traditional parking, event parking, and also long-haul trucks.”
For the long-haul drivers, the revamped platform will give them the capability to reserve and pay for a parking bay while on the road.
“They’ll simply go to the platform and see what truck stops are available within an hour’s drive and would be able to book a parking bay and pay for it. We are going to do some quite fine stuff!” says Bradford.
ParkUpp is also branching into specialized parking for car collectors through the promotion of parking spaces for those catching flights at airports or cruise or trains and need to park.
However, Bradford says ParkUpp is “not looking to take up every parking bay in every city.”
“First, we have to screen the parking bays to be sure they are properly managed, are well lit and have adequate security before we list them on our platform. The parking should be as safe as the city it is in,” he says.
“Whoever will be interested in listing on our platform, should be aware there is an option of us accepting or rejecting the request for listing,”
“I do not want to chase after every available parking space in the city. I’d rather have 500 or 600 parking bays in a city that are well managed with good security and controlled access,” he says.
Going forward, ParkUpp is optimistic it’ll be managing between 7,000 and 10,000 parking bays across South Africa.
ParkUpp has hired a dynamic team of Millennials drawn from the real estate sector and “who have the flavor and drive to market the parking concept.”
“We are going to use a combination of physical marketing and social media in publicizing ParkUpp with the main target being drivers and corporates in the real estate sector,” explains Bradford.
He said: “ParkUpp is city-specific product, and will expand to cities where we get the right partner.”
“We will be looking into getting local partners in other cities in South Africa and Africa, but such a partner must have the expertise and knowledge of the local parking environment and also understand well appreciate the ParkUpp vision, because that is what it takes to successfully launch abroad,” says Bradford.
“Once we get the fundamentals right, and with a track record and experiences, I don’t see why we can’t grow to an international footprint,” he said and hinted that ParkUpp founder, Moloi, could be on her way to New York to launch a new ParkUpp chapter in North America.
As she signed off ParkUpp to Bradford’s Docklands Ventures, Moloi said: “This is my first exit as an entrepreneur and I couldn’t be prouder of handing over to an experienced individual like Mark (Bradford) who not only brings experience, but his vast network. I believe ParkUpp is in safe hands and will continue to prosper and grow.”
As for Bradford, his intention going forward is not to get into the traditional parking workflow per se, but rather focus on “the value-add segment of the real estate, which previously has not been focused on in this market.”
Shem Oirere is Parking Today’s on the ground reporter in Africa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.