ParqEx, a startup that lets people rent out individual parking spaces through an app, is expanding to Madison and Milwaukee this spring.
The company is based in Chicago, with over 12,000 active users on its platform each month. And the app has over 2,000 listings for available parking spots in the city.
“I started it because having lived in Chicago for 20 years, I was terribly frustrated with parking,” said Vivek Mehra, founder and CEO of ParqEx.
Mehra, a 42-year-old programmer originally from Mumbai, India, has worked for 20 years in the technology industry, putting in time at Navistar International, Caremark and Northern Trust. He had four startups before ParqEx, with his first foray into entrepreneurship at age 26.
“My training has always been, in some ways, to see problems as I come across them and try to find a technology solution for them,” Mehra said. “And that I’ve done in all these different industries. And so parking was my personal pain point–I’ve been ticketed, towed, scratched, vandalized, my license plate has been stolen–you name it.”
And the problem involves more than just risk of physical damage or violating confusing parking regulations–the high cost of parking can be prohibitive, Mehra says.
“I live in an area where when I invite my friends or family to come visit me, you would find yourself paying $55 to $65 for one day, and you would have to park three blocks away,” Mehra said. “So imagine 12 inches of snow in weather like this, when you’re paying $55, and you still cannot easily get to a friends house… It doesn’t make sense.”
Mehra saw the opportunity to solve this issue with a tech solution after noting that many spots around the city go unused.
“And in my building, there are like 10 spots sitting empty at any given time, or more!” he said. “Developers are required by ordinance to build more parking in every building; there is tons of parking everywhere, just no way to access it.”
After that realization, Mehra says he spoke with developers and building managers and found no system in place to rent out those parking spaces.
“It’s a simple idea; build a technology platform that allows anybody–you, me, schools, colleges, churches–anyone that has parking spaces, to bring their supply to our platform and let people rent that parking space,” Mehra said.
The service launched in fall of 2015, with its Access+ technology going live in 2016. Access+ is a combination hardware and software device which allows app users to operate garage doors and gates at set times, allowing them to get into places that normally need an electronic key of some kind.
Both owners and renters of spaces rate each other, much like in Uber’s driver rating system, and have verified accounts, providing security for everyone involved.
Owners set the prices for parking spaces, and the system imposes no limits on how high they can price them.
“You can do hourly, daily, weekly, monthly–and you can set your own price,” Mehra said, adding that market correction will drive prices towards a range that will be competitive — and lower in many cases than for fixed parking at a public garage.
“What we are trying to create is a marketplace filled with enough supply so literally every block will have an option for you to park,” Mehra said, adding the easy access to gated spaces tends to increase security.
The “soft launch” for the app in Madison has already occurred, so the service is live in Wisconsin, and Mehra says it will be up and running in its final form within 90 days.
The company, which has secured over $1.3 million in funding so far, employs nine people regularly, with some part-timers bringing the total extended staff up to around 21.
“We then were very lucky when we went out to raise capital,” Mehra said. “We had a product, a very good team, and revenue that was growing 35 percent month over month–those were the key things that let us raise capital very successfully.”
ParqEx took part in the gener8tor startup accelerator program in 2016.
“They really, really put their heart and soul into helping these companies grow and mature, and also with the fundraising aspect of it,” Mehra said. “They were a very key factor in us being successful and raising our funding rounds.”
Mehra says growing this company has been an enjoyable journey, but that a lot more hard work is needed to keep the ball rolling.
“We are really trying to build something new, and it’s hard work,” he said. “But the beauty of it is, everyone is so passionate about it and everybody loves what they’re doing. It’s awesome, it feels great.”
–By Alex Moe