Barney Pell, CEO of QuickPay Corp., envisions a future in which parking facilities utilize tiered rate structures similar to ones the hotel and airline industries have established.
“You used to buy an airline ticket and it was all one type of seat,” he says. “Now, there are different prices for everyone depending on when you purchased the ticket, and whether it’s economy, business or first class.
“With parking, there really aren’t ways for you to pay more for a better parking space, or less for something that’s a little less convenient. If that can be done, it would provide more convenience and options for customers, and money for parking facility owners.”
QuickPay, which recently completed a $5.5 million round of additional funding, was founded in 2010 with the concept of leveraging mobile technology to make it easier to find, access and pay for parking.
“It wasn’t my idea originally,” Pell says. “I met an entrepreneur in a parking lot. He was promoting a new app — it was at the prototype level — that would let you pay for parking using your iPhone.
“I was coming off three years working at Microsoft, and the last year of that I was leading Bing’s local and mobile search teams. I was looking at the trends in what mobile devices would mean for location-based activities and thought parking presented a really interesting opportunity.”
Using QuickPay, you can find a parking space and pay from your phone. Drivers can even use the platform to raise gates at parking facilities.
Parking represents the gateway to local commerce, Pell says, and has been a neglected area that could help fuel economic growth.
Developing the technology
A challenge QuickPay faced in creating an app was addressing the security required within the parking industry.
“Ultimately, you’re paying money for the privilege of parking legally and not being towed,” Pell says. “If there’s any weak link in the system, someone will be stealing and cheating. So the industry has all kinds of controls and systems in place. That sets the bar very high for a new technology to come in.”
QuickPay took an approach to work in parallel with existing systems, recognizing that not all customers will use mobile devices. Instead of removing old systems, the app simply affords customers another option.
“But when you have two systems running at the same time, those systems have to work together and not get in the way of each other, introducing a new set of loopholes,” Pell says.
The app was tested through working with local and regional parking operators in the Bay Area. Pell advised them to be patient as the platform was being developed to address the myriad issues that were identified.
“We had to scale up before starting to work with the really big guys, the national parking operators with very complex and mature systems,” he says. “We had to do a huge investment in reporting systems so that every single transaction gets reported the way they need to integrate with existing banking and credit card reconciliation processes.”
The platform also needed to account for various rate structures that included parking meters with rates of $1 an hour and garages with incremental rates that are dependent on when customers enter and exit.
“Some places might even have 40 different rate structures that depend on time of entry. In order to go live in each location, we’ve had to match the structures and complexity they have with existing equipment,” Pell says.
Ramping up for growth
ABM Parking Services & Operations Services, with 14,000 locations, was the first large-scale operator to come onboard.
“They needed to make sure that a solution was working across all their different environments and existing systems,” Pell says. “That’s what required us to level up our entire business.”
With the knowledge and experienced gained from working with ABM, QuickPay plans to use the latest funding to achieve the next level of scale with other national operators that have not been announced.
“We’ve built this product and the platform and features that are required,” Pell says. “We’re doing a lot of investment in automating our processes so we can be onboarding and tracking facilities quickly. If that process is manually-driven, it will not be able to scale.”
Growth also will mean expanding slightly from the current 20 employees.
“We have a really good core group. This is the kind of company that can serve a large base of users in different communities without that much additional head count,” Pell says. “We’ll be looking to expand in some key areas by five to 10 people in the next year, but we don’t see a need to be a 100-person company.”
Beating the competition
QuickPay’s success stems from addressing two areas that other apps have not covered — off-street parking and gated facilities.
“A lot of companies involved in mobile payments are European-based and handle mobile payments in parking meters, pushing data to the people doing the enforcement,” Pell says. “Meter readers see the meter hasn’t been paid, then look up the license plate to see if it has been paid for by the mobile service. Most are variations of that approach.”
A problem with off-street parking is finding a way to enable a customer to lift a gate. QuickPay solved that by developing its own gate kit.
“The hardware plugs into any existing gated equipment and can detect when cars are present to lift the gate,” Pell says. “It talks to our system running in the cloud. The experience you have as a QuickPay user is that you drive up, scan a quick response (QR) code that’s really just a sticker attached to the entry gate, and then the gate magically opens as if you had a garage door opener on your phone.”
The same process is followed when leaving the parking facility, and the customer is charged and sent an electronic receipt.
“It’s a beautiful experience that allows you to skip cash machines,” Pell says.
QuickPay’s other main business differentiator has been developing a system that accommodates a complex variety of rates.
“We can support any number of rates at the same time, and even add personalized features that can take it ultimately down to different rates for each individual person who parks there,” Pell says.
That’s where the future of the platform gets exciting, according to Pell, because it will help fill empty parking spaces by enabling better inventory management.
“Parking in the United States is estimated to be a $26 billion a year industry. If we are, as I believe, in the early days of optimizing yield for parking, then there’s a lot of value that can be captured for owners of parking facilities,” Pell says.
Although QuickPay was created as a customer convenience, convincing parking facility operators and owners of potential benefits has been a critical part of the company’s success.
“You have to really think about each group of stakeholders and the ideal experiences for them,” Pell said. “That’s your guideposts to build the best products and the best business.” ●
Learn more about QuickPay at:
How to reach: QuickPay Corp., (650) 290-7763 or www.qpme.com