Intelligent new app takes the stress out of car parking
Driving around in circles trying to find a free parking space is bad enough as it is without being fined when you’ve accidentally gone a few minutes overtime. The soon-to-be-launched mobile app, ParkMeApp not only helps drivers avoid fines, but notifies them of available parking spaces should they need to move to a different spot.
The idea behind the app was borne out of entrepreneur Patrick Acheampong’s personal driving experience and the frustration he felt on countless occasions trying to find an on-street parking space in Sydney, and then rushing back to the car or taking while in the middle of errands or risk getting a parking ticket.
As such, ParkMeApp was designed to address multiple problems: finding parking spaces, avoiding fines or having to pay extra for the parking meter. Mr Acheampong adds that the app is also unique in that it is focused primarily on street parking (though it will be moving onto off-street parking in the future); and rather than simple timers which alert you when your parking is about to expire, ParkMeApp’s algorithm sends you warnings based on how far you are from your vehicle and how long it will take you to cover that distance.
So how does it work? Drivers can either scan or manually enter details of the parking sign and ticket of the area they’re parked in. The app will then alert them when it’s time to start heading back to their vehicle based on how far away from it they are and when the parking is due to expire. ParkMeApp will also feature a function where users can search for an available parking space based on their location – eliminating the need to drive around town in circles.
Mr Acheampong says he started working on the design six months ago at Sydney’s Fishburners co-working space, and is currently in the iLab Incubator in Brisbane creating the Minimum Viable Product.
“I designed it on paper, then built a wireframe prototype using a combination of Keynotopia and POP (Prototyping on Paper). After that I buttonholed a bunch of people to get feedback on the idea and functionality. After I reworked the prototype, I then sourced a developer who could build an image recognition engine,” he says.
Thus far, building the app has cost AUD$12,000. Mr Acheampong chose to bootstrap because he “didn’t want to give up creative control over how the idea will shape up.”
“I’m definitely going the lean startup route with this project. In retrospect, that could be why it’s taken a couple months longer to launch than I initially anticipated,” says Mr Acheampong who expects to launch ParkMeApp in the Apple App Store by the end of September.
He adds, however, that bootstrapping has been difficult in terms finding co-founders who will work for equity.
“The Australian startup scene was very low-key when I first started looking at this idea, so finding resources and a thriving startup ecosystem was initially difficult. But I’ve noticed it has picked up a lot in the past year,” says Mr Acheampong.
“Places like Fishburners and iLab have been crucial for me. I’ve learnt that you can’t do it all yourself, so tap into your networks when you can. I’ve also found that networking is key because the Australian startup community is very collegiate, accommodating and passionate about helping fellow Aussie startups succeed. While it is harder to get startup financing in Australia especially compared to the US and the UK, it is still possible.”
The app is targeted to vehicles owners in medium to high density areas with restricted parking – like Sydney, New York City and London. Mr Acheampong says he’s looking to develop a scalable global product to tap into international markets.
“The opportunity is potentially huge. For example, traffic wardens in England and Wales dish out up to 10 million tickets a year worth over GBP£780 million. In NYC alone, over USD$600 Million was generated from parking fines. A small layout on our app goes a long way to preventing that!” he says.
Mr Acheampong is looking at a multifaceted marketing approach. He will be implementing standard marketing strategies such as connecting with motoring journalists and bloggers as well as brand ambassadors to profile, promote and endorse the product. He will also be keeping on top of the website’s SEO, and dedicate a section to blogging. Regular posts on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin will also be part of the brand marketing strategy.
On top of that, he says he’s working on some guerrilla marketing strategies such as fake parking tickets, worldwide parking video and photo competitions.
ParkMeApp has a four-pronged business model: 1) App sales; 2) In-App sales of parking sign bundles such as NY, France, UK, Australia; 3) Monetising parking data through an API; and 4) White label sales of the app through partner channels.
Mr Acheampong says he has an exciting roadmap of additional features for ParkMeApp in the coming year and will be rolling out the app in additional countries following the Australias launch.
“Our pre-launch feedback has opened our eyes to the potential scope of ParkMeApp beyond the MVP so we’re excited about that, like drivers being able to find parking in advance when coming into a location, turn-by-turn spoken directions to a parking spot, and remotely topping up a parking meter,” he says.
He encourages people to download the app and provide detailed constructive feedback to ensure he can deliver a product that “really does take the stress out of parking, and is not just a slogan.”
Keep an eye out for the app, or visit the website via www.parkmeapp.com and sign up to be notified when the app is available to download.