derek lau parkways

By Derek Lau | Cofounder of Parkways

Have you ever tried to find parking in Sydney CBD, around a crowded train station or at the beach on a weekend? It’s a nightmare. At the same time, there are thousands of unused driveways, garages and commercial parking spaces that sit idle every day. Why not put the two together?

This is how Parkways was born – a startup founded by myself and fellow UNSW students and alumni Rodger Gu and Philip Agcanas in October last year. Parkways is a marketplace that connects drivers looking for parking with underutilised parking spaces.

As we gear up to launch a pilot around the University of New South Wales in March, we’ve decided to reflect on our journey from idea to launch and have three key takeaways from our experience:

Start validating your idea without technology

Building a startup is all about coming up with an idea, building the app and watching it grow, right? That’s what we thought a year ago. However, we now believe that technology is not necessary to validate your idea.

Parkways was initially founded by two non-technical founders who didn’t know the difference between HTML and CSS. Instead of contracting a developer or looking for a technical cofounder, the team decided to ditch technology and validate the idea without technology.

Our approach:

  • We started by door knocking around UNSW to ask homeowners if they would be interested in renting out their driveway for money.
  • We interviewed students from UNSW and across the rest of Australia to learn their parking habits and to get a sense of whether we were solving a real problem.
  • We even convinced homeowners to run a one-week trial with a manual MVP, where we used a mixture of texting, Facebook and images to ‘pretend’ that we were providing on-demand parking.

And it worked wonderfully.

  • We gained deep insight into the problems and needs of our customers.
  • We were able to demonstrate traction which enabled us to successfully recruit a technical co-founder.
  • We saved months of time that would have been wasted had we decided to build the app first.

We highly recommend initially validating your idea without technology (or with as little coding as possible). You will be able to learn more in less time.

Always try to find a solution

In trying to launch a startup we’ve faced more hurdles than we could ever imagine. There were many occasions where we could gave up and told ourselves that something ‘did not work’ or ‘could not be done’.

However, we have learned that it is the entrepreneur’s job to find a solution and get things done. The most critical part of finding a solution is understanding that your first solution may not work.

For example, Parkways had arranged a booking between a driver and a homeowner, but the homeowner only had one remote. We asked them if they could get another remote but they did not know how. So we provided links to cloning remotes that were available online which were affordable and easy to use.

However, these were not compatible with the homeowner’s garage. The homeowner gave up and informed us that they would not be able to rent out their space. Despite this setback, we continued to try to find a solution. We ended up buying an identical garage remote online, drove to the homeowner’s house, and programmed the remote on their behalf. This example demonstrates that there is always a solution to your problems if you look hard enough.

There were many other examples of the problems that arose for Parkways. To name a few:

  • We had no idea how to code, so we created a MVP that did not require coding and later recruited a full stack, technical cofounder
  • We had never used Photoshop but we needed to make posters, so instead we leveraged our experience in PowerPoint and used that for all our designs
  • We did not know how to make a flyer ‘ready’ for commercial printing and it would cost $50 to pay the printing company to do it for us, so we used Google to help us convert our flyers to the proper dimensions and colour
  • We were unsure of how to approach an apparent mismatch between supply of spaces and demand for parking, so we got advice from senior employees at established P2P parking startups in the US / UK who had dealt with similar issues
  • We definitely don’t claim to have the right solutions, but we believe there is a right attitude. That attitude is to believe that there is a solution to every problem and to always ask yourself: “What can I do to solve this problem?”

Be 80-20 with your time

There are infinite things to do in a startup. Parkways had to hire a technical cofounder, door knock to sign up parking spaces, and learn to design flyers, to name just a few. However, our founding team was very time constrained, particularly as a couple of us work full-time (for now). So how do you make the most of your time but get the maximum output?

The Parkways team has drawn from its experience in management consulting and strongly believes in the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80-20 rule. This rule essentially states that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the effort.

parkways

For example, it has been found that 20 percent of the world’s population accounts for approximately 82.7 percent of the world’s income. In a business context, it isn’t uncommon for 20 percent of a company’s customers to account for 80 percent of their revenues.

The 80-20 rule applies when deciding what tasks to prioritise. Instead of doing every single task that needs to be done, you should prioritise completing 20 percent of the tasks that are likely to result in 80 percent of the results.

As an example, instead of creating:

  1. Extensive functionality for drivers to list and make bookings; AND
  2. Excellent UI and UX for the app; AND
  3. A feedback system for drivers and homeowners

it might make more sense to focus development on:

  1. Basic functionality for drivers to list and make bookings; AND
  2. Basic UI and UX for the app

This allows the developer to focus on creating a core product that would be sufficient as a MVP, and also saves time as ‘nice to have’ features are de-prioritised.

In addition to applying the 80-20 rule to decide what tasks to do, you should also use it to decide how to complete those tasks. For example, instead of working 10 hours to design the best poster in the world, you should spend 2 hours to design a decent poster that does the job almost as effectively (80% as effectively to be approximate).

To do this you might just focus on the content and find some basic free icons to convey your message, instead of Photoshopping images and spending hours on the wording. The consequence is that you can spend that extra 8 hours to work on other high priority tasks that need to be done.

Being efficient with your time is extremely difficult to do, but is extremely rewarding as it allows your startup to maximise your results given the limited time you have. The next time you do something, think to yourself: “Am I being 80-20?”

Learn more about Parkways here.

Image: Derek Lau. Source: Supplied.

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