February 11, 2014
Have you ever avoided going out or doing errands because you just knew in the bottom of your heart that you’d never find a parking space? This is a huge issue for people in Nor-Cal and So-Cal, and it can seriously ruin your day.
However, it’s also a situation that people all over the world are frustratingly familiar with. Wouldn’t it be awesome if somebody would just map out all the parking spots available in your vicinity and then guide you to one?
It’s no longer a wild fantasy you have to dream about while circling the block for your hundredth time. VoicePark, a San Francisco-based startup, has successfully figured out how to guide drivers to on-street and off-street, publicly owned parking spaces and privately owned garages.
VoicePark is currently guiding drivers to 4 million parking spots in 35 U.S. cities, and is beginning to roll out functionality in Europe, Asia, and Australia. We spoke with David LaBua for an in-depth look at how VoicePark came to be.
Tech Cocktail: What was the tipping point that made you create VoicePark?
David LaBua: I began researching the phenomenon of parking about 10 years ago. One night, it took me over an hour to find a parking spot in my neighborhood of North Beach in San Francisco. The next morning I calculated that if a typical driver spends just five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening looking for parking, they spend about 52 hours a year looking for parking.
I have a background in systems, psychology, and numbers, so naturally I started digging into it. The data I collected soon turned into a book about parking called Finding the Sweet Spot. It was something that I became passionate about. After all, what better project was there than trying to solve the challenge of urban parking?
Then, a few years ago, San Francisco launched their SFPark pilot system which showed drivers a map on their smartphones of the blocks that had available parking. Though what it seemed to be missing was a voice navigation system. I asked San Francisco if we could try to accomplish this and they welcomed our enthusiasm: VoicePark was born.
Tech Cocktail: What were some of the challenges?
LaBua: When we first launched the app, we were using data from another company’s sensors. We started to get a lot of false positives; drivers were being guided to spots that weren’t available.
Upon investigation, we realized that the app was working perfectly well while the sensors were sending bad data. We realized then that if we were to reach our goal of transforming the nature of urban mobility and having a serious impact on the environment, it was crucial for us to build our infrastructure.
Relying on others’ sensors and systems left our quality dependent on others. This wasn’t a situation we are comfortable with because a B- or C+ grade is not acceptable. If it’s possible to make a system 99.9 percent reliable then let’s do it; we discovered it is possible, and we’ve done it.
Tech Cocktail: Can you offer any advice to other entrepreneurs?
LaBua: If you begin your company with creative, smart, and kind people who enjoy each other’s company and are passionate about reaching your goals, then you’re off to a good start. Oh yeah, and if sleep isn’t a big requirement for anybody on the team, that helps too.
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