Here in San Francisco, as in most major metropolitan areas, we are all too familiar with the pains associated with city parking: multiple loops of the block searching for a free spot, never enough change to feed the meter, having to rush out of a meeting when the time limit expires...
And if you ever had to negotiate car parking in Milan or Rome, where traffic and parking problems take on epic proportions, you will not be surprised to learn that one of the most interesting innovation in parking technology comes from a Silicon Valley company with Italian roots, Zipidy. The company was founded by Cosimo Spera, an Italian entrepreneur with a research background in operations research and advanced mathematics at Yale, MIT and Siena University and other major institutions.
For over just over three weeks, Zipidy has been running a public test of its iPark mobile-powered parking metering service in selected areas of San Francisco.
Well, how does it work? In a nutshell, when a user of the service finds an iPark-powered parking spot, she contacts the system with a phone call or via SMS, specifies the parking meter number and the parking time, for example "45 minutes" and leaves the car. The user account is debited the appropriate parking fee automatically. If the customer is delayed and needs to extend the meter time, he/she simply adds "credit" remotely or, if he/she returns to her car early, another SMS is all she needs to get a refund for the time she did not use. Additional services include an SMS reminder function, electronic coupons from close-by businesses, parking finder and reservation.
As municipalities all over the country look for ways to increase their parking revenue, while at the same time reduce congestion and emissions, Zipidy's solution is a most welcome innovation with great potential. I have asked Cosimo a few questions.
Cosimo, tell us a bit about yourself and your company?
I started as an academic and morphed into an entrepreneur. Zipidy is my third start-up. It has been in stealth mode for two years while we were developing the software. The company is headquartered in San Francisco but our development has been done mainly in Europe. We address a significant business problem that touches consumers (drivers), municipalities and local merchants and we are proud to have developed a simple solution through a sophisticated technology.
Launching a consumer service can be a challenge without established distribution networks on a massive scale and with the limited financial resources of a startup. How would you suggest a company like your meet those challenges?
You are right it is a challenge, but the power of “word of mouth” in the era of communication is unbelievable. With very little marketing budget we are doubling customers every week simple because “happy customers” talk about how our service “iPark” is cool and encourage them to give a try.
Working with municipalities and government bureaucracies can be challenging anywhere in the world. What can you tell us specifically about your experience in San Francisco?
San Francisco is the frontier of technology. We have dealt within DPT (Department of Parking and Traffic) with people with a vision on how to address the parking challenges. And our service is piloted for FREE. The value proposition for the city is so high that it is a no brainer to prove its benefits.
The US mobile communications market dynamics are quite different than they are in Europe or Asia. What do you think are the most interesting opportunities in mobile services in the North American market today?
My honest answer is services like iPark. US has great unexplored potential for mobile service, Zipidy is very well position to lead the innovation in info-mobility wireless services and I forecast that more and more service will be available in the next coming years.
European businesses and consumers have shown incredible appetite for mobile technology and services over the last 15 years. Less so our American friends, some would argue. Any lessons learned in Europe that can be readily applied in the US market?
You are looking at two different business wireless models: pre-paid vs post-paid, so we need two different strategies to penetrate the market. Good news is iPark is the same solution worldwide and therefore fully scalable.
BAIA promotes the open exchange of know-how between Italy and the Silicon Valley ecosystem. What can a business association like BAIA do to help that exchange, in general as well as specifically in your industry?
BAIA is doing a great job in bridging the gap between Italy and Silicon Valley, more bi-lateral initiatives are need to bring SV culture to Italy and Italian creativity to SV. Specifically around my industry: “Spread the word about iPark”. “Who needs Parking Karma with iPark?”
Many thanks to Cosimo Spera for answering our questions. Do you have some as well for Cosimo or BAIA? Please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer.