Chances are, at some point in your life you have had to park a car and that in so doing, you were forced to circle the block in search of a spot; drive one block over and circle that block; drove so far and in so many circles that you could have driven all the way back home, parked there and walked to your destination. But then you finally found a parking spot and your frustrations were vanquished!
Until you emerged later to find a parking ticket fluttering on your windshield …
Because the scenario was a recurring one for YPO member Mark Lawrence, he created an app to solve his endemic parking ticket problems and, fittingly, named it SpotHero. North America’s leading parking reservation and app, since 2011 SpotHero has helped millions of people get where they need to go with the ease of mind that there will be parking ready and waiting for them upon arrival.
By simply using a smartphone or booking online, SpotHero allows users to find a garage or lot closest to where they want to go and book it; often at a discounted rate. They are then sent a parking pass which includes the reservation’s date and time, the facility’s address with a map and directions, and a photo of the facility and its surrounding area as well as any other relevant details.
That’s the ticket
While SpotHero is Lawrence’s first known innovation, it is not this Chicagoan’s first time out as a disruptive entrepreneur.
“I’d say my first foray as an entrepreneur was in the second grade when I learned how to make perfume and cologne from reading the encyclopedia,” Lawrence recalls. “I bottled it and sold it for anywhere between 5 and 25 cents. Ultimately, I had to stop since I was not allowed to operate a business on school property.”
Undeterred, a few years later when Lawrence was 14 years old, he started an online used textbook business, which he grew until he made USD1 million dollars in sales. And so it seemed he had assuaged his entrepreneurial itch when after graduating college in 2008, he decided to get a job.
“I started working at Bank of America as a financial analyst; not the most auspicious time to be in finance,” recalls Lawrence ruefully.
Aware of how tenuous his position was with so many people getting fired every day, he lived at home with his parents to save money and kept his expenses low. When he was eventually let go two years later, he had a cushion to fall back on.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew I didn’t want to do that again,” says Lawrence with a wry chuckle. “When I came up with the idea of SpotHero, I wasn’t thinking about starting a company per se, I just had a lot of parking tickets and wanted to find a way to make parking easier. Maybe if I thought of it today, it would be different, but eight years ago in Chicago, creating an app wasn’t considered a viable job.”
But things in Chicago have changed drastically since then: According to the “Chicago Tribune,” an increasing demand for software developers and information security analysts created more than 4,000 technology jobs in 2017 — an increase of 1.4 percent over the prior year, ranking Chicago 13th among major U.S. metro areas in tech sector job growth.
“It’s too weighty to say we’ve been instrumental in creating this culture,” says Lawrence, “but I would say that we’ve been a piece of it; that we’ve created hundreds of jobs and I think it’s great we’re leading the category here in Chicago.”
Collaborations and conviction
Asked what the point was when he realized he had “made it,” Lawrence says it wasn’t until three years after SpotHero’s launch, when people who had once said, “When you return to finance from this tech thing, how are you going to explain the gap in your employment?” started telling him how great it was that he had gone into tech. Among Lawrence’s thoughts on how to weather naysayers, he mentions:
- Find conviction not consensus.
- Do what you think is best versus worrying about the status quo.
- Surround yourself with great people, with friends who support and understand you. This is exactly why YPO is so great — it’s a group of people you can talk to who really and truly understand many of the challenges you face.
Lawrence has also surrounded himself with collaborators in kind, such as WageWorks, a SpotHero partner netting users the ability to park daily near their places of work using a pre-tax card. A collaboration with Hertz has resulted in a suite of mobility solutions to make parking easier for Hertz rental car customers, including finding, booking and paying for off-street parking in more than 50 major cities across North America and a new collaboration with Google Assistant enables drivers to book parking using voice commands. This completely hands-free integration will allow people to find and pay for parking on the go in more than 50 major markets across North America simply by saying, “Hey Google, book parking.”
With all this innovation around parking, you’d think there wasn’t a revolution going on in support of self-driving cars; how is the advent of such automation going to disrupt Lawrence’s disruptor?
“For a while we were worried that the technology was going to be a real hinderance to our future,” Lawrence admits. “What we realized though, was that if a car drives itself, it needs a technology platform to connect to and that’s what we’ve built: A technology platform and mobility app that hooks into all the different garages and millions of parking spaces, knows the inventory and the costs and can conduct a transaction. What we initially thought was a hinderance, is actually a catalyst — there is no autonomous future without SpotHero.”