ParqEx formed as a response to a basic problem: the lack of available parking in Chicago. Every property is different; therefore, we have built in the flexibility to deliver value in multiple ways with little to no investment required.
Location: Headquarters Chicago, Illinois
Founder Interviewed: Vivek Mehra, Founder & CEO
Other Key Management Team Members: Matt Schaefer, COO; Dan Erenberg, Director of Sales; Barton Kramer, Interim CFO
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight Series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
As the Founder/CEO of ParqEx, I built the company from the ground up. I started with an idea, developed the product, assembled a stellar team, raised capital, and now we are successfully growing the company across the country.
Prior to ParqEx, I had over 18 years of technology and leadership experience working for both large corporations and start-ups. I have held a wide variety of roles along the way, including Software Engineer, Technology Architect, CTO, Director, and Co-Founder; also, I had previously taken two other companies from the idea stage to successful exits, which left me wanting to do it all over again.
I am passionate about building technology solutions to solve business problems; therefore, I am most proud of and motivated by the solid team and culture we have built here at ParqEx. We believe that more efficiently using real estate to store vehicles, in other words, parking, will improve life in urban areas and contribute to environmental benefits as well. It is rewarding for me to see the progress of each team member as they expand their individual horizons while we as a company push the boundaries of real-estate parking technology. It is a dream that continues to come to fruition each day. Doing what I love makes it easy to stay motivated.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
The company was founded in April 2014. Like almost all great ideas, ParqEx formed as a response to a basic problem: the lack of available parking in Chicago. I found myself getting frustrated by the fact that I would have to search for parking all the time or pay exorbitant prices for it. Meanwhile, there were all kinds of privately-owned spaces sitting empty. I also kept seeing the challenges that my condominium building would routinely have in terms of managing the parking. In this day and age with the rise of the sharing economy, it just made sense to me that technology could provide a solution.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
We think of our customers in two distinct categories:
- Owners/Managers of property
ParqEx seeks to help them increase the value of their real estate. Examples of this include adding incremental parking income through the Marketplace, reducing expenses by using Access+ instead of physical items and increasing the rent premium by offering a value guest parking amenity.
ParqEx wants them to have a better parking experience. Options include finding a cheaper or more convenient parking option or entering a secure facility using their phone instead of requiring another physical device or more easily visit friends and family because they have GuestParq at their building.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
No competitor is dedicated to providing a full suite of solutions for self-managed parking. No one has a seamless platform that includes a way to access secured parking locations like our Access+. We know that every property is different; therefore, we have built in the flexibility to deliver value in multiple ways with little to no investment required.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
The journey has been a learning experience and often quite humbling. I bootstrapped the company for the first two years. Initially, the biggest challenge was spending as low as possible while trying to grow revenue every month. I mainly achieved this through a combination of creativity, finding as many cheap “growth hacking” ideas as possible, and perseverance, pushing forward no matter what obstacles there seem to be. An example of that creativity was crafting our employee compensation structure to keep salaries as low as possible:
- using part-time hours,
- success-based pay,
- and equity in lieu of salary.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
We have tapped into local universities and colleges for interns, projects, and other types of assistance. I have found these institutions can be very useful. It is a win-win proposition. We have worked with students and faculty at the University of Chicago, Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola, UIC, UIUC and Roosevelt College in different capacities to get the help that we otherwise could not afford.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
We participated in two accelerator programs (gener8tor, Elmspring) that helped us improve our readiness for fundraising. These accelerators also made many direct introductions to qualified investors. We found the experiences to be very valuable; the programs did help push us along at a faster pace than we might have achieved on our own. The only thing we might do differently is not participating in both programs simultaneously. This became difficult to manage from a time perspective because you can only reap the rewards if you put in the effort. I probably would do one at a time and invest even more time networking if I were to do it again.
Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
I often get asked to compare the ParqEx business model with those of other companies with successful exits or publically available results. This has been a challenge for us because there are not many that are a direct match. The others that might be similar do not have results available.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Although we are well established in three markets and seeing organic growth in six additional markets, we are still young. We need more brand awareness. As we strive for expansion into new geographic markets, it is difficult to get the word out about our platform. Educating the real estate industry players about our value proposition is a challenge where we are currently heavily focused.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
I have found user acquisition made easier by harnessing the power of the internet with strategically designed promotions and giveaways. Many sites help reach thousands of people very quickly and at a low cost to get user signups. These campaigns need to be planned and executed well. When they are, I have found them to be very successful.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
ParqEx transforms the way parking is managed in our cities. We started out as a marketplace, but we have continued to add new offerings to drive value for our customers. As transportation continues to evolve there will still be a need for real estate to store vehicles. ParqEx is positioned to play a key part in that equation. We are extremely excited to see where the future will take us!
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