If you want the big prizes, knock on the big doors
There are eight parking spaces for every car on the planet so why can you never find one?
That’s a problem that Kiwi tech company and Kea Connect customer Parkable has been finding creative ways to solve since 2016. The company recently signed a game changing deal with US tech company Meta and has established their place in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canadian markets. We spoke to CEO Toby Litten about the evolution of the business, what he’s learned along the way and what advice he would give to other Kiwi businesses looking to conquer the world.
We’ve all been there, driving round and round the block looking for a parking space while becoming increasingly frustrated by the empty spaces you’re not allowed to park in. That was a problem Toby Littin and his business partners set out to solve in 2016 and true to the Kiwi nature of their company they picked an All Blacks game as their first big test.
“At the time the sharing economy was going gangbusters and so we came up with the idea to allow people with spare parking spaces to be able to list them on an app for others to use. We chose the night of an All Blacks match at Eden Park to launch the concept and it was great fun, we parked about 120 people that night, I had all my family out in jackets and the rain and we had a blast. Originally we thought our market would be events and baby boomers but we came to realise our dynamic market is younger and it is commuters and regular users.”
The company still maintains some of their marketplace business but has since pivoted to become much more of a software as a service business where Toby says they are able to make much more of an impact.
“Our software helps businesses to manage their parking assets. If you’re a big employer, you lease a lot of office space and you’ve often got car parks associated with that. What we find is that, especially now in a hybrid working environment, those car parks are not always being used efficiently. For example, a business might have 200 spaces under their building and lease another 200 spaces down the road. Our software allows you to allocate spaces fairly between employees and potentially get rid of the ones down the road, and if you still have some left over, release those to the public and generate some money.”
Parkable’s software caught the eye of tech giant Meta who Toby says was looking for a way to increase employee experience in order to attract the best talent.
“Meta is competing for talent with companies like Amazon and Google and they realise that just paying good salaries isn’t enough, they need to create an environment where people want to come to work. They recognised that car parking is a very emotional issue for their employees and that it was often a source of negative sentiment. So they did a global search for a solution and came across our platform.”
However, it was nearly a missed opportunity for the Kiwi company who didn’t actually believe it would feature on the radar of such a global tech giant. “Meta reached out via email and we thought it was spam so we ignored it. And they reached out again and the second time we were like, ‘oh, some student with a Facebook account is playing a joke’. The third time they reached out we thought we better reply, so we did. We laugh about it now but thank goodness they were so tenacious.”
Meta reached out during the pandemic, a time which Toby says initially decreased demand for their product but long term has provided huge opportunities.
“Before the pandemic, we used to talk about flexi working and I would stand on a stage and say to people if you’re moving to flexi working give us a call and only two out of a hundred people would listen. But now that the whole world has gone hybrid we have this huge tailwind of demand, it’s been crazy but also amazing.”
Parkable has been through a lot of leanings in the past six years to get the company to where it is today. The deal with Meta is still in the early stages but Toby says it’s already giving them huge insights and learnings and has allowed them to imagine other opportunities. He says his best advice to other Kiwi tech companies is to always think big.
“The other day I heard the expression ‘If you want to win the big prizes, knock on the big doors’ and it’s so true. To really unlock scale, you’ve got to get into the big markets and approach the biggest customers. It’s how you grow to hyper scale quickly. We’re not at hyper scale yet, but we’re starting to feel some of that momentum and it’s pretty exciting.”
“For us, the key lesson has been to go hard and go early, that way you can fail fast. I wish we had gone harder at our marketplace business earlier. We were part-time founders, we all had day jobs, but looking back I wish we had gone boots and all into our marketplace business earlier so that we could learn the valuable lessons around what are the unit economics? Is it scalable or is it not? And how do we scale and into what segment? We probably could have saved a year and a half of learning if we had gone harder earlier. There were plenty of things we failed at and at the time those were quite stressful but looking back they were really key learning moments as well.”
Parkable has a global staff of 55 and is currently in the process of hiring more. Toby says alongside the business learnings Parkable’s journey has also really driven home to him the importance of great people.
“The pandemic really taught me the power of purpose and the power of authenticity and authentic leadership. During Covid we had some incredibly humbling moments from some incredibly amazing people inside our business, people were coming to work with so much uncertainty and not knowing which way up the world was. To be able to be really purpose focused and really respond to the wants and needs of our people is such a powerful part of our story and I think will really feed into our success for many years to come.”