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Parking Panda Aims to Make Parking "Happy" from its Baltimore Base

Adam Zilberbaum and Nick Miller, co-founders of the Parking Panda app - photo  Arianne Teeple
Adam Zilberbaum and Nick Miller, co-founders of the Parking Panda app - photo Arianne Teeple
It’s one of the most irritating, maddening and persistent problems of city living – finding the ever-elusive “good parking spot.”

Often just reluctantly accepted as part of the deal for city dwellers and visitors, parking can range from a minor annoyance to a major source of stress. But Baltimoreans Nick Miller and Adam Zilberbaum didn’t just accept the dilemma as inevitable. Instead, the pair came up with a solution during Startup Baltimore’s Startup Weekend in April. With the weekend’s winning idea, Miller, 23, and Zilberbaum, 29, went about launching Parking Panda.

“Parking Panda is what we like to consider a community marketplace for parking,” says Zilberbaum. “Basically, we let people who have a driveway or parking spots post their resources on our website. They log on, snap a photo of it, post the location, and they set the date that their spot is available as well as a price. And then on the flipside, people coming into the city, going to an event, a night out to eat, can park at someone’s private parking spot instead of looking for a lot or a garage, the time associated with that, the price, all of the inconveniences of public parking.

“At the same time, it really benefits both parties. Someone can bring in some extra cash for a resource they’re not using by signing up and helping out someone find some parking they’re not using at a better deal and with less hassle.”

Following Startup Weekend, Miller and Zilberbaum began applying to tech and business accelerators. They spent three months in New York City at the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator, networking with investors, building the product and participating in New York City Demo Day.

Back in Baltimore

Upon returning to their headquarters in Baltimore, Miller and Zilberbaum launched their website and found nearly immediate success.

“So far Baltimore’s been great,” Zilberbaum says. “The Grand Prix is a great example. It was a huge event. A couple thousand people came through, so two weeks after we launched our website was the Grand Prix, and we were able to park I think 117 cars, so that was good social proof that OK, people get it and it works. And the feedback was awesome.”

Zilberbaum says Parking Panda is building its user base with large events like the Grand Prix and Baltimore Ravens games. After using the service once, Miller and Zilberbaum hope that the experience will have been a good one and users will begin to use the service habitually.

Next, they plan to roll out monthly services and begin to expand to other cities. Zilberbaum says Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia are next on the Parking Panda list. But despite encouraging signs like positive feedback and a high rate of reuse, Zilberbaum says they won’t try to do too much to soon.

“D.C.’s our next market, and we won’t make that live until we have enough for it to make sense,” he says. “We don’t want you to search D.C. and say ‘Oh, there’s like three spots. OK, I’m never using this service again.’ We won’t unlock a city until there’s a certain amount of inventory based on density, and it’s not automated. We’ll look at it and say OK, let’s see where our spots are, how many there are, and then we’ll make it available. So we think that will help us grow, maybe help people spread the word for us, because if they’re really excited about it, a lot of people are like it’s a cool idea, it makes sense. We tell people it’s a simple business. It’s not complicated.”

For now, Miller and Zilberbaum are working on perfecting the existing product. In addition to their website, they are building mobile apps so that when a Parking Panda user hasn’t thought ahead to pre-book a spot, he or she doesn’t have to pull up the site on their smartphone, but can instead pull up the app. They also plan to participate in a West Coast demo day in California and Microsoft Mobile Acceleration Week.

Zilberbaum says they know there’s room for improvement, and they welcome the problems that come up along the way. To Zilberbaum, these are the opportunities for growth.

"Park Happy"

“Obviously our philosophy is to give the best customer service possible,” he says. “I always use the example of, 'I bought tickets off a StubHub, and the tickets were fake, so I called StubHub and I was like, ‘Hey, these tickets are fake, I can’t get in,’ and they go, ‘Oh no problem.’ Not only did they credit me back the tickets, they also gave me better seats. So alright, they turned a bad situation into now I’m a customer for life... That’s kind of the same philosophy we want to take, like a Zappos culture where, alright, your spot wasn’t there, we’ll credit you and we’ll get you a better spot for free or maybe a month free of parking, whatever it is. That’s very important. Customer relationships for startups are important because really what we’re doing is a behavioral change of a pattern. You’re not used to parking in someone else’s driveway. You just park on the street or in a garage so it’s extra important that we really understand our customer and we’re as nice to them as possible, make sure their experience is as best as possible. So that’s our goal. Our motto is ‘park happy.’”

Zilberbaum says he and Miller hope Parking Panda can ultimately become a national service and maybe even an international service. Already he sees listings appearing outside of Baltimore in places as far away as California.
But to him, the most exciting part of Parking Panda is the potential for larger impact.

“We had the opportunity to obviously stay in New York instead of Baltimore,” Zilberbaum says. “We actually got a lot of heat when we left Baltimore, and I told everyone, ‘Listen, we’re coming back to Baltimore.’ I like the tech scene in Baltimore. I want to be a part of this scene, and I want more eyeballs coming back to Baltimore, and ultimately, we need more successes… It helps keep our talent here instead of people going off to San Francisco or New York.

“So we’re hoping we can kind of be in this upcoming class, build something that’s really successful, and then be able to contribute and invest back into the next class of entrepreneurs like, ‘Hey, you can do it--it’s possible.’”

Staci Wolfson is a Baltimore-born, NYU-educated writer and editor based in Charm City. In addition to BmoreMedia, you can read her writing on Patch.com and her Just for Kicks & Giggles soccer blog.

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