Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=189750
Story Retrieval Date: 4/24/2014 12:51:27 AM CST
Jeremy Smith (right) and Mark Lawrence, cofounders of SpotHero, in their Loop office.
Winners of Chicago app contest win a spot in the parking business
by Yu Le
Oct 04, 2011
Where drivers looking for a parking spot near Wrigley Field saw frustration, two young Chicagoans living in the neighborhood saw a business opportunity.
SpotHero, a website created by Mark Lawrence and Jeremy Smith, earned its own spot in the parking business after it won the transportation round of Apps for Metro Chicago, a contest organized by the City of Chicago, in August. There are two more rounds in the contest, community and grand challenge.
“Parking is tough,” Lawrence said. “Nobody enjoys it. It actually can change the habits of what we do every day.”
“Why not have a better way to organize and utilize the Internet to make parking less painful?” he said.
SpotHero creates a rental marketplace for owners of parking spots who want to make money and the drivers who want to secure a parking place before going to an event or a city hotspot. The website itself earns profits by taking a 15 percent transaction fee.
“I always see people standing outside Wrigley Field selling their driveway spots,” said Smith, a 25-year-old Wrigleyville resident. “That’s where the idea for SpotHero came from.”
Smith and his friend, Lawrence, also 25, decided to start the business at the end of last year. Smith was in between some part-time jobs and Lawrence had been unemployed for several months after being laid-off by a bank.
They launched the website in June focusing on parking around Wrigley Field, a place that sees strong demand and has local residents who can supply parking spots.
Adam Haun, a SpotHero member, said he used the website to reserve a private parking spot once before a Sox/Cubs game in Wrigley Field.
“I paid $19 for four hours, which is a bit more than using a Chicago street meter,” he said. “But you can usually only use meters for 2 to 3 hours max and can't find them in the Wrigley area on game days, so I was very pleased with the price.”
On the other side, people who own parking places, such as driveways, around Wrigley Field also found SpotHero a useful way to find customers.
“I always wanted to sell my spot for the Cubs game, since I could just park on the street and sell my spot,” said Brett Bartelli. Bartelli said he had made more than $300 through SpotHero in a month and a half. “But I never wanted to stand outside and wait for someone to need a spot.”
Lawrence and Smith said they hired a part-time developer to create the website, but haven’t spent much money on their business, because they don’t have much. Smith was going to sell his car to maintain the website before they won the $5,000 first place prize in the apps contest.
The contest also brought media exposure and customers to SpotHero. Its registered account holders increased dramatically to more than 2,000, Lawrence said. As registered users have grown, they have expanded their service from Wrigley Field to Millennium Park, Chinatown, theaters and other parking hotspots.
“One of the things we are focusing on now is increasing the user experiences,” he said. “We want to make it very easy for someone to do that and we are working on a mobile solution.”
“Once we figure out the winning formula that makes the customers extremely happy, then we want to take that and bring it to other cities,” he said. “So that we can really get the word going about SpotHero and make a lot of people’s parking experiences better.”