Phone applications have become a go-to way for people to get from Point A to Point B. Whether it be ride-sharing apps like Uber, or a simple GPS navigator, people are always looking to technology to make their lives as easy as possible.
Marcus Sharp, founder and CEO of Parking Lot Buddy, is no different.
Sharp created his company to revolutionize the way people park in the Queen City. The application enables drivers to find the parking lot that best meets their needs in terms of location and price before going to a restaurant, game, or event in the downtown area. And by adding their lots or ramps to Parking Lot Buddy’s database, owners can convert their empty spaces into filled ones.
The inspiration for the application came from Sharp’s own experience: He was late for a business meeting one day because he had difficulty finding a place to park. When he finally did, he had to collect change in his car because the pay station did not take credit cards, and he ended up going into the meeting “soaking wet” because it had begun to rain.
“When I got back to my car, quite honestly, I yelled, ‘There has to be a better way!’ A lightbulb came on right there,” he said. “I thought to myself in that moment, ‘What if I had something practical that let me know where to park in real time? Something I can look at and say, before I get to my destination, I know where to park and how much it will cost?’”
Sharp initially envisioned a large part of his business would be targeted to on-street parking, but he eventually focused on the private sector lots and ramps. He explained that there were some companies that were successfully using ground sensors or smart cameras to reserve parking spots for customers but, because only 17 percent of drivers reserve their spots in advance, those options could be expensive for the smaller lot owners.
“We thought ‘How can we scale this down for it to make sense for the private lot owners?’ What we created from that was a loop management system that uses private data, public data, and a large amount of attendant data,” he said.
“When I met with one of our first clients (Allpro Parking), I looked into the attendant booth and saw the lot attendant just sitting there. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s zero engagement,’ and the lightbulb came on once again.”
With close to 30,000 parking lot attendants in the state of New York alone, Sharp recognized an opportunity to grow his database.
“Instead of just sitting in the booth all day,” he explained, “(attendants) could be updating the status of the parking lot and sending reports and making more money for themselves in the process. With our platform, the attendant can sign in, update spaces, and change prices in real time.”
This information can then be used by customers to find out where they can park, who their lot attendant will be, and how much it will cost at a certain time.
The Parking Lot Buddy application is currently available through Google Play and is compatible with Android devices. With the help of Dan Magnuszewski, co-founder and CTO at ACV Auctions, Sharp and his team are working on perfecting their product and plan to release an updated version in the coming months.
“With his guidance, we are hoping to attract 10 to 20 vendors over the next six to eight months and have some revenue coming in,” Sharp said. “We will reach out to trade shows and be where our customers are. In turn, we will hopefully start looking attractive to not only angel investors, but the general public.”
“For the most part, we’ve bootstrapped the company ourselves, and that has been the hardest part,” he continued. “It’s great that you get to maintain the equity side of it, but bringing in the right investor is our main goal. One that knows not only what to do, but what to stay away from.”
Sharp credits Buffalo’s booming entrepreneurial scene with making this opportunity possible for him.
“It’s refreshing to be in an atmosphere with entrepreneurs that get it,” he said. “You see a lot of things happening in Buffalo, a renaissance, people are on board and behind it. Just to be a part of it, to say I have created something that can give more jobs or give someone an opportunity, that’s exciting to me. The great thing is there are all these companies like Launch NY and 43North, and they’re willing to reach out to the little guys.”