How many times have you spent circling city blocks, searching fruitlessly for a parking spot that’s remotely near your home, workplace or your next meeting? The clock continues ticking as more of your time is wasted, and somewhere, a private space nearby sits unused.
Inefficiencies can be maddening. Those that impact many of our day-to-day lives cause a special kind of frustration, an added stress, and can even cause us to permanently change our routines. Then there are the entrepreneurs who see such situations as rife with opportunities.
Craig McDonald, a 20-something entrepreneur in Dubai, is one of these people.
McDonald and his co-founder are battling what is arguably one of the world’s biggest inefficiencies: parking in metropolitan areas. The founders are the recent winners of the first-ever MENA Digital Accelerator pitch competition.
How did they arrive at parking, exactly? It’s not quite the sexy SaaS start-up that young founders might dream about.
McDonald had been working for a company in Dubai International Financial Center, an increasingly crowded matrix of skyscrapers and businesses, with little to no room for parking. As the youngest and most junior member of his group, he initially was not compensated for this expense.
Because of costly daily fees and a lack of available long-term options, he regularly parked 800m away from the office. This meant sweltering walks on Dubai’s warmer days. One day, he parked behind a power station in a sand patch. “I ripped the front bumper off my car. It was a complete nightmare,” McDonald explains.
Meanwhile, his YallaParking co-founder had trouble parking at home, where he and his fiancée were allotted one spot for their two cars. Staring at the vacant spots below their building flipped a switch.
The idea for YallaParking was born.
“People are struggling to park at home as well as work; Dubai is built up, and most areas of the city can’t accommodate the volume of commuters who now travel into and around these areas on a daily basis.”
McDonald admits that they’re not the first; nor are they the biggest. “Larger companies are doing this in the UK, Europe, and the United States,” McDonald said.
“They’re different in that people can even rent their driveways and some companies have the technology to allow for short term bookings. For where we are in terms of our company size, we’re focused on providing people with one month to 12 months length of stay in parking spot bookings. Our target audience is the office employee or individual who knows they’ll be parking in a certain area, whether it be at work or home, for the next year or so.”
Gone are the days of spending nearly a half hour circling the block in search of spaces.
The process, McDonald says, is simple: prospective renters can search the YallaParking website for available spots in various areas of Dubai (Sharjah & Abu Dhabi are coming soon). When a request comes through the online system, McDonald or Jones hops on the phone.
“We think it’s important to speak with our customers; we also meet with them face-to-face as we recognize that while we are saving them money, the monthly amount still represents an investment on their part. We also give them our direct emails and mobile numbers, which has led to more referrals.”
Building trust isn’t just a company value; it’s smart for their business.
Spaces go for an average of Dhs300-600 ($81-163) per month. The longer the contract, the better the terms. McDonald and Jones meet with suppliers (individuals or businesses such as hotels, etc.), who establish prices for vacant spaces based on area benchmarks.
The company only charges a fee to the owner of the space at this time, which is unusual among peers in their category.
“We feel it’s a fair deal,” McDonald explains. “The supplier obtains revenue from an underutilized asset, and the renter finds a space that works for them. Taking commission from the tenants who enable our business in the first place didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
On the rental side, they also see an unusual uptick in companies seeking to provide parking for their staff as a benefit of employment.
In the coming months, users can expect a website overhaul, with online payments, a better booking feature and automated confirmation emails.
A mobile app is forthcoming.
Right now, the small team’s focus is on building traction through some modern methods and one that is decidedly old school.
The duo has stood by sand patches in the city to catch commuters and ask them how bad the parking situation is; gesturing to a nearby building, McDonald and the team show professionals just how close they could be parking—a much more convenient experience at a competitive rate—if only they used YallaParking. A business card is exchanged.
The team’s early success with residences and businesses is promising. The site offers 350 spots now and has more in its pipeline, aiming to have over 600 by the end of January 2017.
Later this year, they want to roll out an ad-hoc parking feature where renters can reserve spaces on demand for short-term hourly stays.
Now, there’s some capital to grow, as YallaParking has just closed its first round of investment from an Emirati angel investor.
“To secure investment is such a vote of confidence in your team, in what you’re doing,” McDonald said. “This is a huge validation that someone else sees the inherent value in what we’re building.”
Their vision is big. “It’s tough to predict, five years from now, we want to be a solid, profitable company with a growing team in multiple locations around the Gulf,” McDonald said. “We’ll also be looking to expand to the Far East, and will be a well-oiled machine with fantastic technology that people love.”
But their mission remains quite simple. “We want to make it much easier for everyone to park.”