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No one likes a parking ticket or a tow, and anyone who's attempted to park in a big city knows the headaches associated with finding a spot. After racking up thousands of dollars in tickets, a pair of Chicago roommates decided to channel their frustration into—what else?—an app.
Mark Lawrence and Jeremy Smith launched SpotHero in 2011, which allows users to reserve spaces in partner garages in their area and lock in discounts. A third co-founder, Larry Kiss, joined the company soon after. In 2012 the company completed TechStars, a program that empowers entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market, and has raised $7 million in funding to date.
"We figured there had to be a better way," Lawrence said. "We have a relentless focus on changing the way people park. This is something that is done every day by millions of people across the country, and we're innovative because we're taking something that's already done and we're making it better."
Garages also benefit, as they can lock in customers and get rid of excess inventory. The app is free for consumers to use.
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The company takes a commission from every parking sale of 15 percent, adding that consumers lock in prices that are lower than what they'd normally pay. Since July 2011, the company has completed 1 million parking reservations, the majority of which were done in the past year and a half.
The discount can be as high as 80 percent, but Lawrence said it depends on the time of day and week and if there's an event going on—so it can be the same as the drive-up cost in some situations.
Right now SpotHero partners with 200 parking companies in 12 cities coast to coast, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco. In the future, Lawrence said he could see an international expansion.
"There are a lot of cities internationally that could definitely use an app like this so you know exactly where you are going to park and how much you'll pay," he said. "But our focus right now is North America."
Despite the popularity of transportation start-ups like Uber and Lyft, which are ultimately making users think about whether or not they actually need a car, Lawrence said he has no doubt that parking spots will continue to be a hot commodity.
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"Our goal is to make it easy to drive and own a car," he said. "One of the biggest things about owning a car is how stressful it is to park. So we believe that if we can relieve that, then it will be great to continue owning a vehicle."
While SpotHero has solved parking issues for some, Lawrence admitted he has still been hit with a few more fines.
"I'd love to say I haven't gotten any more tickets, but it has gone down significantly," he said. "I would say the app has solved 90 percent of my parking issues."