Five With: Mark Lawrence, Co-Founder and CEO, SpotHero
Chicago-based SpotHero is one of those businesses truly born out of necessity and inefficiency — a great “there’s gotta be a better way” story. In Chicago, a city known for skyrocketing parking prices, CEO and Founder Mark Lawrence felt the pain when he and his Co-Founder and roommate, Jeremy Smith, managed to rack up thousands of dollars in parking tickets.
As a financial analyst at Bank of America at the time, Mark decided to tackle the problem head on. If he and Jeremy were having this problem, they thought, there had to be others out there.
So in 2011 SpotHero was launched as an on-demand parking app and website that makes drivers’ lives easier by helping them find parking and reserve a spot in convenient garages, lots and valets for up to 50% off the drive-up rate. Currently available in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and other major US cities, it’s the #1 downloaded and #1 rated on-demand parking app in both iTunes and Google Play App Stores and the only on-demand parking app to offer Apple Pay and soon to come, Google Wallet.
As it’s evolved from Craigslist-style postings for parking at Wrigley Field to a business with over 30 employees and operations across the United States, Mark uses travel and photography to stay grounded when startup life gets especially hectic. We chatted with him about SpotHero’s evolution, the importance of customer service, and keys to building a marketplace business.
1) Why did you start SpotHero?
I was living in Chicago with my roommate, Jeremy Smith, when he managed to amass more than $5,000 in parking tickets! We figured he wasn’t the only one struggling with chronic parking problems, so we decided that we could find a better solution and SpotHero was born.
2) How has SpotHero evolved since it started?
In the beginning we offered parking at individuals’ houses in Chicago- including driveways, garages and even backyards. This model was difficult to execute and carried a distinct set of challenges, but we kept pushing forward. Soon SpotHero was noticed by a major parking garage company who decided to take a chance on us and provide access to their inventory of parking spots. This was the critical moment where we reassessed our focus and decided to move in the direction that we are currently on. It basically allowed us to help drivers find parking spots on a much larger scale.
3) What is SpotHero doing that the other guys aren’t?
We think that one of the ways SpotHero stands out from the competition is our awesome customer service. We have a great team who is excited to come to work everyday and help people solve their parking problems. We also are highly focused on offering drivers the most innovative technology in order to make their lives even easier so we are one of the only on-demand parking apps to offer Apple Pay and soon, Google Wallet.
4) What are some of the most important factors to consider when building a marketplace business?
One of the most important items to assess when starting a marketplace business is whether or not there is demand. To figure this out, you can list a product or service online or on social channels and see if people are interested in buying or renting it. You could also consider a Kickstarter campaign. If you get a ton of interest, then you are off to a good start!
Once you’ve determined a need, you need to focus on building out your supplier or merchant options so that when customers come, there is something for them to purchase. In our case, initially we depended on homeowners and their driveways to provide parking spots for our customers. After that, our goal was to increase supply and usage. It’s important to get people listening and sharing so utilize all available networks, including personal ones, to broaden your reach.
5) What are the biggest challenges you face as a startup CEO?
One of the biggest challenges for me is prioritizing how to spend my time. I get pulled in several different directions and I am constantly figuring out what needs my personal attention versus what my team is able to handle. It’s all about evaluating time and focus in order to hit our goals as a company.
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