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Parking in the IoT Age (Interview)

During his student days, Stefan Bader co-founded parkpocket. The app for finding a parking spot may now become a major source of data for the connected cars movement.

22 Jan. 2016

Stefan, you weren't the only ones to play around with the idea of using your Smartphone to find the closest empty parking spot. What makes parkpocket different?

Our app for iOS and Android helps drivers find the closest open spot in an instant. The information is updated in real time — meaning the parking spot will really still be free when I get there. Pricing and route information are included for parking lots, parking garages and P+R spots throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The goals were a little different when you first launched this business a couple of years ago...

Absolutely! Back when I was a student I lived near Stuttgart airport and it was impossible to find a free spot. But here's the thing: there were plenty of spots, they just belonged to monthly renters. So I got the idea of creating an online marketplace for sub-letting a parking spot — a bit like an Airbnb for parkers. My sister and best friends were soon on board and we went to work on it.

And it was a dud at first?

You could say that. We oriented our business plan toward foreign markets and modeled our business on Airbnb. It was naive, because we were working with a lot of false presumptions. You rent your apartment because it's worth the outlay. But renting private parking spots doesn't necessarily involve enough reward to justify the effort.

Others might have thrown in the towel, but you went ahead and reinvented your business model.

That was the toughest decision in our short history. And the best! Today we don't earn any money through our app — our real value is in the parking data behind it. In some cases we receive the parking data via interfaces, such as from parking lot operators and municipalities. But the market is extremely fragmented. We thus developed our own proprietary system for capturing the most relevant information. At that makes us attractive as a company: we license our parking data to card providers, car makers and so on.

You presented a beta version at CeBIT 2015, and made it into the final round of a startup competition there. How important is a classic trade fair for an innovative IoT speedboat like parkpocket?

Well, it earned us almost a half a million! (laughs) No, seriously. It was enormously important. We found our second investor, GFT Technologies, alongside Telefónica at CeBIT . It was solely thanks to them that we could go live with the parkpocket app in November, and we already have more than 35,000 users at this point. The media attention was also priceless.

You'll be at CeBIT once again in 2016. More specifically: at SCALE11. Your plans?

I think SCALE11 is going to help us take the next step in our development. It's a "fair within a fair" dedicated specially to startups, and we hope to use it to fire up a new generation of users and in particular to find more investors — the next round of financing is around the corner.

Why should venture capitalists be interested in you?

Because the future of the car industry is in the connected car — and driverless vehicles. That market is just starting to pick up speed. And we provide it with a key set of data. After all, even an intelligent antonymous vehicle needs someone to tell it where to park.

More on parkpocket and SCALE11