It’s 2008 in Paris, France and Travis Kalanick is trying to catch a cab. The experience is an ordeal when it should only be as simple as a few touch-screen transactions. More than half a decade later and there’s a mobile app for Kalanick’s problem called Uber, which he and his friend, Garrett Camp, created after the Paris ordeal. Uber is now reportedly worth more than $41 billion and a common curbside presence as ubiquitous in America’s major urban centers as downtown taxies are yellow.
The business model — regular people using their vehicles to ferry passengers who otherwise may be forced to endure the lengthy wait times of a conventional cab service — is premised on a much larger 21st-century phenomenon that economists and sociologists alternately refer to as “the sharing economy, the peer economy, the collaborative economy [or] the gig economy,” according to a 2014 New York Times report on the social trend.
Basically, entrepreneurs are finding ways to monetize services and functions that used to be taken for granted. For instance, the application TaskRabbit connects people who couldn’t hammer a nail if the tool were automated with people in a particular area who can get the job done by providing a digital place where consumer and producer can meet up and exchange services at a price — say $15 an hour.
What used to be a chore that people did because it needed to be done becomes something with concrete monetary value and a pool of workers willing to do it.
That same concept applies to an “aha” moment that occurred much closer to home.
“The idea came about when a buddy of ours in Riverside had moved into an apartment and couldn’t park his car overnight,” said Marcel Krawczyk, 31, who created an online parking spot application along with his two friends and roommates after going through an experience similar to Kalanick’s Paris ordeal.
“The apartment he rented from didn’t have a parking spot, so we started knocking on doors and passing out flyers to help him find a parking spot. We were like, ‘Hey, we can turn this into a model online to help people do the same thing.'”
That revelation turned into shareaspot.com, which Krawczyzk started with James Nortier, 24, and Devin Bates, 27 — all roommates who rent in Forest Park. Both their project and their lives are case studies in an economy that’s trending toward work that is based less on cubicles, pensions, 9-to-5 schedules and promotions, and more on Starbucks, flextime and ownership.
Share a Spot is completely self-financed from the three friends’ savings. Bates, who along with Nortier has an extensive background in sales, owns his own fundraising company. Krawczyk, who has an undergraduate degree in computer science and entrepreneurship, owns a marketing company. They all work by satellite in coffee shops in and around Forest Park.
“It’s basically a peer-to-peer parking service so people can rent their parking spaces out to people who need parking,” Bates said.
The application, the result of more than six months of product development and group deliberations, is similar to another sharing economy success story — Airbnb, which makes it “easy for people to rent a spare bedroom or an apartment on a short-term basis [thus generating] income for residents while giving visitors a cheap place to stay,” according to the Times.
The three entrepreneurs believe their service has the potential to grow to a similar scale as companies such as Airbnb, Sidecar, Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit once people understand its benefits and experience the ease of using the application. For one thing, they say, the demand is there.
“Everyone loves the idea,” said Bates. “Everyone sees a need for it. We live in the same apartment building. It’s 23 units and the first thing people say is, ‘What do you guys do for parking?'”
But unlike those other sharing economy phenoms, Share a Spot isn’t located in a hotbed of resources and information like the Loop or Silicon Valley or New York City. And the service it’s trying to monetize — cheap, affordable, accessible parking — isn’t the preciously rare commodity that it is in downtown Chicago. Krawczyk, however, says that’s all to the good — at least for now.
“We find that in Forest Park, Oak Park and areas close to the train, people face the same issues,” said Krawczyk, adding that the decision to target inner-ring suburbs such as Oak Park and Forest Park was based both on business and lifestyle circumstances.
“We live here and know that there’s an immediate need for this,” Krawczyk said.
“When people go to the website and search for parking, the application pulls up the address for where the spot is,” Bates said, describing the user experience on the site. “People own the spots either in their garages or in their homes. Right now, we have two spots behind a restaurant. We know the owner. So from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., he was more than happy to rent out his spot for money. The other two spots we acquired were from various forms of advertising.”
So what makes Share a Spot so much different from someone putting a parking space up for sale, and another person buying the spot, on, say, Craigslist?
“It’s much more efficient,” said Krawczyk. “If you wanted to rent a space from the person, you’d have to find them, post in classifieds or Craigslist. Craigslist is great, it’s just not targeted toward any specific industry.”
Krawczyk added that, unlike Craigslist, Share a Spot handles the payment exchanges between leaser and lessee. The leaser of a space gets to set the rates he wants to charge for the spot and makes all of the asking price, onto which Share a Spot tacks its fees.
“We try to coach the leaser and give them a best estimate,” said Krawczyk. “We’ve had some people who asked for a very high value that was way out of market value, so we notified them directly and let them know what the market rate is.”
Krawczyk said that, right now, their startup is under pressure to grow to scale before another group of friends, or some large tech behemoth, gets wind of the idea and sweeps it from under their feet.
“The prepaying of your parking garage spot has been around for about a year now, but the peer-to-peer started popping up as we began developing this site,” he said. “We’re looking at every place around the city where parking is a problem and once we have the process down and have the supply, and we know the reaction to our product, that’s when we want to expand to Chicago.”