Given the price of tickets in San Francisco, and the apparent dearth of available parking spaces, it's little surprise that parking has been a goldmine for app-makers. In fact, last week we wrote about a Santa Monica-based company whose "miraculous" app helps aggregate all the empty garage and curbside spaces in San Francisco; turns out its nearest competitor is the SFMTA itself, which has its own directory of spaces.
But among the slew of companies trying to tackle this problem, only one (to our knowledge, at least) touts itself as a pure sharing economy model. Walnut Creek-based Park Circa has no venture capital to back it, no established payment system, and no actual money changing hands. It currency is the simple promise of a shared space: Recruit a friend who has a particularly desirable driveway, and earn $25 in "Park Circa credit," which buys you a desirable space somewhere else.
Founder Chadwick Meyer met his original collaborator, a then-Google employee named Omid, at La Scala coffee shop in Walnut Creek. Like many other tech enthusiasts, they wanted to solve a problem that plagued urban professionals, i.e., the population most likely to view technology as a salve, and probably most likely to pay for it. In short order, the talk turned to parking.
One of the great frustrations of urban life, they decided, is trying to find an empty spot in San Francisco. And it's infinitely more frustrating to circle a block of pristine empty driveways, none of which will ever avail themselves.
There was no real app for that, so they created one. They soft-launched Park Circa in Meyer's suburban neighborhood three years ago, handed out fliers, promoted the product on Twitter, and gained a little traction by word of mouth, but never quite enough to sustain a business, Meyer says. Originally, they wanted people to value a space based on its location and set their own prices, in the hope of earning about $100 or $200 a month.
But evidently, that wasn't enough incentive to hook in a large customer base.
People with nice driveways generally have nice jobs as well, so they don't need an extra couple hundred dollars in passive income, the founders concluded. What they do need is guaranteed parking in other parts of their neighborhood. Park Circa had to be a barter system, or no one would join.
"We thought, 'How can we make this more viral?'" Meyer asks. "We're hoping people who have cars will join if they can get access to a private network of curb cuts and spaces."
He says that many other parking apps started out as barter systems, and later pivoted to a more standard commercial model. But Park Circa might stay in the peer-to-peer realm. Last year Omid quit so he could refocus his energies on a new job at Facebook. Meyer's new partner Casey Cobb helped develop the "social rewards" system that would encourage users to build up the parking inventory.
"The perceived pain of parking seems to be larger than the actual costs, so if we require people to earn credit by building the network, maybe people will make this work for themselves," the co-founders write on their Park Circa website. They say the latest iteration is purely a referral service, closer to apps like CouchSurfing than AirBnB. They have faith it'll work.