A Conversation with Nick Miller, 2015 EY Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, and CEO and Co-founder of Parking Panda - Interviewed by Edwin Warfield

6/24/15

Nick Miller, CEO of Parking Panda, Techie and Sociologist

Click here for Part 1

Offit Kurman and Citybizlist would like to congratulate the 2015 finalists nominated for the Ernst & Young (EY) Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in Maryland. Comprised of the region’s outstanding and innovative business leaders, this diverse group of entrepreneurs represents the state’s present and future. Winners will be announced at gala event Thursday, June 25, 2015 at The Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.

Changing how drivers and travelers find and reserve parking nationwide

Nick Miller is the co-founder and CEO of Parking Panda, a parking directory and reservation service. Parking Panda allows users to find, reserve, and pay for parking in over 40 cities and airports across the U.S. The app has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Mashable, and more.


Q. Where are your roots? What got you started in Baltimore?

NICK MILLER: I’m from Baltimore. I grew up just outside of the city, went to Georgetown for college and while I was at Georgetown, I had a couple of internships for tech startups and kind of got addicted to the lifestyle, as well as just the interest in technology. I came back and I actually went to a startup weekend event—a hackathon—here in the city. My now-business partner and I built the first version of Parking Panda that weekend over a 48-hour period of time, We won the hackathon and it just grew from there. We have been building Parking Panda ever since.

Q. How has the company changed since that first iteration at the hackathon?

A. It has evolved quite a bit. We started out a little more like AirBnB for parking and now we really consider ourselves the mobile application for parking. So, as a driver, if you need to find, reserve, pay for parking, you can go to our app, find a spot, have it paid, and then have a guaranteed space when you get there. The way we do that is we work primarily with all of the large parking lots, garages, and operators out there to help them take reservations to better optimize their yield, help them make more money, and bring them into the 21st century.

Q. What’s your relationship with co-founder Adam Zilberbaum?

A. Adam is the CTO of the company. As I mentioned, we started from day 1 together. He’s been an engineer all his life. He started programming when he was still in elementary school, programming games on calculators. He used to take kids’ graphing calculators, program games on them, and sell them back to the kids. We got together and we ended up working really well together. It was a good relationship. We were business partners first, and became friends later, which I think was probably the best way we can go about doing it because we knew we could work together. He’s incredibly talented technically, but also one of the most sales oriented and outgoing engineers you will ever meet in your life.

Q. What inspired you two to put Parking Panda together in the first place?

A. When we started the business, the whole idea of collaborative consumption was really just taking off. AirBmB was just starting its explosion into the it is company today. You were seeing companies like GetAround and Turo and others come about. I have some personal experience combined with all this as well. While I was at Georgetown, I had a driveway a block from M Street—which one of the most popular shopping, dining, nightlife areas in the city—but we were in college so we had no car. So this driveway would sit empty in a place where it was a impossible to park. And then I would come up here and go to Ravens games and there were people standing outside with cardboard signs selling their alleyway parking spaces for 20 bucks, right? I thought there had to be a better way to make that ecosystem work.

So, that’s how we started out. We thought it was a compelling model and I still believe that there are compelling pieces to that. The challenge is really in scaling that as a large business. Because first and foremost, how do you reach people to sell their parking spaces? No one is going to Google and search en masse “How do I sell my parking space?” So, you’re left with a flyer in your doors, hoping to get media coverage, things like that. Scaling it from a purely inventory perspective, as it is, a real challenge also—particularly in certain downtown parts of the city where there aren’t that many spaces and when they are listed on your site the availability and reliability of them is relatively minimal. A person’s driveway is one space and that space may only be available once a week, maybe even twice a month. So, you need a huge number of spaces to be able to meet any real demand. Whereas, working with the commercial industry, we can get 50 parking garages that all hold 200 spaces and have thousands or tens of thousands of spaces available for people

Q. How do you make sure you’re providing enough space?

A. In parking, the things people are concerned about are price and distance. As always, if you can provide the best price at a close distance, that’s what people want. It doesn’t matter if it’s a driveway or a parking garage or whatever the case may be. We sell parking for everything— events, transient, monthly—and we meet any need, but obviously a place where needing a parking reservation or pre-payment is perhaps most pointed is around events, concerts, things like that. It’s the time when parking prices are the highest and when they’re most likely to sell out. Therefore, it’s a great time for people to become a first-time Parking Panda user. It’s when they’re searching for a solution like this, so it’s a great chance to capture those customers for us. We really believe in building not only a marketing tool for the parking industry—we’re more than a digital way for parking operators to connect with consumers. We believe in building a middle way around parking as well, almost where we can create an Uber feeling experience for the parking industry, where matter what parking garage you pull into, no matter who owns it, no matter what kind of gate they have there, no matter what the technology is, you get a seamless experience that is exactly the same everywhere you go. You pull up to a garage and you scan a QR code, or you tap a button and the gate opens up and lets you in. The same thing when you leave. As easy you can possibly make it.

Now of course we focus on the consumer side as well. We partner with professional sport teams with Amtrak with Megabus to help generate that consumer demand as well as building our own brand. Looking at that as just a piece of the larger puzzle that is the parking industry, however, is a big part of it. We have international investors and we definitely see a lot of opportunity in parts of Europe and parts of South America, and—at a grand scale one day—maybe even in parts of Asia as well. You have to figure out whether a new model, something that’s relatively innovative, will work as effectively in another country or in another market. And you have to do that without spending too much money, so if we can continue to grow at the scale we are right now within the United States, then I think that’s our first priority.

Connect with  Nick on LinkedIn

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Edwin Warfield, CEO of citybizlist, conducts the CEO Interviews.

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