Parking in Chicago can be as difficult as it is expensive. In trying to find an affordable place to park while attending a Bachelor party, I discovered SpotHero. The options available to me before finding SpotHero included paying $50 a day for valet parking at the hotel, spending $6.50 an hour for metered parking, or searching for a parking lot the day of, which averages $32 a day. I found a place to park for three days near my hotel for $25. I was very impressed with the startup that is trying to “relieve the stress of parking,” as SpotHero Founder and CEO Jeremy Smith put it.
Trying to avoid valet fees was a strong motivator for me, but Jeremy had a stronger incentive to create a solution to decrease the difficult nature of finding parking in a busy city. What was it that inspired him? $3,500 in parking tickets! “I wasn’t very good at reading signs. I always thought that I’d get away with it…but I got busted every single time. I really started developing this frustration against parking because it was costing me so much money. I decided that I actually needed to make a solution for it and the idea for SpotHero came about.”
The urban parking spot focused startup began with serving Chicago Cubs fans. During his time living in the Chicago Lakeview neighborhood near Wrigley Field, Jeremy saw homeowners area rent out their yards and driveways on game days. There was a big gap in available parking versus the high demand. The obvious need for game day parking paired with the benefit to property owners to made this a good fit. The business was growing strong in the first year until they ran into a big problem – baseball season ended. The startup pivoted to target parking garages in the downtown area where there was once again a need on both sides of the problem, and the business could operate throughout the entire year.
Shifting the company’s focus to work with parking garages wasn’t an easy task. When asked what the hardest aspect of the pivot was, Jeremy replied, “the relationship side with parking companies. These are very old school people, so helping them understand that a few guys with a website are going to be able to help them fill their garages seemed ludicrous two years ago.” However hard the obstacle, it’s clear that the startup has been able to overcome this hurdle and carve out a very strong niche. If searching for a parking spot in Chicago on SpotHero, you’ll find 40-60 available parking structures.
“Being an entrepreneur means you roll up your sleeves, you get dirty. You have to figure out a way to make things happen.”
Jeremy said that his biggest accomplishment so far has been “being able to take a personal problem, see it through to actually become a product and then growing, and now scaling it.” The company is currently working on taking what is working in Chicago and bringing it into new markets. SpotHero’s website currently lists seven cities of operation including; Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Newark, New York City, and Washington D.C. Jeremy Smith has found the right spot while helping others find theirs.
Park here for free! Listen to the full interview with Jeremy Smith below.
- How the founding team’s desire to make things happen helped drive growth.
- The impact that their experience with Excelerate Labs (now TechStars Chicago) had on the company: “It was the most critical thing our business has done.”
- Best piece of advice for fellow young entrepreneurs: “Pair up with someone smarter than you, get going as soon as you can and just get involved.”
- What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur? “In the early days it comes down to thinking that you can do everything yourself and you realize that you ultimately can’t. In the early days I didn’t know how to handle that tunnel vision. It’s going to be a team working together…you can’t do it all yourself.”
- If you could add one entrepreneur to your team at SpotHero, who would it be and why? “It would have to be Elon Musk. That guy is Superman. He is willing to tackle the hardest problems out there with complete disregard for any type of fear.”