JustPark is the British startup that lets you make money with your front drive
Despite building a business that exploits people’s lack of patience with finding a free parking spot, founder Anthony Eskinazi has shown considerable patience himself. He launched JustPark in 2006, matching people with an empty space on their drive with those desperate to park in Britain’s overcrowded town centres, yet it was something of a slow burn for the young entrepreneur. He didn’t receive any external funding for five years, didn’t have a mobile app until 2012, took several attempts to find the right business model and burned himself out numerous times in the process. Many people would have thrown in the towel, but Eskinazi persevered and now he’s reaping the benefits: JustPark isn’t only a hit in the UK, it’s expanding into Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
I caught up with the disarmingly frank CEO to find out how he earned success the hard way.
A space in the market
Anthony Ezkinazi – Founder & CEO
Eskinazi says he became hooked on technology from a very young age. His father brought home the family’s first PC in the late 1980s, when Anthony was only five years of age, and he was immediately captivated. “I was buying PC Pro magazine when they were offering those free CDs on the front cover,” he confessed.
Anthony was in his early twenties when he came up with the idea for JustPark (then known as ParkatmyHouse), while studying at The University of California in Berkeley. “A friend of mine was driving and we were on our way to see the San Francisco Giants play,” he recounted. “We were driving around, we couldn’t find somewhere to park, and I noticed an empty driveway not too far from the stadium. I said to my friend ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could just knock on that person’s door and ask to park there?’”
The seed of a business idea had been planted, but he didn’t want to launch JustPark in the US: “You never know in the States if someone’s going to come out [of their front door] with a shotgun and shoot you.” Instead, he waited until he came back to the UK, developing the site in his spare time while working in his first job as an associate at Deloitte.
The site launched in September 2006 and, said Eskinazi, “very, very quickly the idea caught the public’s attention”. Within weeks, he’d quit his plum job at Deloitte and was devoting his time to developing the business. However, it was far from an overnight success for the then 23-year-old.
Finding the right model
JustPark has what now seems like a very clear-cut and obvious business model. Those with free parking spaces – be they individual home owners, businesses or even commercial car park operators – advertise themselves on the website, usually at a price that is considerably cheaper than car parks. Drivers book empty spaces at their desired location – either via the company’s website or mobile apps – and JustPark takes a cut of every transaction.
However, back in 2006, when the business first started, Eskinazi found himself caught up in the hype of alternative business models. “In 2006, YouTube had just sold to Google and having an advertising model was the big thing of the time,” he said. “Naively, I thought JustPark could do the same thing. Imagine you want to park near Wembley, you may be interested in popping in for a Starbucks coffee and so I was looking at whether Starbucks would be interested [in advertising on the site] and hotels, but none of it was working.”
Eskinazi then attempted a subscription model, much like a dating service, where a property owner would receive a message from someone interested in parking in their spot and have to pay the site to see that message. “I tried a number of things,” said Eskinazi. “I was 23 years old at the time and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. And then it became obvious as technology evolved that taking a cut of every transaction makes sense.”
“There comes a point where you can’t do everything or you’ll die trying.”
The sales model wasn’t the only part of the business that Eskinazi had to figure out by trial and error. He used the tech skills he’d been honing since a young boy to code the early versions of the website himself, and carried on doing all the programming for the first five years of JustPark’s existence. “I managed to burn myself out, in the space of four or five years, maybe a dozen times,” he said. “It was affecting my health, my social life, everything else. There comes a point where you can’t do everything or you’ll die trying.”
Eventually, in 2011, Eskinazi sought funding to bring in a couple of experienced developers “who were much better than me”, helping to supplement his self-taught coding skills. That dependence on his own coding skills also postponed what’s now become a critical part of the business: mobile. “I wasn’t able to grow the business as fast as I liked,” he said. “I didn’t raise any money until mid-2011 and even then I only raised a small seed amount. So when the iPhone was launched in 2007 and Android shortly after, it was still just myself, we had no resources. So we weren’t able to get any kind of mobile app up and running until 2012. We weren’t a mobile-first business, even though you would naturally expect us to be one now.” Now, having just relaunched the JustPark Android app, mobile is the fastest-growing part of the business.
Does he regret not seeking out help earlier? “Yes, if I could have afforded it,” he said. “But when you start something not realising it’s going to take off, you kind of get thrown in at the deep end. Absolutely, with the benefit of hindsight, I should have taken a bit more time out, and done a bit more reading and learning, but you get caught up in the moment, especially when you’re quite young.”
Feeling the benefits
Perhaps the experience of putting himself through the wringer has shaped Eskinazi’s view on how to treat his staff. A quick plough through the job ads on the company’s website reveals generous benefits, such as free daily gourmet lunches, quarterly company retreats to secret off-site locations and unlimited holidays.
JustPark’s website reveals generous benefits, such as free daily gourmet lunches, quarterly company retreats and unlimited holidays.
“The cooked meals are a great way to bring the team together every day,” he said. “We have a chef who’s a member of the team; she’s also our office manager. Having home-cooked food is an incredible perk. Because everyone sits down together at lunch, people from different teams are able to socialise and communicate and really understand what their role is within the company. A lot of people comment – either visitors, or the staff to their friends and family – what a family atmosphere we have here. It’s great for retention, but it’s also great for the atmosphere and morale in the office.”
The unlimited holiday, meanwhile, is about “empowering our team to make the best decision for themselves and the company”. He says the company is focused on “outputs and not inputs”, and “if someone is absolutely smashing their targets and wants to take three months’ holiday a year, I’m not going to complain”. Does anyone take a quarter of the year off? “It doesn’t happen,” he admitted. “Some people go over what you would say is a normal allocation of holiday, but they tend to be the people who work bloody hard.”
A smarter future?
Having spent the past decade perfecting his model, getting the technology up to speed and building a 25-strong team, Eskinazi must be at least slightly concerned that the emergence of self-driving cars is going to dent the parking business. Even carmakers such as Ford are talking about autonomous vehicles becoming more akin to public transport, with car-sharing becoming commonplace and vehicles spending more time on the road rather than in car parks.
“I won’t lie, I have thought about it,” he said. “I’ve read some research reports that say [car pooling] is going to be quite disruptive for the parking industry. For a company like us, I think we’ll be able to adapt and identify opportunities. Just because a car’s autonomous, it still has to park somewhere. We are an exclusive provider of a number of off-street parking spaces that nobody else has access to – if you think about all the churches, schools, hotels and private homes we have in our database. I think it’s the major car park operators who are a little more concerned because they’ve purchased 100-, 200-year leases. If cars stop needing to park there, that becomes a much bigger issue for them.”