The biggest success to come out of all two of Baltimore’s Startup Weekend events is Parking Panda, the parking-reservation startup that lets people lay claim to an open garage spot, or a neighbor’s empty driveway, before leaving their home.
Technical.ly Baltimore has spoken with Parking Panda before, but after the second Baltimore Innovation Week — and following its winning the Most Innovative Startup of the Year category of the inaugural Baltimore Innovation Week Awards — we thought it appropriate to check in.
In two years’ time, cofounders Nick Miller, 25, and Adam Zilberbaum, 31, have spent three months at a New York City accelerator program, raised $4.7 million in equity financing, moved into a 3,800-square-foot office in Federal Hill, hired 14 people full-time — including two full-timers in New York City — expanded their online parking reservation service to Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York City, Dallas, and other cities and has been the parking sponsor of the (much reviled, and now canceled) Grand Prix of Baltimore. All since winning Baltimore’s first-ever Startup Weekend in April 2011.
But being a two-year-old startup ain’t easy, so Technical.ly Baltimore asked them: why do this to yourselves?
TB: What was the lowest point of your short time together as cofounders?
Nick Miller: When we first relocated to New York, we were splitting a studio apartment with no furniture and two air mattresses.
Adam Zilberbaum: Literally, just air mattresses and laptops.
NM: Granted we spent very little time there cause we were in the [Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator in New York City, in summer 2011], we worked 15 hours a day, we got food and drink, we slept. We did the same thing. That was it. But I’ve looked at that picture and been like, this is what startups are actually like — not what you see on TV.
TB: Tough life. What about surviving financially between when you won Startup Weekend and the start of 2012?
NM: When we launched the company we were both confident that we could succeed and do well. There were definitely times along the way when we were worried about making it the next couple of months when we were raising our first round of capital. We had invested most of our personal money. We were living off savings, basically, to start the company.
AZ: I had something, like, all of my personal savings invested [in late 2011]. I told Nick, ‘I have maybe one more month left and then I have to sell my car.’ Because I own a house—I have to make my mortgage payment. We were eating, like, tuna fish. We worked out of my house. It was not pleasant.
How did Parking Panda pick its name? Read this to find out.
TB: Have investors ever pressured you to move from Baltimore?
NM: We generally sort of refused money from anyone that required us to move. … You can be a successful company anywhere.
TB: And what is success for Parking Panda?
NM: We view the parking industry in a state of shift right now. It’s going from a staffing industry with zero technology to, very quickly, moving towards eliminating people, adding technology, and focusing more on the consumer. We have this opportunity to really affect a huge industry. We want to do that.
TB: Does that mean making money as well? Are you making money right now?
NM: Our business isn’t currently profitable right now. We are, of course, generating revenue.
TB: What was the hardest thing about trying to convince people to give you money?
NM: It’s signaling. Getting the first couple of committed checks is definitely the hardest part, because once you get a few good investors in … they push you to other people they invest with.
AZ: Once the Baltimore Angels invested, you have everyone follow you on AngelList. And we got to talk to Mark Cuban, which was cool.
TB: Mark Cuban?
AZ: He reached out to us. He signed up for us.
NM: Yeah, we had a good bit of conversation with him — exchanged about a dozen e-mails.