An Exclusive Interview With Parkmobile CEO Jon Ziglar by Damola Idowu

Since the dawn of invention of the internal combustion engine and the patent for the precursor to the modern automobile by Karl Benz, we have not witnessed as much transformation and change in the world of automobiles and in a greater sense, mobility. The advent of semiconductors and mobile operating systems has brought about a new world. Pair that with advanced computing integrated into the average automobile and you have a world where cars are smarter and in the very near future could transport themselves and be summoned by their owners or fractional owners, used for a period of time and returned to a parking space. However, where do they find that parking space and how do they pay? Also, how do they save time? I had the pleasure of speaking with Parkmobile CEO, Jon Ziglar. We had a wide-ranging conversation that included Parkmobile’s record partnership with BMW ( They were since acquired by BMW in January 2018) where the Parkmobile app is integrated into the car and can find a parking spot. Our conversations is below and was edited for clarity.

Jon Ziglar: So what we can talk about?

Damola Idowu: I got the notice about your recent partnership with BMW. I’m aware of your service. I think I’ve used it a number of times in DC.

Jon Ziglar: You’re in DC, aren’t you?

Damola Idowu: Yes.

Jon Ziglar: Well yeah, that will give odds are you’ve probably used it.

Damola Idowu: Yes, but I don’t have a clear idea as to how did this all come together. How did this all start as far as that partnership or even the company in itself? Because that’s like changing the whole city infrastructure to go into a mobile payment, to be a third party to use mobile technology to try to bring efficiency in how people park and move around.

Jon Ziglar: Yeah, with Parkmobile, we are in DC. We’re in over 250 cities around the US. What we really enable, we enable consumers to find and pay for parking on the street and off with a mobile app versus paying a meter, having to run, put a ticket on your dashboard, running back to the meter if your time is going to expire and you need more time. Really creating convenience around parking, taking friction out of it. One of the things that’s a real benefit for the cities is that we don’t have to touch any of their technology. We don’t have to do anything. Its at zero cost to the city. We’re essentially an overlay which is an alternative to paying a meter that we enable people to do. We integrate directly to the enforcement, to the meter maids essentially, to the handhelds that they use, so that for the city, there’s no cost, there’s no hardware. There’s nothing they need to do to. They’re just delivering another service to visitors to the city, consumers to pay for parking. And so, when you talk about it’s a big infrastructure thing for cities, it’s really not actually. What we do is make it simpler, make it more efficient, and we allow people to get in and out of parking in cities faster than they would otherwise. When you consider that 30% of traffic in any major urban area is caused by people looking and circling for parking, the faster you can get people to a parking spot and in an out, the better for traffic. Therefore, the better for livability to lower their carbon footprint, etc.

With BMW, our view is, and what Parkmobile is really about, is that we are about delivering complete convenience and certainty around auto related mobility. That’s what we do. We start with parking, just like Amazon started with books, because parking is a thing that you do in your car every time that has the most friction, is the hardest to do, and it’s the most antiquated in the industry, as to why we started seven years ago, eight years ago now with on street meter parking. A lot of people didn’t have quarters. They couldn’t feed the meter. There’s got to be a better way. As we’ve evolved, and the BMW deployment is sort of the latest iteration of that, we’ve really gone beyond that. And so, now we’re saying alright now, how do we really get people to have parking be completely seamless; there’s no friction at all in it. So my car starts its own parking session. When I park a car on street, why should I even bother having to go to a meter or having to pull out an app? Why can’t my car just start its parking session? Because my car knows where it is. It knows it’s in zone 2211. In the car itself, they can just say hey, do you want to start parking or do you want to do, how much do you want to buy in our parking. I put yes on my dash. I get out of my car and walk off. It should be that easy. And so, that’s what we’re deploying and saying look, we should take all the friction out of parking.
The other thing that we have deployed in this year already, now we’re live in five markets, is reservations. So two big things that we’ve deployed or are deploying currently: one is reservations in the app. And so, if you have updated your app in the last five months, you’ll notice there’s another button on the bottom of your Parkmobile app now that says reservation. So you actually can reserve parking in advance, in any garage around Washington DC, San Francisco, Austin, Texas, Kansas City, and we’ll have most major markets covered by the end of the year. So if you’re driving downtown, you know parking on street is going to be difficult, you can actually reserve parking, know that my car will navigate me directly to the to the ramp, and that parking deck will not be sold out when I get there. I’m probably going to save a few bucks doing it too. So now, I don’t have to worry about where the closest parking deck is. I don’t have to worry about circling to find it. I don’t have to worry that parking garage that I usually go to, happens to be sold out today, because I know there’s going to be a spot waiting. So there’s certainty around it and there’s convenience and efficiency.

With BMW – and the next thing we’ve done, is we are rolling out later this summer in our app, on street availability. So you’ll be able to look at our map view. If you pull our app up, it actually shows a map of where you are. You’ll be able to see color coded places on the streets, where there is a high likelihood of open spots being available on street, and where there is very, very little chance. So red, yellow, green. It will color code the streets. Now you’ll know hey, I’m on K street, but if I go over one block to I Street, I got an 80% chance of finding a spot on street. That’s great. I’m going to go straight there. I’m not going to bother going to K street and then circling the block and spending an extra 15 minutes in traffic.

So all those things that we’re delivering is around convenience and certainty in parking. BMW brings a lot of it together. So we’ve been working with them for a few years now. I’ll note that we’re already rolled out as well in Volvos. We’re going to be rolling out with GM very shortly as well. We’re in pilot with Ford, Audi. We’ve done a pilot with Nissan. We believe that almost every auto manufacturer will be having this capability natively in the navigation system in the next five to ten years. But with BMW, we work together to say hey look, we want to make sure that when someone gets into their car, they have the ability to reserve a space in advance. So they know they’re going to park in a garage on K Street, that their car is going to navigate them directly to that ramp, that that lot will definitely have a spot for them because they’ve bought it already, and that they reserved it for themselves. We want them to be able to do that. Moreover, we want people in BMWs in any one of our 250 cities, when they park on street, that the car automatically knows where it is. They car is going to say, “Hey, do you want to start parking?” Push a button. Great, you get out of your car. You walk off. Just like with our standard Parkmobile solution, we’ve got a companion app under the ParkNow brand, that enables the consumer to both reserve parking as well through the app. I can reserve parking through my app and then get in my car, and the car is going to know there’s a spot being reserved for it already. But also, if I’m in a meeting and I’m parked on street, that app is going to tell me, “Hey, you bought an hour, you have five minutes until your time is up.” We can extend your parking session directly from the app. If your car started a session, you’re going to extend it from the app.

As we move forward, as rules change for municipalities, we have the ability right now that you can get out of your car, start parking, and it just keeps the ticker running until you get into your car and drive off and the car will stop it automatically. Most cities require you to buy a set amount of time first, but our system has the capability that the car could automatically start its own parking and end its own parking session once it gets put back into drive. And so, as we go out into the future, those are the kinds of things that we’ll be doing. If you start thinking about the autonomous car…

Damola Idowu: That’s what I was about to get to, because obviously, I know about GM. You mentioned GM and their partnership with Lyft. And then they have a whole ride share program that they’re launching soon. In addition, Ford is also doing their own mobility thing. So I could envision having autonomous cars. I mean I see some of that technology coming in. So are you guys going to actually in the future, integrate things like sensors to be able to detect objects or cars? I guess sensors, but then I guess that would involve building into the infrastructure to put sensors in the meter to determine if people are actually there, or you’re more or less using the data or pinging the data of people actually buying that space at that meter to relay back to whether or not that’s being occupied.

Jon Ziglar: So okay, I see what you’re asking. So you’re asking about availability. So the answer is, to the extent that a city has hardware installed in the street or LED cameras in their lights that are sensing occupancy, we work with companies that can help with that data as long as with the data that we have on where people are parking so that they can create models to say hey, there’s space available or not. First of all, very, very few spaces in the country are covered by a hardware solution to know actual real time availability. It’s very expensive to deploy. I don’t believe long term, it’s a viable business to be honest with you. But the other side is, it doesn’t really matter if there’s a space available on a street right now, because by the time you turn the corner to get to that space, it could be filled up. What really matters is a highly significant statistical model of odds defining a space. That’s not always going to be right. Actual availability is helpful, but unfortunately, it also could be changed five seconds later. So we work with companies, we have a ton of data, work with companies where we’re essentially create models based upon historical occupancy, average length of time on a certain day of a certain month that people actually are parked at a space. All these sorts of things that create a model that says hey look, money based upon the real time data we have that’s coming in right now, we know that X number of people have started a parking session through the on street meter in the last – pay station in the last 40 minutes and they’ve purchased an hour each. We know that another five people have used Parkmobile. They’ve purchased on average 40 minutes each. We know that statistically, there are probably ten people still in their spots, which means there are five spots open.

Damola Idowu: So you have an AI and an algorithm built in that’s able to function in real time and adapt to new data that’s built into the algorithm. So there’s obviously some layers, some things feeding back. And then you’re pinging it back and then that pings back to the car, like a connected car like BMW that’s able to now relate that. And then that pings into this navigation system, pinging into the distance that you are from where that is, how long it could estimate to go around. And then okay, that spot is available.

Jon Ziglar: Well yeah, it will be able to say there’s a high likelihood of finding a place on this street versus this street. The important thing is that if you’re going to look for a spot, you typically have about a three block radius. You’re willing to walk about a block and a half. If I know that if I go straight to I Street, there’s a high likelihood I’ll find a spot, but I can see it’s completely red on K Street. Well my meeting may be on K, but I’m just going to go straight to I because circling the block in DC, can take an extra 25 minutes. So I’m going to go straight to I Street, I’m going to find my spot and I’m going to get off – which means you just got a car off the road 25 minutes faster which takes away some traffic. You’re going to get your meeting on time. And so, things are a lot more convenient.

I also think – so our belief is, our thesis as a business is that – and it’s why reservations is so important too. We do reservations for major events, concerts, the Super Bowl, PGA events. If you ever buy a ticket to a game in Fenway Park, you want to get parking, that’s us, Soldier Field, etc. We also do just general reservations in garages which people don’t even realize they can do. Because we believe that in three years’ time, nobody will get into their car without knowing exactly where it’s going to come to rest. I don’t believe it’s going to happen. I believe that in three years, maybe four, anytime somebody gets into a car, they’re going to know where their car is going to get parked, or they’re going to have a pretty darn good idea versus now, where I get in my car and unless I’ve got a designated spot because I’ve park there for work, I have no idea where I’m going to park. I just hope I can find somewhere close…

Damola Idowu: Sorry to interrupt. So just a quick question. Your inventory includes private owned parking locations in addition to municipal owned parking locations, and then you aggregate all of that to determine where is the best spot you could find to park.

Jon Ziglar: Well we give the consumer – we don’t determine it for them, we give them visibility into it. They can see that, they’ll be able to see that hey all the streets around where I’m going, all the on street looks like red. It looks like there are no spots available, but I also can see that there are four parking garages within half a block of where my meeting is. For the time I’m going to be there, it’s going to cost me $6 to park there. I’m just going to reserve a spot at that garage and go straight there. I’m not going to monkey around with trying to find a spot one street, and now I’m going to get where I’m going faster. I mean look, I don’t know how it is for you guys, but we’re based off Atlanta….

Damola Idowu: …familiar with Atlanta.

Jon Ziglar: Yeah. Most movie theaters have – I would never ever go to a movie now without knowing exactly where I’m going to sit, ever. I’ve got a family of five kids. Ten years ago, I’d have to get to the movies 45 minutes beforehand, just to make sure we could all sit together. Now, I buy a movie ticket online on my app, I pick out the seats we’re going to have, we’re all together. I know exactly where I’m going to sit. I can get there five minutes before the movie starts. Get my popcorn, sit down. We’re good to go. That’s the way people now go to movies. It’s become a consumer expectation from experience that used to be incredibly inefficient and incredibly frustrating. We believe parking, which is something that people do a whole lot more and takes up a whole lot more time, will be that way in the coming years as people start to have an expectation of convenience and certainty around how they move around a city or a town or what have you.

Damola Idowu: That sounds pretty fascinating. So I guess like – so wow, that’s pretty fascinating. Are you guys thinking about utilizing that as just a standalone app, where so in your phone if you just – you’re upgrading the mobile so that then you could also still have that functionality what you have in the BMW, strictly for anybody and their Android or their iOS device?

Jon Ziglar: Yeah. Are you an Android user or iOS?

Damola Idowu: I use both. I have both devices.

Jon Ziglar: Okay. So yes, so Android is coming out, I think two weeks. The answer is our Parkmobile app that seven million people use right now has reservations in it. Everything you can do in BMW is also available in the standard Parkmobile app. Now what it’s not is in the navigation system of the car. That’s the cool thing about BMW, is that the car is actually starting the session for you, but that’s all through our systems. Our app does everything that BMW does. You just do it through your phone. Our app knows where it is. So if you use our app, you go down to DC, when you pull it out, it’s going to pop up the closest zone to you. It’s going to show you where – it’s going to say, “Hey, you’re in zone 51026. Do you want to start parking?” You say yes. So you don’t have to type in your zone anymore. You’re just going to select the amount of time and you’re going to walk away. Yeah, our app does all of that. It does everything. It’s got reservations on demand. You can filter garages by hey, I need a high clearance because I’ve got a tall car, or I need an EV charging station, or I need to have – I need cover. You can do all of that stuff in our app.

Damola Idowu: But now I guess, now I guess the next phase is building that natively, what will work on the manufacturers. So how did that process go then, of getting the engineers to expand, rather than just working with the two development kits of iOS or Android? But now you’re working with all these systems and these automobiles. So how did that happen?

Jon Ziglar: Yeah, it’s not as bad as you think to be honest with you. First of all, auto manufacturers are more sophisticated than people like to think. Second of all, I mean our platform runs over a million transactions a week. We do this every – we’re the biggest by a factor of three to anybody else. We essentially provide all of that to the auto-manufacturer. They just integrate to our API. All the data is there to be pulled. And then they can essentially setup the user experience; how do they want to screen to look and all this. But all of that is pulling from our system. So it’s not as complicated as one might think. Think about it, our system already does all of that in an app. All the navigation system is, is an additional – is a different type of screen. So to really dumb it down, it’s not that much different than just a different type of screen with different dimensions. And then, the harder part is then you have to – then you integrate into the actual navigation system, so the car is navigating you. Our app already does that too. If I select a garage and reserve a spot in the garage, I can navigate directly through Apple Maps. There’s a link to it, where it will navigate you directly to that garage. So it’s all pretty simple.

Damola Idowu: So do you guys actually put together hackathons with developers? Who might be able to expand on some of the things you’re doing, or only the manufacturers get the APIs?

Jon Ziglar: We don’t do hackathons. We’ve got our own – I mean we developed – we got a pretty sizable development team. They’re all in house. We don’t use external foreign developers really. We don’t do hackathons, people that build in new functionality, things like that. In the future, maybe, but for right now, we need to – our goal is that we, just like with Uber or something, we want to make sure that we’re creating a seamless and easier consumer experience as possible. Part of our success is driven by a) having a system that just flat works, and b) it is easy to use. And so, there’s a lot of bells and whistles that somebody might want, but no one will ever use, and it just complicates the experience. We want to make sure people can very easily find parking, pay for parking, do the things that they need to do with the app without confusing things. So I think opening up the platform to other people to be adding add-ons right now is probably not on our road map for the next 12, 24 months.

Damola Idowu: Oh okay. I guess what I was thinking just offhand, you had mentioned the movie experience, I was like wow. So what if you were able to do the shopping and built that on it, where okay, I want to go out to this, and you had talked about different concerts and different venues, and I’m from Boston. So I was like wow Fenway, yeah going to a Red Sox game is kind of hard finding a place to park. You could actually say, I want to go to the Fenway game and then you could actually build that into the app, where you’re able to purchase things, and then go out there and find a spot.

Jon Ziglar: The event piece is actually coming out. So you’ll be able to, in our app – by the way, so we already do it. For Fenway Park, if you go onto your computer and type in Fenway parking, Fenway reserve parking, you’ll actually come to a website that is our system. It’s powered by us. You’ll be able to reserve parking for the Dodgers game, tied to the game itself. Our app, very soon in September, when you go into the search bar in our app, you’ll just type in Red Sox Dodgers, and actually what will come up is all the games against the Red Sox and the Dodgers that are coming up. You click on the one you’re going to. It’s going to pull up parking for that game. So you’re actually going to be able to do exactly that through the app. Right now, you already can do it through our system via just the standard computer, but the mobile app experience will be coming out in September.

Damola Idowu: Okay, so some of these external things like booking for an event, where you could plan a whole experience, you’ll be building into your app later on?

Jon Ziglar: Well the parking to the experience. So we do work with – so for instance, the Atlanta Falcons, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium that’s opening in a month, we do all of the reservations. We do all the parking for Mercedes-Benz Stadium. We’re actually integrated into the Falcons app. So I look for parking in my Falcons app for the game, that’s actually us on the backend. So we enable people, let them expose that. That Falcons app does allow you to buy tickets, buy food and beverage, all that kind of stuff. So we do integrate into that entire experience as well. There’s very few of those, but those are the kinds of thing that we can do. As venues get more sophisticated, we’ll be able to enable that.

Damola Idowu: Yeah, I could see like a Live Nation partnership. I just went to a show just a week or so ago, a Live Nation, I mean somebody of that scale. So how do these things work? I mean obviously you guys are large, the number one player in that space. How do these work? Because these are a lot of fascinating things and as you said, and I agree. This is the future of how people would travel, how people will go out to places, be more efficient with your time. How do these relationships work? Where you’re building, where you’re bringing in your architecture that’s very solid into a partnership like the Falcons, obviously, you’re both in Atlanta, or like Fenway and Fenway sports or things like that, to be able to integrate into an experience where it’s now seamless for people that want that experience to work out all the aspects of getting to that experience.

Jon Ziglar: I mean how it works, we have people that support our clients to integrate that. Like I said, we have an API that that integrate to. We work with clients one by one to do it. know I mean hopefully our system is configurable enough and our APIs are robust enough that clients that are building experiences on their own side, are able to make all the calls that they need to make, to render things in the way that they want to render them to the consumer.

Damola Idowu: Okay, but I guess my other thought is like so why BMW instead of Volkswagen, Audi, or GM first? How did BMW become the first company to integrate this platform? I’m fascinated about it. I just drove the 530. There’s a summon and a way to control the car using a remote. That’s really awesome. So I’m looking and thinking about that, and thinking about your service and being able to remote control your car into the space with BMW, but I’m just curious why they were the first in the park partnerships that you’re building.

Jon Ziglar: I mean we work with all auto manufacturers and they’re all fantastic in their own right. BMW is amongst the most innovative of the manufacturers that we’ve worked with certainly. They’re the first of anyone to roll out this type of a service into general production into auto and into a car line. They’re actually in all the lines now. I’d say that they’re ahead of those guys to be quite frank. So the reason BMW is first is they were first. If GM was first, we would have been happy to go with them. We do have a special relationship with BMW. They saw what we were doing, were very excited about it, and made an investment in us, so they’re also a shareholder of ours. It’s more they knew what they wanted to do. They knew what they wanted to do with us and they kind of put their money where their mouth is. BMW is just a very forward thinking, innovative company. Their whole iDrive and the user experience with the knob, that’s always – BMW started those kinds of things that now a lot of people have adopted. I think the reason they’re first is that they were first.

Damola Idowu: Yeah. So I mean do you have visions of expanding overseas? Like I’ll actually be at IFA in Germany. I’ll try to probably see some BMW stuff and hear what they have to say– For Europe I could imagine, this would be a great service.

Jon Ziglar: Yes, we are absolutely looking at expansion. We’re already in Canada. We’re in Australia and New Zealand. We have absolutely international plans. We’re highly focused right now in North America because it’s such a huge market, and the growth has been pretty explosive. But without question, this service can go anywhere there’s a car.

Damola Idowu: So you had mentioned briefly about three years from now, four years from now, but in conclusion, can you give me a definitive vision? Like how do you see all this? Because I could see 2020 is the tipping point for autonomous cars, like 2022, 2023 with level three self-driving. So kind of give a picture in conclusion, the year 2020, how do you see your service and how do you see the environment?

Jon Ziglar: Sure. I mean like autonomous cars are far from being a threat to somebody like us, it’s actually a massive opportunity. What an autonomous car requires, is it requires that it is plugged into a network that enables it to find and procure services on its own. Those services can be paying for parking on street. It can be pulling up to a parking garage and making sure that the gate opens without anybody rolling down a window and pulling a ticket. It can be reserving and paying for a car wash because an autonomous car can’t wash itself. How do I procure that service? It can be making sure that there is a charging station waiting for it when it gets to the garage, because it needs to recharge itself before it goes back on the road. Our platform effectively enables a consumer or a vehicle to identify, reserve, and pay for an asset based upon a complex rate structure. That asset can be a parking space. It can be a charging station. It can be a car wash. It can be an oil change. It can be anything. That asset too by the way, can be one of 25 GM cars in the parking garage of a New York City sky rise that as an owner of one of the apartments, I can check that car out for certain times and days, just like checking out a book. Based on the amount of time I take it out, the days I take it out, I pay different rates. Our system supports that too. So if you look at 2020, my belief is that every autonomous car is natively going to be plugged into the Parkmobile network. The Parkmobile network will include all parking garages across the US, as well as all on street spaces. We will have expanded by that point to include things like – well we already do, do charging stations. You can reserve and pay for charging stations through our platform already. We’ll also include all these ancillary services that are going to come up in order to support the autonomous car market, so that cars will be able to also pull up to a gated garage. Based upon a license plate recognition, a camera at the garage that sees the license plate, and will then tag that license plate to the Parkmobile account and say alright, this car has a Parkmobile account. Open the gate. When that car leaves, the gate is going to open. They’re going to see the license plate. They’re going to say alright, this car was here for three hours, we’re going to charge that account $4. All of those things that are going to enable an autonomous car to be autonomous will run through our platform.

Damola Idowu: Okay. Thank you so much, Jon. I mean I’m very fascinated by that. I really appreciate your time. It’s a real fascinating interview. I look forward to talking with you again in the future.

Jon Ziglar: Well I appreciate the time. Thanks for listening.

Damola Idowu: No problem.

Jon Ziglar: Take care.