Phillip Curley, CEO & Founder – HotSpot Parking
For Phillip Curley, CEO and Founder of Fredericton-based startup HotSpot Parking, New Brunswick is the future of the technology community.
Curley came to Fredericton from Prince Edward Island in 2012 to continue his education in engineering at the University of New Brunswick. Around that Christmas, he went to City Hall and told them they had a serious parking problem. Lucky for Curley, he was about to change this.
The idea for HotSpot Parking came out of a Startup Weekend when they were trying to find ways to make parking better. With one year left of his degree, Curley made the decision to leave UNB and run with his idea.
“I had the opportunity to go out and get real world experience with the support of the community. That doesn’t happen a lot, but when that type of opportunity does happen, you need to go with it,” says Curley. Even though they started in 2013, HotSpot Parking is in two New Brunswick cities, Fredericton and Saint John, with plans to expand across North America.
With HotSpot Parking, every parking spot has a number. After installing the app on your smartphone and creating an account, the app can scan your credit card and allows you to add credit to your account. When parking, you simply input the number of the assigned space into the app and it draws from your balance. You can top up your time and add more money from anywhere, so there’s no more racing back to the meter to beat traffic officers.
From there on, HotSpot is different than a standard parking app. They also have iBeacons in businesses around the city. If you have the app and walk into a business with a beacon, the activity is registered. Beacons are dispersed throughout a variety of locations, from coffee shops to investment banks, and the businesses can chose to interact with their customers over the app by paying for their parking. By overriding time limits, businesses can attempt to keep their customers with them as long as possible.
“It’s actually really important to know who’s parking, why they’re there and their effect on the community,” says Curley. “That’s kind of what we’ve focused on.”
HotSpot Parking collects data from their users and shares that information back with the businesses who have invested in iBeacons, with a maximum of 50 per city.
“Did you come in because of an advertisement? Or did you just come in? That sorts you into buckets for us using business intelligence,” says Curley. “[We can tell businesses] these are your customers, these are the people that are always coming in and this is how effective different advertising methods are.”
Apps similar to HotSpot parking exist in other cities, but many of those apps charge a fee each time you park. Curley says this model does not work in smaller cities where less people are parking, so HotSpot has adapted the method to work in smaller cities by collecting revenue from business engagement. It is about connecting the dots between a person’s routine and things that are happening around them. “They’re at a point of opportunity. They’re in a state of need. They’ve just told us they’re there because they checked in with their phone,” says Curley.
“Our goal is to get really good at figuring out what a person needs and helping them find it.”
Curley uses the example of an individual who always parks near a coffee shop that puts an emphasis on art. Chances are, that same individual would be interested in an art auction at a restaurant down the street.
“Everyone we’ve talked to, they want us. It’s just that there’s different timelines in municipalities,” says Curley. HotSpot has contacted 150 cities and spoken with representatives at 50. They are hoping they can start to fit in with the timelines and workings of each city.
“The decision making is a little different for every city. In Saint John, we were able to go directly to the council and they said yes. In Halifax, you cannot do that.”
In the meantime, despite having a young staff, HotSpot Parking has been welcomed with open arms into Fredericton’s tech and entrepreneurial community. Their CEO goes as far as to say the experience is like having a family.
“It’s the caliber of advice and the willingness to get together and talk” says Curley. “There’s a bunch of people and they’re really the cream of the crop, 100 per cent. I just couldn’t say enough about them.”
HotSpot Parking successfully received a SEED loan through Ignite Fredericton and were part of the first cohort in Planet Hatch’s business accelerator program, ACcelR8. Curley says this was very important to the start-up phase, because he could not have gotten a loan from a bank. Working out of Planet Hatch gave them credibility and helped them manage and mitigate risks.
“I’d like to say that we’ve never solved anything within our own group at HotSpot,” laughs Curley. “We’re just taking the best of everyone else’s ideas, whether that be a competing company or just looking around the community.”
One thing Curley likes about Fredericton is that they are always running into the same people, whether that is experienced entrepreneurs or the members of the Ignite Fredericton Board of Directors.
“The Ignite Board is the entrepreneurial community,” says Curley. “Once you’re into the community, it’s the same thing.”
According to HotSpot, Fredericton is one of the most connected cities in North America. Their website contains a section where they look at 400 North American Cities with populations between 50,000-250,000 people and ranked them based on how many Twitter followers the city has versus its population. Fredericton is ranked number one with approximately 17 per cent of their population following the city on Twitter.
The young startup is now looking for ways to expand, whether that is into new cities or offering new services to existing user. They are trying to grow their customer base, and are hoping to do that by offering the same payment method on city transit.
Rather than looking for a great new idea that’s never been done, Curley says aspiring entrepreneurs should be looking to solve problems in their community.
“It’s not like a light bulb moment, just start doing it. If you think something sucks, make it better.”
BY: Nicola MacLeod, ED Intern 2014