Epi 14: Modernize & Improve Your Customer’s Experience Using Tech Applications – Jeff Perkins, CMO of ParkMobile

JC: Well, welcome to another episode of The Future of BizTech. I am your host, JC Granger, and I am with Jeff Perkins, the CMO of ParkMobile. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the show. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing at ParkMobile? A little bit about them too?

Jeff: Sure, JC. Thanks for having me, excited to be here. So, I’m the chief marketing officer and the head of product at ParkMobile. For those not familiar, ParkMobile is the number one app that you can use to pay for parking in the United States. So, we have over 21 million users of the app, we’re available in most major cities across the US, every place from New York to Philadelphia, to Los Angeles, Washington DC, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis. So we’re really available anywhere you go and it’s the same app. So, if you’re traveling from Philly to Los Angeles, you can use the same app to park in both cities, which is really nice and a lot of people like that. In addition to the on-street parking, we also offer parking at stadium venues. So back before COVID, when people used to go to concerts and sporting events, you’d be able to pay for parking easily or reserve a spot, actually, in advance.

Jeff: You don’t have to worry about going down to the game or the concert, not knowing where you’re going to park. You just book your parking with ParkMobile and you have it covered. For me, I’m a career marketer. So I started in the advertising business, way back before actually there was all this digital. So I was the guy who was doing television ads, early on in my career. Later I made the pivot from the agency side to the client-side, where I’ve been really since 2007. So, had a great run as a mid-level marketing manager and then all the way up to the CMO suite, so had a great run and I’m from Atlanta. So, we’re in the Atlanta tech community here and my current gig has been a super fun ride. I’ve been there about three years now.

JC: That’s awesome. And real quick here, I don’t know if you had mentioned this here before I read it, but you’re a professor, correct?

Jeff: Well, not a real professor. They call them adjunct professors. So I taught actually at the beginning of this year, before all the schools went into lockdown in February, I taught my first MBA-level graduate class. It was a week long intensive course in the essential skills for modern marketers. And it really came out of me, one, so I went to Emory University for business school and that’s where I taught the course. So it was fun going back and being able to be on the other side of the desk and teaching students. But the second part was really, going through an MBA program and interviewing a lot of people coming out of MBA programs, you very clearly see where the gaps are in the MBA curriculum. So students come out with a lot of analytical skills, a lot of strategic skills, which are great, but oftentimes when you’re getting into an entry-level marketing role at a company, those skills aren’t as important as understanding marketing technology and, “How do I set up a campaign in the marketing automation system that we have?”

Jeff: And so, I wanted to really educate the students on, “Hey, when you actually get out of business school, this is the stuff you’re really going to do. And here’s how you run email campaigns and here’s Google AdWords and Google Analytics and all these tools out there.” And so, just trying to educate them and give them fluency in what it’s really like when you’re going into the marketing world and give them skills that hopefully they can apply right away. And so-

JC: Spoken like a true marketer, for sure. Now for ParkMobile, so I’ve used ParkMobile before and when I heard you will come on the show, I thought, “Aw, this is really cool.” I literally used this the other day, right? So, for anyone who’s gone to a meter, has that little green squares and it has like, “This is the zone you’re in.” You have the app, you just downloaded it, it takes it from your credit card. What I really like about ParkMobile, was that I could extend my time without having to go back to the car. I remember that was a really big deal for me because I could be in a coffee shop or whatnot, but if I’m in a meeting and I parked, I don’t have to go back out to the meter. I can just hit the thing. But that’s on the personal side. For Future of BizTech, this is more B2B stuff, tell the audience how ParkMobile is used in your B2B aspect. How do companies and businesses benefit from ParkMobile?

Jeff: Sure. So, when we look at the market in really two ways, one is the B to C way, the consumer way. So making sure people download the app and are using the app. And so that’s a big part of what we do at ParkMobile, but then the other side is, really promoting a value proposition to cities and parking operators and all kinds of businesses that have parking and parking to sell, and making sure they understand why it’s important that they offer ParkMobile at their locations or at their venues. And so, we spend a lot of time focused on the industry and focused on business, to show them all these ways ParkMobile can help your business. And I’ll show you. I’ll give you a few examples. So major event venues, Mercedes-Benz Stadium here in Atlanta, when they built the stadium, they knew they wouldn’t have enough parking for everybody coming to a game.

Jeff: They also knew they were building a stadium right in the middle of an urban core of a city with really bad traffic. And so, that was a recipe for disaster when it comes to parking. And you think about the impact of that on an event venue, what’s the impact of someone not having a good experience parking or not getting parked quickly? One, they miss kickoff or they miss the start of the concert, they don’t get there early, so they can’t go to concessions. They can’t go to the, there’s lost revenue there. And they also have a bad experience coming into the arena, which could influence how they feel when they’re at the game or at the event. So stadiums are very savvy. They actually measure this now. They call it Arrival Experience, because they know that better arrival experience basically translates to more revenue for the team, for the stadium, for the venue.

Jeff: And so, what we did with Mercedes-Benz Stadium and variety of other venues across the country, who said, “Let’s enable people to prepay for parking, to book a parking spot before they even come to the event.” And what that did, is it really relieved game day traffic, because instead of you having 75,000 people all driving to the same location, nobody knowing where they’re going to park, we have almost 70% of people going to games, book their parking ahead and they drive right to that lot. And they have a variety of lots to choose from. So, if you’re going to a game with kids, you may want to be closer to the stadium and you’re willing to sit in traffic a little longer. If you’re going to the game with your buddies, you may want to hit the bars on the way to the stadium, which are a little further out and you don’t mind walking a mile to get to the stadium.

Jeff: And so, you’re able to pick the spot that’s right for you and then you navigate right to that parking lot. So you don’t have to worry about sitting in traffic, circling the block, getting waved in by some sketchy guy in the street with a flag, you basically have a spot that’s waiting for you in a lot, it’s guaranteed. And so, that’s one way businesses have figured out that we can help them. It’s that really creating a better parking program, which will create a better experience at the venue. Another thing we do with businesses is, we have what we call a Fleet Program. So a lot of businesses out there, both big and small, they have cars on the road every day. And what happened in the past, well, your drivers basically would, if they parked, they might just take a ticket and they would expense it.

Jeff: So they’d take that parking ticket on the corporate car. They might just pay with petty cash and put in some expense report for a certain amount of petty cash in parking. What we’ve done is given those companies the ability to use the ParkMobile App, to track all of the parking for all of their drivers. Now companies like Comcast and AT&T, and Whole Foods that are doing deliveries and driving around these urban areas where ParkMobile has all the parking, they now can have a ParkMobile business account and that lets the drivers pay with ParkMobile, which is really easy for the driver. And it also lets the business on the other end, the fleet managers there, understand where their drivers are going, how much are the drivers spending on parking? And eliminate any potential fraud in the system. Right? So if you have people just putting cash into meters, it’s very hard to track, but if you have everyone paying through app as a business, it makes it very trackable. There’s a clear audit trail. You understand who’s parking where, where they’re going and really, a lot of our business customers really like that feature.

JC: On that note, when I had an office downtown, so we’re based out of Denver, so we were right, I mean, right downtown. I mean, there’s no parking, basically in the building we were in, didn’t have it’s own parking structure underneath. It had a side lot that it has them deal with. But I remember that my biggest issue, if we were going to have clients or prospective clients or prospective employees come to the office, parking was the biggest issue that we had. And so with your app, if I’m a business owner at an office, I’m not a brick-and-mortar, but I’m in an office building for example, and let’s say the parking, there’s only four people that are at that office space. So basically there’s not a good visitor parking scenario.

JC: Can I download your app with the business version and can I pay for the parking? If the client told me what their license plate number was or whatever, can I pay for it from my app, and then share that with them? So they know exactly where to go. They park and they’d be set. Is there an ability for a business to take care of their, either customers, clients, employees, things like that, from a real easy experience like that?

Jeff: 100%, 100%. So one of the features of the app, is that you can make parking reservations in garages. So it doesn’t have to be tied necessarily to a sporting event. You just go into our app, you can look under the reservations tab and it shows you all the buildings in your area where you can make a parking reservation. So if you wanted to do that for a client, that would be quick and easy for you to do either in the app or actually we have a web interface as well, that you can go right in there, make that reservation, send it to the client and say, “Hey, this is where I booked your parking.” And you book it for a set amount of hours. So say our meeting is from two to three. So I’m going to book the garage from 1:30 to 3:30, just to give us a little buffer time.

Jeff: And so that really gives you the ability, before the meeting, to send that pass to the client. They just drive up to the garage, they show the pass and they don’t have to come out of pocket for any expenses related to the meeting. We see a lot of companies doing that because it’s a nice gesture, especially if you have clients coming in. You want them not to, again, similar to the sporting event example, say if you have a client coming in, it’s a prospect, it’s a new business meeting, you want that experience to be very seamless for the client. You don’t want them frustrated because they couldn’t find parking as they come into your office. So yeah, our reservations feature really lets you do that. It’s used by a lot of companies to make that process easy.

JC: That’s cool. Your assistant or your receptionist could just have it on their screen and they could just call the person, what would they need? Just need, say, “Hey, license plate number,” or do they need to say make, model, what’s the minimum amount of information that they would have to gather so they could do that for them remotely?

Jeff: It would most likely be just the license plate number.

JC: Oh, okay.

Jeff: That would be all they need.

JC: See, that’s really cool. That’s really simple. I did that a lot when I was downtown, we did that for clients. So again, when I heard you’re coming, I was like, “Oh, this is great. I love ParkMobile.” But a lot of people, that’s a big frustration for business owners, especially in downtown areas and high-rise style offices. Now during COVID hasn’t been obviously as big an issue, but that brings me to the next question then, how has COVID effected ParkMobile? Is there anywhere where it’s gained where you wouldn’t think that this would be something that ParkMobile could get into, that it helped or is it like, “Hey, less people parking around right now. So it’s slower, but as you know, the vaccines coming out now and things are going to pick up”? But how you guys been affected by that?

Jeff: Yeah. It’s been a challenging year for us, like many businesses. We make money when people park and so if people aren’t parking, it’s going to have a significant impact on our revenue. March and April were not pretty, but as cities and states started to reopen in a limited capacity, we really saw a lot of our transaction volume come back. The summer was very good because we have a lot of beach communities that use ParkMobile exclusively in the summer. So a lot of the northeastern beaches are on the Jersey shore. The Delaware beaches, they don’t charge for parking except in the summer. And so because people weren’t traveling abroad or going to summer camp this summer, everyone was at the beach, and we ended up having a really good summer from a transaction volume perspective. But it’s been tough because the core of our business are the heavy users, the commuters that are going into those urban areas every day and those people aren’t back at offices yet, and just like you and I, we’re working from home.

Jeff: And so, until those people come back, it’s going to be challenging and our transaction volume is going to be lower than where we thought it would be in a pre-COVID world. On the flip side though, the thing that has been interesting about COVID, is that it’s really, I think, accelerated the move for a lot of our clients to contactless payments. And so that’s been something that has been very good for us in a lot of ways. So, a lot of cities or a lot of operators who in the past maybe, they had planned to add a mobile payment option but it wasn’t top priority or they were slow-walking it or it was getting caught up in bureaucracy, suddenly with COVID, they don’t want people touching machines.

Jeff: They don’t want to have the coin collectors out there taking dirty coins out of physical parking equipment. Right? So, what they decided and were able to do very quickly, was add a contactless payment option to what they’re doing and then promoting that as well. The governor of Delaware actually was tweeting out about how everybody should use ParkMobile and nobody should use the physical parking lot hardware to reduce the spread of COVID. And so, we saw this really big increase in demand to implement ParkMobile in all of these new locations, which has been great for us and our sales team had record years from a new client acquisition standpoint. So, that’s been really positive and what’s going to happen as more people get vaccinated and people get back to go into offices again, people are going to events again, we really expect our business to hockey-stick in a big way because we’ve acquired more new clients this year than we have in the company’s history.

Jeff: And now it’s just a matter of getting ready for that big spike to come once people are comfortable and vaccinated and ready to go back into a normal post-COVID world. So, very dark days, a lot of excitement on the horizon for us, we’re really seeing that light at the end of the tunnel now. So, it’s an exciting time at the company.

JC: Let me ask you a question. If a business owner has some extra parking, they just happened to be lucky and they have more spots than they really need, is there a way for them to utilize ParkMobile where they can make money on their spots? So it becomes a drop point for people to book and they can park there? I mean, you guys are a transactional app, I believe, so you make a small percentage. So if I had a building and had 20 spots, I never have more than five people there ever at a time, could I take 15 of those spots, put a ParkMobile tag on it and then now I’m part of the app where people needed to park there and go somewhere else and I’m okay with that, would I be able to make money on that? How does that work? Is there any legal issues with that? How does that-

Jeff: Yep. It’s actually really easy to do. We have a lot of companies, a lot of retail operators do this, because what happens with the retail operators during the day, it’s free parking but then at night, they have a lot of people maybe parking in their lot and going to bars or restaurants nearby-

JC: They might as well make money.

Jeff: … hey, guys, “Hey, we’re letting all these people park for free on our property.” And so what you see is a lot of these lots end up, they put up ParkMobile signs say, “Hey, after eight o’clock you have to pay for parking here in ParkMobile.” And sometimes it’s a flat rate or sometimes hourly rate, but that’s been great for a lot of these retail shopping centers because then they’re able to make money off-hours when they’re not open but they’re making money on the parking. And all they have to do is pay someone to enforce it, which usually is not that expensive.

JC: No. And they probably have a tow company that has already approached them to come to their lot. And plus that’s a better user experience too, in my opinion. You go to a lot and all you see are tow-away signs and you’re like, “Ah, I need to park somewhere.” And it gives you almost a bad taste in your mouth for that business. It shouldn’t but it does. But if you go to that same spot, because you’re looking for a place to park and they allow a way to do it, that’s fantastic because now not only are you like, “Hey, thanks ParkMobile.” But you’re like, “Hey, thanks, PF Chang’s for letting me park here.” There’s a positive association now with this restaurant or this mom-and-pop business because you were able… They weren’t the type to say, “Well, if you park here, even after hours when no one’s here, we’re going to tow you.” And it’s like, “You weren’t even using it anyway.”

JC: And so now giving the ability and showing people like, “No, no, it’s okay. You can totally park here.” And they’re going to make some money on it and you can feel safe you’re not going to get towed away and it’s a more convenient spot. So I think that’s really cool for, if you are a mom-and-pop shop or you are retail space, or even if you own the building and you have tenants and you know you have more parking spaces than you need, it’s a great way for additional income. Now, given the whole theme of the podcast, that The Future of BizTech, what are some new features coming down the pipeline that you guys are set to release? What can people look forward to, not only with ParkMobile’s new releases, but the second part of the question is, how do you think just the mobile parking in general is… Because you have competitors out there. So it’s an industry building and expanding. So one, what are you guys coming up with next and then secondly, where do you see the industry going in general in changing things?

Jeff: Yeah. So, I would say one of the big themes we have for 2021, is about giving people more choice when it comes to making parking payments. And so in the past, what we’ve done is, we’ve said, “Okay, you have two options. You can pay at the meter or you can pay in the ParkMobile App.” Right? So two options, pretty good options overall, but what happens oftentimes people say, “Well, I prefer to pay mobile or preferred contactless, but man, I have to download another app and I’m just in the city for a day and I don’t want to have this random app on my phone. I already have an app from my hometown and they don’t accept that in the city.” And so, we’ve realized this and we’ve gotten a lot of this feedback from our users that, “Hey, why do I always have to download an app?” Right?

Jeff: And so, what we’re doing this year, is we’re saying, “Okay, yes, you can download the app.” The best experience is going to be the full-featured ParkMobile App. That’s the mothership. That’s where you get the most innovation. But for people who maybe don’t want that full-featured app experience or just have an aversion to downloading yet another app, we’re going to have a web version of the ParkMobile App, so-

JC: Just QR code-based?

Jeff: So it’ll be QR code-based or Text2Park. So you can just text a number and it’ll just shoot you a link to get right into the payment flow.

JC: That’s smart. That’s smart.

Jeff: And so what’s really nice about that is, okay, now you have full feature ParkMobile App for the heavier users. You have the web app, which will be really nice for the more occasional users who don’t want to download that app and it’s a really simple, elegant experience. Gets you in and out. All the same functionality though. So like you said, you could still extend the time of the parking session, right? So all these features that you have, that you like in the ParkMobile App, you have most of them in the web app and you also have an option for a guest checkout. So if you don’t want to create an account, which we always recommend, because it’s just easy to have your license plate and your credit card stored there for you. But if you’re one of these people, you’re like, “Well, I don’t want big brother having all my information. I pay as I go.” Cool. We can accommodate you with that as well. So, we’re giving people a lot more choice with the ways they could use mobile and contactless to pay for parking.

Jeff: And the thing that we actually just launched in December, is a partnership with Google Pay that I’m really excited about, where’ve we basically taken the ParkMobile App and inserted it into the Google Pay experience. So if you have the Google Pay app on iOS or Android, now you can open ParkMobile right from inside Google Pay and you go… It’s a very similar process. You put your zone number in and you pay for parking right there. And so again, maybe you have Google Pay on your phone, you don’t want to download the ParkMobile App, “Hey, I’m just going to use the Google Pay ParkMobile.” And you pay right there through the Google Pay app. You don’t pay..

JC: I was going to ask if you had payment systems like Apple Pay? It’s like if I double-tap the right button, especially if you’re checking out as a guest, the other part people don’t want to do is, they don’t want to type in the whole credit card number and the whole thing. People like Autofill or a safe way for their payment. So even if I am checking out as a guest, the good news is more people are now understanding how QR codes work because of COVID, which is interesting, because of restaurant menus. People who have never used QR codes before are totally versed on what to do now, simply because of COVID. So it’s one of those unintended consequences that really push people more in the technology area.

JC: And what’s cool is, now people will know they just put up the camera to the parking meter. They know they expect a little link thing will dropdown. They click on it. As you’re saying, it’ll be seamless. It won’t make them make an account they don’t want to, they can check out as a guest. But the last part I was thinking is like, “Okay, but the other bottleneck is putting in your credit card.” But if you’re able to, even from the web app, if you’re able to quickly import from Apple Pay or Google Pay, I mean, boom, hands done. You’re in and out of that car in 10 seconds. Right? So, that’s awesome. Listen, well, thank you for being on the show, but also, I know we had talked offline a little bit, you have a new book coming out. I want to hear about that really quick here and tell the audience about your new book.

Jeff: I do. The book comes out, probably about middle of 2021. So, the working title is How Not To Suck At Marketing. Basically-

JC: Maybe I should read it.

Jeff: It’s a list of everything I’ve done in my career and like, “Don’t do this.” What I wanted to try to put together, because I do read a lot of these marketing books that are out there, and one of the gaps in maybe the marketing content that I’ve seen, is just content about how to navigate a career in marketing and how to go from, like I did, went from agency to client-side, then from middle management to the C-suite. And so how do you do that? Right? And what are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way to climb that ladder and get to an executive position, that other people can learn from? And the other side is also, “How do you just not get fired from your marketing job?” Which seems to happen all too often to people in our profession. So-

JC: That should be one or two chapters right there, “Step one, here’s how not to get fired.” That’s awesome. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you today or that you want to share with the audience before we go?

Jeff: No. I think for anyone that’s listening and out there and if you’re interested in learning more about either mobile apps or parking, hit me up on LinkedIn. I’m happy to follow up after this. And if you don’t have the ParkMobile app-

JC: How can people reach you? Is there an email or anything or on LinkedIn… Is there a certain way to spell your name or anything like that?

Jeff: I think it’s Jeff Perkins 1 in the profile name, the linkedin.com/in/jeff perkins1. That’s probably the best place if you want to get me, just hit me up there and we could continue the conversation. And of course, everyone must download the ParkMobile App and go and pay for parking. And actually, I should say this, we’re in January, 2021 right now, one of the interesting things during COVID, especially when people weren’t parking at all, we said, “Well, what are we going to do with our app that nobody’s using?” And we converted it into a fundraising tool.

JC: Oh.

Jeff: So if you go into the ParkMobile App and you type in the zone number, 99123, it enables you to make a donation-

JC: 99123?

Jeff: 99123. You can make a donation actually to Feeding America, which it’s the big national organization that funds a lot of the local food banks and communities around the country. So, an example of taking lemons and making lemonade, right? Maybe we can use our app and our user base of millions of users, to raise money for these great causes right through our parking.

JC: That’s fantastic. I love that because when things are hard, obviously it’s very easy to think about, “How do we save us? How do we help us so we can survive?” And it takes that extra mental step to say, “How can we help others too?” So I commend you for that. I think that’s fantastic. If you guys aren’t throwing that around all over social media, you should be. That’s awesome. Again, thank you for being on the show, Jeff, and for everyone listening again, my personal experience with ParkMobile has been great, not just as a consumer, but again, I also used to use this when I was at my office downtown and it was a great way for my assistant to easily book parking for our clients in advance. So if you have that same situation, COVID is going to be done here eventually and everyone’s going to be back to work and parking will be an issue again, unfortunately. So thanks again, Jeff. And we appreciate your time, sir.

Jeff: All right, JC.

JC: Thanks.

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