Home / Tech / Transforming parking lots into hubs for Uber Eats and Amazon deliveries is big business — and one of the world's most prolific tech investors is now on board

Transforming parking lots into hubs for Uber Eats and Amazon deliveries is big business — and one of the world's most prolific tech investors is now on board

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  • ParkJockey, an app that lets you book parking spots from your phone, is transitioning into a new business it’s calling “proximity as a service.”
  • The company now plans to lease parking spaces to companies like Uber and Amazon to support the gig economy. 
  • We spoke with founder Ari Ojalvo about the transition and how he’s helping support the “last-mile” problem for goods deliveries. 
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

The humble parking space hasn’t changed much since Henry Ford’s era.

Sure, some of the rectangles are now reserved for hybrid cars or adorned with an electric-vehicle charger in some places, but their basic function is still to store automobiles.

Ari Ojalvo is working to change that.

After helping scale the iconic Brazilian-sushi hybrid chain Sushi Samba to London, Miami, and other high-flying cities around the world, the entrepreneur set his sights on a more lowly product: parking.

“In the early phases it was difficult,” he said in an interview with Business Insider. “Today, when you talk about dark kitchens, last-mile services, Uber, Lyft, and other things being in every city, it’s no longer a question. But four years ago, it took a lot of convincing for people to understand that consumers want everything right when they order it.”

His first attempt to disrupt the clunky, antiquated piece of infrastructure that just doesn’t seem to change wasn’t unlike many other traditional industries with a digital infusion. ParkJockey allows customers to reserve and pay for a parking spot online ahead of time, avoiding the headache of circling blocks for an open curb spot or paying cash to a lot operator.

In its five years of existence, the app has amassed more than 4,500 locations where a parking spot was available at the touch of a button. That was only the starting point, however, Ojalvo said.

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Enter: SoftBank

Last month, ParkJockey secured an investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, perhaps the world’s most prolific tech investor with stakes in everything from Uber to WeWork, Nvidia, Wag, and more.

That cash infusion helped catalyze a turning point in ParkJockey’s journey as well.

“If you think of parking garages, what they essentially are, they’re just concrete slabs or open-air lots with some white lines so that you know where to park your car,” Ojalvo said.

“What we do, is that first of all we rip out the existing parking system and we replace it with our system, which is cloud-based, and it’s got lots of different features. It’s got features like license-plate recognition, features like biometric recognition, etc. so that you can frictionlessly access the property.”

Once inside, the empty space can support everything from food preparation for meal-delivery services like Uber Eats (also known as dark kitchens, to use industry lingo) to staging areas for package deliveries to pop-up retail stores.

He’s calling it “proximity as a service,” a riff on the tech industry’s software as a service.

“If you think about what Amazon does with their servers, you no longer have to buy servers to operate your business, you basically rent quote unquote space from their servers, right from the cloud, and they call it infrastructure as a service,” he said. “And that’s what we do, we call it proximity as the service.”

And while it’s a revolution for what many Americans might think of as parking lots, Ojalvo says it’s really just about getting space back that was used for similar logistics problems decades ago.

“If you go to Dumbo, for example,” Ojalvo said, referring to the chic district on Brooklyn’s waterfront now populated by expensive loft apartments and luxury storefronts, “you’ll see all the warehouses that used to exist. It used to be possible to deliver goods from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and that was when consumer expectations weren’t even as high.”

“Today, Brooklyn to Manhattan is too far, and people want their orders in two days,” he continued. “So while those old warehouses might not be suitable, we’re making new warehouse space to keep up with that demand.”

It’s part of a growing trend to disrupt the humble parking space

Ojalvo isn’t alone in eyeing the value that parking spots, which make up a massive chunk of American cities, could contain. According to data from CB Insights, $428 million in 68 equity deals poured into the space (no pun intended), up from 63 deals the year before.

This year is already on track to top both of those.

“You have hundreds of parking startups that were launching every year,” Ojalvo said.

“And the next year, two thirds of these companies will go out of business because they weren’t able to gain a foothold. So it’s not new, but what happened, I think, is that with the focus on the last mile and with the focus on congestion and new mobility solutions, it’s really gone through the roof.”

SEE ALSO: Here’s the pitch deck Careem used to secure its first round of venture capital. 6 years later, Uber acquired it in a $3 billion deal

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