Former NASA exec says he has a bigger fish to fry: parking

Barney Pell, a serial entrepreneur who once built robots for NASA and sold a machine-learning based search engine to Microsoft at a reported $100 million, has taken on a new challenge: parking.

QuickPay, a Bay Area-based startup, is a mobile app that people can use to pay for parking in lots and garages. Today, the company announced it has raised $3.5 million in seed funding and has appointed Pell as its chief executive.

How does QuickPay work? Users can enter their credit card information into the app to gain access to garages, parking lots, and gated facilities that are integrated with QuickPay. The service launched last year and is live in more than 100 locations in 12 cities in California, Colorado, and Nevada. The company has access to 12,500 parking spaces across the country.

Similarly to car-sharing marketplace Getaround (a startup that Pell invested in), QuickPay prides itself on its hardware. The company’s GateKit works in parking facilities with entry and exit barriers. When drivers pull up to a QuickPay-enabled garage, they scan a QR code from the app to open the gate. If they scan the QR code again, they’re charged through the app. Pell told me it’s a better user experience for parking operators who can fill up empty spaces, as well as drivers, who can avoid parking tickets.

In an interview with VentureBeat, Pell said he became obsessed with the parking problem after attending a barbecue in San Francisco’s Mission District. Crawling through busy streets, he couldn’t find anywhere to park. Frustrated, and late to the party, he bumped into Carl Muirbrook, QuickPay’s then CEO. Pell became more involved, made a small investment, and then joined the 20-person company full-time.

Quickpay is not the only company that claims to make it easier to discover and pay for parking. Competitors include ParkMe, a free app to help users find nearby parking, and ParkPlease, a web-based service for space owners to list their spots.

In future, the company plans to differentiate itself by delivering analytics to garage owners to make it easier for them to fill empty spots.

QuickPay investors include Detroit-based Fontinalis Partners and leading Silicon Valley VC firms Andreessen Horowitz and Advanced Technology Ventures.

Top image via Shutterstock