Lyft, Uber, SideCar, and similar ride-sharing services are about making life a little easier for San Franciscans without cars. Now a new crop of companies are working to help folks with cars by handling the parking for them.
Zirx, a parking service that’s been around for about five months, has been aggressively working to save San Franciscans from the misery of parking, and it’s now $6.4 million richer.
From the customer’s perspective, it’s as close to having a personal driver as it can be. After a customer requests a pickup location, a vetted and trained Zirx agent meets them within five to seven minutes and provides a security code to identify themselves as the correct Zirx agent before taking the car off the customer’s hands. To get the car back, the customer simply inputs a pickup location into the app, and the Zirx agent delivers the car at the requested location.
“I actually discovered Zirx because I used it, I used the service and I really enjoyed [it]. The kicker for me was the cold bottle of [Boxed Water] at the end,” said Trinity Ventures general partner Ajay Chopra in an interview with VentureBeat. Trinity Ventures is a major investor in this round, and Chopra is joining Zirx’s board as a result.
Behind the scenes, Zirx parks customers’ cars in various partnering private garages where it rents space based on demand.
“You don’t just want to rent garage spaces. You want to be smart about where and how you’re getting that garage inventory,” Zirx chief executive Sean Behr told VentureBeat. Although he wouldn’t share the specifics, Zirx doesn’t rent a set number of spaces but rather an adjustable number based on car flow, which presumably saves the company from unnecessary costs.
“We’ve long believed that for those mobile on demand services … what really matters is how you handle the backend and how you optimize that,” said Chopra.
The parking competition
“The barrier to entry is certainly very low, but the barrier to success is very high. It’s one thing to build the app, [but] can you reliably return someone’s car in under seven minutes?” said Behr. “There’s a lot of technology and algorithms behind that.”
Just as Lyft, Uber, and the like are competing on a technology front, racing to build the most accurate and robust technology to support their car dispatch services, Zirx and its competitors are undoubtably all working on their data science-based technology to optimize their services.
But the ride-sharing services, because of their focus on convenience, are also duking it out on key customer-facing aspects such as pricing, geographical coverage, and insurance.
In terms of pricing, Zirx seems to come out on top. While Zirx charges only $15 per day, fellow San Francisco company Vatler charges between $20 and $35 per day. Both offer monthly rates as well. New York City’s ValetAnywhere charges on an hourly basis, at about $6 per hour with a maximum of $42 for parking in Midtown Manhattan.
For geographical reach, Zirx appears to barely surpass Vatler. Both companies service SoMA and the Financial District, but Zirx also covers Hayes Valley. As mentioned, ValetAnywhere is only in Manhattan, currently available in Midtown between 57th and 14th Street, although it plans to expand south soon.
As for insurance — a hot topic in ridesharing that will no doubt surface here too — all three services appear to have what is known as “garage keeper” insurance, which is for businesses storing customer cars. Both ValetAnywhere and Zirx shared with VentureBeat that they have $1 million and $2 million-per-incident policies respectively, and Zirx has added that a customer car is covered from the moment an agent takes custody of it all the way until the customer takes back possession of it (the other two didn’t clarify whether that’s the case for them as well).
Just as with any other “convenience” service, much of the battle will come down to offering the best combination of price and painlessness. While Vatler is focusing on office parking as its customer acquisition strategy (something employers could potentially offer as paid-for perk), Zirx is beating it in price and geographical coverage so far. Little touches such as the cold carton of Boxed Water Zirx delivers with each car as well as its secret menu of additional services (filling up the gas tank, car wash, etc.) might also become important as the companies attempt to differentiate themselves.
Along with Trinity Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners also invested in this round. Norwest partner Sergio Monsalve will also join the company’s board.
Zirx was founded earlier this year by Sean Behr, Boris Zamoruev, and Boris Perlov, and is based in San Francisco.