Shocking news: An on-demand parking valet app is officially launching today.
Oh wait, no. It no surprise, because we already have Zirx, Luxe, and ValetAnywhere. The app in question here is Vatler, which recently graduated from Y Combinator’s Summer 2014 class and is now officially launching in San Francisco after beta testing in select neighborhoods during the past two months.
Just like its peers, Vatler lets you use the app to request a location where you’d like to drop off your car. A Vatler valet then meets you at the location and parks your car while you go about your activities. The valet later brings back your car when you need it. Vatlet has partnered with parking garages and effectively uses its unsold inventory to park its customers’ cars.
Vatler was previously only available in SoMA, and the company was offering its service to a number of tech companies in the neighborhood for $20 per day as a way to help their employees not worry about parking at work. Now Vatler is available to anyone in SoMA, the Mission, and the Financial District, and with hourly availability too ($6 per hour, $10 minimum, $20 maximum). The company is also considering adding overnight parking.
Parking: The next frontier
A little more than a month ago, the New York Times ran a column pointing out that ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber have become a commodity in the Bay Area, that residents use them interchangeably because they provide the same service. Despite the companies’ attempt to differentiate themselves with branding, at the end of the day, whichever one has a driver closer by, and hasn’t hiked their prices, gets our patronage at that moment.
And this is likely what will happen to all these on-demand valet apps. They aren’t really overlapping at the moment (still a fairly new industry), but eventually, they’ll be interchangeable.
Take Vatler, Zirx, and Luxe, for example. All three cover similar San Francisco neighborhoods, with similar variable pricing, and offer pretty much the same experience — press button, meet magically appearing valet, skip the hassle, and have your car safely returned when you want it.
Just like Uber and Lyft, everything else is just marketing, and eventually it won’t matter — not even Luxe’s blue jackets and scooters or Vatler’s early days as the solution to office parking. People will check their many apps for the quickest and cheapest availability and go with the best option for them.
And just like the Uber-Lyft war, having the most agents and parking spaces in the most neighborhoods might be the deciding factors. (Just look at the price slashes and driver poaching war between Lyft and Uber as they work to grow their driver supply.) I should also point out that Zirx recently raised $6.4 million, and much of it will go to expansion, that is, hiring valets.
Vatler co-founder Hamza Ouazzani Chahdi seems to mostly agree, believing that it’s going to be a winner-take-all game.
“I think that parking is gonna be the next big market. People may be thinking we’re doing the same thing, but we’re targeting different people,” he told VentureBeat. “The question is which startup is going to succeed and which startup is going to solve this [parking] problem first.”
While I’m not sure what the companies’ targeting and marketing approaches will really determine, one thing is clear: It’ll be a race to the bottom. Soon, these companies will be racing to cut prices, grow their parking spot supplies, and do whatever it takes to swoop in on the competition’s parking spot, figuratively speaking.
Interestingly, Vatler got its start as Sweetch, “a P2P marketplace for on-street parking,” as co-founder Aboud Jardaneh described it to me — much like the infamous MonkeyParking app the let people buy and sell street parking before it got booted from San Francisco. Halfway through its time at Y Combinator’s accelerator, the team pivoted to Vatler. And the theme in common here is that parking is a commodity, whether on the street or in a private garage.
But while these startups are battling each other with their fancy valet services, a quieter competitor has already been amassing parking space. SpotHero, a company from Chicago, plans to hit San Francisco in about a month and doesn’t offer valet service. But what it does have is partnerships with more garages than any of these startups. I’d take an available parking spot near my destination over valet service and a long wait, any day.
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