The King of Parking Spaces: How this Entrepreneur is Disrupting the UK's Sharing Economy

2016-05-04-1462386356-937845-parkedcarss.jpg
Image source: PhotoDune

Most college students who earn extra money through a part-time job don't see their work as a long-term career: it's just a means to an end before graduation. Entrepreneur Harrison Woods thought differently. Thanks to Woods' quick thinking and keen business acumen, he's now the co-owner of a startup disrupting the UK's sharing economy that's on course to generate more than five million pounds in revenue this year. Here's how one UK entrepreneur founded a successful startup that marries the best practices of real-time service fulfillment, collaborative consumption, and peer-to-peer business- and what he thinks is next for the sharing economy.

From University Student to Dragons' Den Winner to Successful Entrepreneur

As a university student, Woods noticed something interesting. Just six short years ago, Woods was making extra cash by selling parking barriers, imported from China to local residents and businesses that needed to reserve parking spaces. But Woods quickly realized the reserving a parking bay, while a problem, wasn't the main issue. The real issue was that residents either had too much or too little parking. Residents were holding on to spaces they didn't need to use while other residents were scrambling to find any space at all. Woods began manually pairing these people up to trade spaces, and a new plan was born: co-sharing parking spaces.

Woods says that his father - an engineer by trade and a "professional problem solver" - inspired him to start his own business.

"My father's favorite line is, 'Just because it's been done this way since records began doesn't mean it's the right or the best way of doing it. Just remember when they began doing it this way they didn't know what one million other people and I now know!" says Woods. "He encouraged me to ask questions on everything, and NEVER settle for "Just OK" or the status quo."

Since then, Woods raised investment capital on Dragons' Den (the UK version of Shark Tank), bought and sold one parking business, and is now co-owner of YourParkingSpace.co.uk, one of the UK's fastest growing sharing economy companies. YourParkingSpace.co.uk provides a platform where motorists can find and book hourly, daily or monthly parking instantly. Individual homeowners, businesses, and commercial car park operators can all add their parking spaces to the platform. From private driveways to lock-up garages and commercial car parks, YourParkingSpace currently has over 250,000 parking spaces nationwide - and growing.

"Our vision is simple: parking should be easier," says Woods. "Think of how you booked your last flight. Or how you rented a flat, booked a hotel, bought car insurance or even found a date. Businesses like Sky SkannerRightmoveLateroomsMoneySupermarket and Match.com all spring to mind. These online companies have only been around for a few years. They're relatively new and yet they're brands you recognize."

Woods' aim is for YourParkingSpace to be the online business that springs to mind next time you want to park your car, whether it's for a few hours near a major shopping center or a recurring monthly space near your downtown office.

"It's All About Referrals": Wood's Formula for Startup Success

Woods understands that consumers demand real-time fulfillment of the services that they want. This trend is likely to accelerate as the on-demand economy becomes more prevalent in consumers' behavior as they seek fast, simple, and efficient experiences. Woods' says this trend is especially noticeable in the parking industry, where consumers are increasingly demanding to search and book parking online before traveling to their destination.

The trend towards real-time fulfillment (the "on-demand economy") aligns perfectly with consumers' shift towards collaborative consumption. Peer-to-peer businesses allow individuals and groups to make money from underused assets. In this way, physical assets are shared as services.

"Here at YourParkingSpace we're seeing massive growth from users marketing their spare parking capacity allowing our platform to connect their spaces with those who need it," says Woods.

But it's not just these broader sharing economy trends - collaborative consumption and real-time fulfillment - that are driving business growth. For Woods, it all comes down to referrals.

"The average person is far more likely to pay attention to a referral on WhatsApp than via email, for the simple reason that he gets ads and spam in his inbox, but only messages from friends via WhatsApp," says Woods. "Being early to use a new channel (tastefully) is a huge competitive advantage for a growth team."

"Growth for us is about accelerating awareness and improving conversions. Most people in the world haven't heard about our product, and most of the individuals who've heard about it aren't using it. When companies look at their data, they usually realize that referrals account for a much higher percentage of sales than they expected. They're one of the few things that touch people outside of your user base. Plus the power of referrals compounds: friends referred are likelier to stick to the product."

Bottom line:

Woods' journey to startup success is due partially to his entrepreneurial mindset and also to his ability to harness industry trends. His comments on referrals for new business growth are spot on - startup owners who want to grow their business need to be savvy about bringing in new business. It's not just about awareness and conversion. Retention matters, too.

I'll be keeping an eye on what Woods does next, and you should, too. Woods cites Napster founder Sean Parker as the entrepreneur he most admires because of Parker's ability not only disrupt an industry but also to come back, again and again, to do it in others. It is evident Woods is just getting started.