For Dan Hubert, the lightning bolt struck at 7pm outside London’s Royal Albert Hall one winter’s night in 2012. The idea that popped into his head – and then took over his life like a sudden, all-consuming love affair – pivoted around a peculiarly British obsession: parking. Surely, thought Dan, as he tried to find somewhere to park before a Cirque du Soleil show, technology could and should exist to simplify the painful task of locating available kerbside parking space. Currently, there’s nothing. Yet London’s on-street regulations are a Kafkaesque nightmare – more opaque than a gangster’s car windows. Why, for example, when Kensington’s parking bays are full is that particular stretch of single yellow line completely empty? Can I park there? If not, why not? Will I get clamped? Why, oh why is city parking so damn stressful?
Irritation is a powerful motivator. As the Saint Martin’s Art College graduate finally sat down to watch the impressive circus performance, his brain began to whirr once more. “I missed the whole show because I was dreaming about parking,” laughs Dan. “I imagined how good it would be if London’s kerbside parking areas were digitally mapped – so everyone could see and understand the rules, plan stress-free trips and park efficiently.”
He held on to that thought. Then he acted. Dan had spent several years working as a creative director at a top UK ad agency and he’d loved it. But it was clearly time for a change: “I’d started to stagnate and question my purpose,” he says. “Also, I was driving regularly around London, so I knew all about the stresses of city parking at first hand.”
This all meant that the conditions were perfect for an entrepreneurial lightning bolt to strike, and for Dan’s inner, and as yet undiscovered, founder skills to be suddenly electrified into existence.
“I became determined to fix kerbside parking and make it easy. I got home, went on local authority websites and researched parking zones. Lots of them were hand-drawn – like pirates’ maps! It was ridiculous, so I literally cycled around London and mapped the entire city’s parking zones metre by metre. Then I stitched everything together across 33 local authorities and ultimately mapped 1,500 zones. Next, I put all that data into an app and put it on the App Store. The Evening Standard picked up on it and that’s when I started to realise that I was onto something even bigger than I’d first imagined.”
Many entrepreneurs go to great lengths to get their ideas off the ground but Dan’s London bike tour is on another level. But it was only the beginning of his Herculean task.
“After quitting my job and spending time looking into UK parking, I thought: what have I done? Every stone I turned revealed something else that was broken. The big challenge was where to start. I was taking on this very old industry and at times it felt impossible and far too complex to handle. On the other hand, I was so incensed by our crazy parking systems and so excited by the vision of how good it could be that I carried on. But it wasn’t easy. To pay for an app developer, I put my flat on Air B&B for a year and slept on friends’ sofas.”
The vision that kept him fired up was that of a frictionless, digitised kerbside parking system –where drivers can easily see all on- and off-street parking availability in any town or city in real-time, where payments begin and end automatically, and where parking causes zero stress. His anger was equally motivating: “It’s like Stockholm Syndrome. We’ve all come to accept parking pain. But it’s not OK. It reduces air quality, it loses billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, and it’s inefficient beyond belief.”
Dan’s successful AppyParking app – strapline: Make Parking Forgettable – was the first significant step towards his vision. From that sprang Appyway – his start-up company. Today, Appyway comprises of 45 staff, has raised £11m, and in November 2018 was valued (post-money) at £50m.
“Appyway aims to make the kerbside fair and equitable. We’re hippies of the kerbside because we want to do good. And when you do good, you gain momentum because great people want to join the party. For example, we’ve recruited talent from Jaguar Land Rover’s autonomous division, from Bosch, from Zipcar, and our chairman is the ex-CEO of Cisco Europe.”
Dan lists some figures to show Appyway’s potential: “One communications company racks up £4m worth of parking tickets each year in London and funds a £1m department just to process those fines. 20% of all logistics jobs are aborted because they can’t get appropriate kerbside access. UK local authorities spend £1bn a year managing the kerbside. And the ‘Smart Transit’ market is valued at $321bn. This market is huge and we haven’t even started yet.”
Entrepreneur Peter Jones also sees Appyway’s potential. He offered £200,000 for a 15% equity stake when Dan appeared on Dragons’ Den but the founder turned him down, providing more evidence of just how big he is thinking.
The company has come a long way since its founder cycled all around London creating DIY maps eight years ago. Indeed, in 2019, Dan’s vision became a reality in Harrogate, Yorkshire. He explains: “Harrogate is our world-first smart city demonstrator. We worked with the local authorities there to install 2,156 on-street sensors that deliver real-time data. You can instantly see all on- and off-street availability, and when you drive into a parking bay, a Bluetooth sensor ‘talks’ to your phone and starts your payment session. When you drive away, the payment ends automatically. It’s frictionless.”
He continues: “Drivers love it. People stay longer and so spend more money in shops, and the council receives more income. Moreover, drivers get less stressed, carbon emissions reduce, and we create a powerful data system that allows local authorities to make better, greener decisions.”
Until Dan grabbed the sector with his bare hands and shook it up, urban parking in the UK was a sick market in need of a cure. It was unbalanced, stuck in the dark ages and not working for anyone except a few interested parties. But now, thanks to Appyway, the old edifice is crumbling and being replaced by a modern, digital system designed to benefit everyone – drivers, local authorities, pedestrians and shop owners. The lightning bolt that struck Dan outside the Albert Hall in 2012 has unlocked a multi-billion-pound market. Furthermore, it’s leading to improvements in the health of our town and city centres – plus the creation of a new phenomenon: parking happiness. And don’t we all want to live – and drive – in a world where those two words belong together!