When Anthony Eskinazi founded Parkatmyhouse from his parent’s house in 2006, he had no idea what he was getting into.
One of the first businesses to tap into what later became the sharing economy, 12 years on and JustPark is now a multi-million pound company that connects motorists with homeowners who want to rent out their empty parking spaces.
We talk to Anthony about his journey from attic to a record-breaking crowdfunded company.
How did JustPark start?
I was at university on the West Coast when I first had the idea for JustPark. I was looking for a parking space near the San Francisco Giants’ baseball stadium when I drove past an empty driveway. I realised there was a ‘win-win’ opportunity for drivers and homeowners – if they could only find a way to connect.
I had a place on the Deloitte graduate scheme after university but six weeks and a radical change of heart later, I left to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams. I was already into programming, as my father is an enterprise software engineer.
I moved back into my parent’s house, taught myself to code and built ParkatmyHouse, the precursor to JustPark.
What challenges did you face when you were starting out?
I started the company at 23-years-old with very little previous business experience, so naturally it was a steep learning curve.
I ran all aspects of the business myself for five years – from website development to customer services – which proved a significant challenge.
How has the business changed since you started?
We started by providing a peer-to-peer parking service to a small number of drivers, primarily on desktop – and, on the flip side, a way to make extra income for households, churches, schools and other organisations.
ParkatmyHouse, as it was originally known, was a pioneering service for its time – using the power of the internet and mobile technology to match supply and demand, helping to shape the emerging sharing economy.
A crucial development for the business was pivoting into the B2B market in 2014 by offering an alternative revenue stream for hotels and other commercial properties, as well as a way for existing car parks to drive higher yields from their sites. This has enabled us to increase our supply of spaces even further, and provide wider coverage for our drivers.
Our apps for Android and iPhone have helped us to provide a slicker and more convenient parking experience to our customers in this increasingly mobile-first age.
What have been the highs and lows?
In the early stages, I was utterly broke and had to take on extra paid work to keep the business afloat. At one point I was £30,000 in debt, and working such long hours on my own with so little sleep that I completely burnt out a number of times.
I achieved a huge breakthrough in 2011 when BMW invested £250,000, allowing me to hire the first few employees.
Other highlights include visiting Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, having Richard Branson in a neck-hold after winning Virgin’s #VOOM competition, raising over £3.5m in our 2015 crowd funding round and shaking hands and talking about the internet with the Queen.
You went through a record breaking round of crowd funding in 2015 – why did you decide to crowd fund and what did it do to help the business?
We wanted to involve our large and engaged community of users and offer them a chance to share in the success of the business. We sent out a test email to a subset of them to gauge the level of interest in investing, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
We closed the round with over 2,700 investors having pledged their hard-earned money to our vision, ranging from as little as £10 to as much as £500,000.
Do you think there’s enough encouragement of entrepreneurship in the UK?
The technology industry is unparalleled in terms of the opportunities on offer for young entrepreneurs with bright new ideas, especially with the number of startup accelerators and funding programmes nowadays.
There are also networking events on most evenings, especially in London, where you can meet like-minded business people, discuss ideas and get great advice from more experienced entrepreneurs.
Having said that, there could be more visibility on how to access these opportunities. There are ample structures and organisations in place to encourage entrepreneurialism, it is just a case of heightening awareness of these in young would-be entrepreneurs.
What are the challenges you still face?
The main challenge is prioritisation. When should we redesign the products? When should we build this technology or hire a person with this skill-set?
We know what we need to do but doing it in the right order to maximise the opportunity and not distract the team is not an easy task.
What do you think the future holds for JustPark? Would you ever consider selling the business and starting something else?
One day the time will come to either sell the business, take a step back or try and float it. Like most entrepreneurs, I have a ton of ideas I’d like to try in the future, many of them in the education space. Despite running JustPark for over 10 years, the last four have been the most exciting and I can’t imagine doing anything else in the near future.