When the Herald last caught up with Parkable in 2015, it was a three-man startup that had hit upon the idea of creating an app that let locals around Eden Park rent out their driveway during a test match.

Around 170 locals gave it a go.

Today, it's a 35-person company with around 5500 NZ carparks on its books and a $5 million-plus Series A funding round kicking off this Friday.

February saw it move into the Australian market through the acquisition of Park Genie, whose app lists around 1200 car parks in Brisbane.

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Now, it's pushing into China in a move that co-founder and CEO Toby Littin could double the size of Parkable's business within 12 months.

China is a land of huge population and potential, of course, but also a country where companies the size of startups to the giants like Fonterra come unstuck as they grapple with what is often a challenging business culture for outsiders, surrounded by an opaque bureaucracy where the right buttons have to pushed at the right time.

Parkable's plan centres on a joint venture formed with a Kiwi and two Australians who live in China and know the lay of the land. Between them, they have 50 years experience in the country, and employ around 350 people across various ventures (some of them in tech, but none close to Parkable).

Parkable co-founder Toby Littin talks business in New Zealand and future international plans.

The first is John Hore (the Kiwi), who moved to Australia to join a global consumer research agency Mintel where he has been the managing director for 13 years.

The second is Tony Fonicchiaro, who has spent 20 years working in China and currently the president of Coated Steel China. He also ran FTSE 500 companies IMI and Weir Group
covering both China and India.

And the third fluent Mandarin speaker is Todd Pearson, who moved to Shanghai in 1999 after graduating from the Queensland University of Technology. After a government trade agency role he set up a consulting, procurement and quality control agency supplying products to international chains including Bunnings, Kmart and Home Depot.

"China is the second biggest parking market in the world," Littin says.

"But it also has some of the world's most congested cities and car ownership is still booming which bodes very well for our offer. The Chinese Government is trying to address this with park sharing incentives because there are only 0.8 parking spaces per car compared to an average of 1.3 in developed economies and the last thing they want to do is build more parking buildings. We hope we can help them a little with that."

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The Chinese version of Parkable will also add a new twist.

"China is becoming the leading market for EV (electric vehicle) adoption and so part of our offer there will be about booking and paying for EV charging stations", Littin said.

Back in 2015, Parkable had two local rivals: ParkBubble and ParkSmartly. It saw both off, but Littin acknowledges there is an equivalent app to Parkable in almost every developed city.

So what's its point of difference? "Enterprise parking," Littin says.

Individual punters can still use parkable to list their carpark online, or to search for space.

But these days, most of Parkable's business is with companies who use its app to earn cash from surplus carparks, or to manage their own carparks - particularly those who have spaces that are shared, and also need to manage the likes of visitor spots and pool cars.

Clients include Datacom, IAG, Kiwi Property and KPMG.

Parkable for Business has various dashboard views for managing shared and visitor spots in a company carpark.
Parkable for Business has various dashboard views for managing shared and visitor spots in a company carpark.

The Herald visited Spark, where Parkable's system for businesses was in the process of being setup. Sensors are placed in the middle of each car park, which in turn allow an admin at Spark to keep up to date via dashboard software which shows which spaces are filled, and when (and here, Parkable strays into the territory occupied by Frog Parking, which sells sensor systems for commercial carparks).

Parkable charges $15 per space per month for its management system, with no setup costs.

Parkable can be used by a member of the public to browse available carparks (pictured) to to view private private spaces.
Parkable can be used by a member of the public to browse available carparks (pictured) to to view private private spaces.

If you want to use its app to rent out spare car park spaces, Parkable takes a cut of between 20 and 40 per cent, depending on the number of spaces involved.

The startup's foray into Australia was funded by a seed round that saw Crown agency NZVIF (which took a 0.5 per cent stake) and the aforementioned Spark (2 per cent).

Co-founders Littin, CTO Brody Nelson and marketing boss Warwick Beauchamp each own a 20 per cent stake.

Online publishing figure Duncan Greive also has a small holding.

A flashback to 2015 when cofounders Brody Nelson, Warwick Beauchamp and Toby Littin were pushing Parkable as an app for locals to rent their driveway during a test at Eden Park. Photo / Jason Oxenham
A flashback to 2015 when cofounders Brody Nelson, Warwick Beauchamp and Toby Littin were pushing Parkable as an app for locals to rent their driveway during a test at Eden Park. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Financials haven't been disclosed.

Littin says his company loves Auckland and will continue to try to grab more of its 100,000 or so leasable carparks.

But ultimately, he says it's a small market that serves as a test bed.

His company's fortunes will be decided on how it performs offshore - particularly how the burgeoning Chinese middle class reacts takes to its product as they hunt for a park.

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