I love cities, but a settled family and the location of our offices relegate me to life in the suburbs at present. I drive up to San Francisco several days most weeks and though I love the energy, creativity, food, culture and walkability, I truly hate parking. My parking frustrations start with the high cost, expand to the inconvenience of finding a lot and a spot (usually at the point I am already running late due to traffic), and culminate in the unpredictable risk that all nearby lots might actually be full due to a Giant’s game, a convention in town, or just the fact that it’s 8:58am on a weekday and the San Francisco economy is booming.
As a technology venture investor and former product manager I am further frustrated that parking need not be the daily battle it is in most dense cities. There are in fact enough parking spots in most cities most of the time. Reports suggest that US cities average between four and eight parking spaces per vehicle and in some cities parking lots cover more than one-third of the metropolitan footprint. The issue is the information gap of knowing where to find an available spot at a specific time, at a price you are willing to pay, as close as possible to your destination. This sort of linear optimization along three dimensions (location, time and price) would be simple for software to solve if only we had the right real-time data. Unfortunately we don’t.
I am well aware of and have indeed tried many of the parking apps that list garages and their prices, and some that even attempt to indicate (or predict) availability, and yet others that enable you to pay with your smartphone. The problem is that even in their flagship cities no app yet has particularly good coverage of all parking options and the real-time availability data is woefully inaccurate. Even if the perfect app did exist, it is hardly ideal for me to be fumbling with my smartphone at the most chaotic and stressful last mile of my drive–and the app still may dump me many long blocks away from my actual destination. A “full stack” solution is necessary.
I first heard about Luxe while chitchatting with a friend who frequently drives from Palo Alto to various meetings around San Francisco. She emphatically heralded Luxe as an app that has made her life better. I tried the service the very next day and saw exactly what she meant. The experience starts by entering your destination on the home screen of the app. Then start driving. No need to indicate your arrival time as Luxe can track your inbound progress and predict your arrival time based on distance, speed and real-time traffic. As you near your destination the app pops a picture of your specific valet with their name and a brief blurb about their personal interests, setting the tone for a very warm and human experience. The app zooms in a map to show the exact location of your valet, who is actually quite easy to spot on the sidewalk in their bright blue track jacket. You jump out, they jump in, and you are walking to your destination feeling like we live in an age of magic. Luxe will even fill your tank or get your car washed for a small service fee. When you need your car back just confirm your pickup location and click the “return my car” button in the app and watch the icon of your valet retrieving your car and then driving your car towards you. I find Luxe especially awesome when I have a series of meetings in the city such that my last appointment is far away from my first appointment–Luxe brings my car to me so I don’t have to trek my way back across town to where my day started. And the best part is that the cost of parking via Luxe is almost always 25% to 50% less than what I would pay at the nearby commercial garages. Luxe can price attractively due to the volume discounts they get from garages and the fact that their valets can run or kickscooter further from the busiest parts of town than you or I care to when we are rushing to our appointment.
To be fair, this is a very hard business to build due to bursty demand and the unpredictability of traffic, road construction, weather and other variables. Maintaining rapid response times at peak rush hours is a challenge. Algorithms which predict demand, routing and dispatch optimization, personalized CRM, and high standards in hiring, training, and live customer service are key’s to Luxe’s current and future success. Attention to detail and a customer centric culture are essential. While this is not an easy business to manage, I believe it is one of those rare business where generating demand will be far easier than fulfillment. Do not let the name confuse you, Luxe is not a service meant solely for the pampered ultra-wealthy who only fly private and gets massages in their home twice a week. Luxe is an extremely cost effective solution to everything that sucks about parking in busy cities and the service will only get better over time as they grow and expand their coverage universe.
Venrock led the Series A for Luxe because we believe in the team, the concept, and the market opportunity. Finally we can enjoy our cities, parking included.