Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

And for His Next Act, Barney Pell Wants to Fix Paid Parking

Around the time Powerset co-founder Barney Pell left Microsoft last year, he was late to a party in San Francisco and drove into a parking lot on Mission Street, where he was approached by a guy who asked him if he had an iPhone. Turned out this was QuickPay CEO Carl Muirbrook, who was on-site helping the lot operator use a parking-payment app he’d created.

Intrigued by the idea and Muirbrook’s dedication to it, Pell arranged to meet up with him. Less than a year later, Pell is CEO of QuickPay (Muirbrook is now president), and he is preaching the gospel of fixing the paid-parking industry.

Parking payments are worth $26 billion per year in the U.S., and that doesn’t include parking tickets, says Pell — whose vanity license plate still says “BING IT.” It does include sporting events, paid lots and on-street urban parking.

But it’s primarily a cash industry, with very little information about where the available spots are, and minimal efforts at things like loyalty, retention and engagement.

Sounds like a situation for a mobile app!

But hold on a second. Why is this a Barney Pell company? Powerset was a highfalutin’ natural-language search company, bought by Microsoft, that played a large role in the direction of Bing. Parking is a far more tangible and specific topic.

“Life is so much easier when you’re going after a single vertical,” Pell allowed, mentioning that some of his pre-Powerset start-ups, like the recruiting site FlipDog, were also much more specific. “It’s in some ways a return to simplicity. But the market opportunity is massive.”

QuickPay CEO Barney Pell

QuickPay is already live in 100 lots in cities in the Bay Area, Denver and Las Vegas. People who download the app on iPhone or Android can see participating lots on a map, and there are also options to pay by voice or SMS.

Meanwhile, lot operators can get QuickPay gate kits to track parkers and help them pay more easily. Participating lots can use dynamic pricing, and will soon be able to advertise special offers.

QuickPay takes a transaction fee that’s usually less than $1 from each parking payment. It’s in the process of securing deals with operators around the country, and vying for city deals along with competitors Parkmobile and PayByPhone.

The company now has a distributed team of 20 people, and has raised $3.75 million from Bill Ford Jr.’s Fontinalis Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Advanced Technology Ventures and angel investors.

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— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle