Morgo Stories : Paul Collins of Parking Sense
In the early 2000s, Paul Collins developed world-leading parking sensor technology to detect parking space usage, he then founded Meter Eye to sell and expand his offering. It has been a long and winding road since then, but off the back of his original invention, Paul has grown two immensely successful global companies: the first to help issue parking tickets, the second to help drivers find parks.
Paul’s first move into the UK was with Meter Eye and was something of a disaster: the agents he used took payments from customers, but never installed the product. Paul trekked to the other side of the world to fix the problem, and while there decided to double down, starting the process of buying a parking business … for £9m. It would be a gamble, but one that was to ultimately pay huge dividends.
At around the same time, Meter Eye came to the attention of Chris Morris, serial tech investor and founder of Computershare. He wanted to buy the company outright, but Paul wasn’t selling. Paul recalls an early meeting that changed the course of his business, “I got a call saying, ‘Get your team to Perth ASAP!’ So we all got on a plane and headed over.” Once Chris Morris realised Meter Eye was on track to handle £700M in ticketing annually, he was adamant the company should list and he made a huge financial offer for a partnership deal. That’s when significant growth became possible.
So in 2011, Australian shell company, Empire Beer Group, acquired Meter Eye for little over A$20m in order to complete a back-door listing on the ASX. The accompanying capital raise supported offshore expansion under the banner of Car Parking Technologies (CPT), including the purchase of UKbased parking retailer, Town & City Parking.
After two years in the publicly listed environment, Paul remembers feeling it was time to move on: “I stepped away from the business as I had become the world’s most successful parking warden.” But he was in retirement for little under three weeks before starting to plan his next venture, “I wanted to take a new direction - not enforcement, but rather to facilitate parking … and the question was: how do I make money out of it?”
As it happened, other key members of his original team were also getting itchy feet, and so together they took learnings from Meter Eye and CPT to create a solution that met the needs of both parking retailers and drivers. The resulting company, Parking Sense, was established in 2014.
Technology is key to providing a list of benefits. For example, SpaceNet is Parking Sense’s customer dashboard that shows sensor data in real-time, maximising revenue through understanding driver behaviour and preferences. Charging structures can be managed in a very responsive way, for example refining dynamic space pricing through determining very quickly whether drivers are willing to pay more to park near an exit. ParkUp is an easy to use app that finds spaces, displays rates, and pays the charge automatically.
The company launched into the major markets of Australasia in 2014, the USA in 2015, and Europe in 2016. In late 2017, Parking Sense raised significant funding from New Zealand venture capital firm, Movac.
What’s next on the horizon for Parking Sense?
Paul recently stepped down as Global Chief Executive Officer after four years in the role. New incumbent Jake Bezzant already has significant experience with the company, having held the role of Global Chief Operating Officer and overseeing recent international expansion. Although still involved in the day to day management of the company as well as its strategic focus and governance at Board level, Paul now has more time to focus on family, pursue his passion for motorsport, and give more time to his other business interests. Speaking engagements also allow Paul to share his story and encourage others who may be having similar struggles, which he relishes.
Paul also notes that developing the company’s offering to work with driverless cars is an obvious future focus. Ensuring these cars can communicate with parking sensors is important, as is creating a smoother pathway for payments. Watch this space.
At Morgo Queenstown 2018, Paul shared some great advice on building a successful high-growth company with the Morgo audience:
• Have a clear understanding of the problems to be solved – this has been a key to my success in multiple businesses.
• Continuously look at new and better ways of doing things and identify new problems that need to be addressed – this might best be termed ‘Evolution of Solutions’.
• Know your exit – building a business is a long and lonely road, so you need to know how and what you’re going to get out of it at the end.