On a Friday evening in December 2019, when Smriti Dutta (name changed to protect her identity) walked out of a coffee shop, helmet in hand, she couldn’t find her bike. A bystander told her she just missed the traffic cops who impounded her vehicle and loaded it onto their mini-truck—one of the many that are always on patrol in the city—for illegal parking.
Luckily, the truck hadn’t gone far. She chased it down and paid a bribe of INR 750 (USD 10) to get her bike back. “If not for the bribe, I would have to go to their office. Even though it would have been cheaper, the whole process involves a lot of paperwork,” she told KrASIA on the condition of anonymity.
This is a common situation for riders in India, where there is a dearth of parking spots in the major cities. People leave their vehicles on the side of the road, hoping they would not have to run after traffic cops’ mini-trucks like Dutta. For people driving cars or vans, the search for space can take much longer.
“Drivers spend anywhere between ten to 15 minutes every trip to locate parking spots, which creates stress and wastes time as well as fuel,” said Amit Lakhotia, founder of Park+.
After spending 12 years working in various managerial positions at three top companies—Alibaba-backed Paytm, online travel company MakeMyTrip, and Indonesian e-commerce startup Tokopedia—Lakhotia launched his own enterprise, Park+.
“I left Tokopedia and came to India in 2018, and was looking to start something of my own. Having worked with three fairly successful companies, I realized it was time to take the risk of being an entrepreneur,” he says.
Lakhotia spent a year identifying pain points of the country and zeroed in on solving parking woes, which he said is a situation that is only getting worse with more vehicles on the road. A recent report by TomTom, the Netherlands-based global provider of navigation, traffic, and map products, lists four cities in India among the top ten worldwide with the worst traffic. In fact, the report said Bengaluru has the worst traffic in the world.
Lakhotia launched Park+, an app-based mobility solutions company, in July 2019. The platform provides real-time information about available parking spaces to users, pinpointing the closest spot that is open for users.
“Our solution is such that we don’t need to talk to people to convince them to use our service, because it’s a universal problem,” Lakhotia said.
Although the company is yet to roll out the service, it has already received USD 11 million equity funding from Sequoia Capital India and Matrix Partners. The investment raised earlier this month includes participation from a handful of high-profile angel investors, such as Snapdeal co-founders Rohit Bansal and Kunal Bahl, MakeMyTrip co-founders Deep Kalra and Rajesh Magow, BookMyShow founder Ashish Hemrajani, and Cred founder Kunal Shah.
Park+ will launch its app in March. Currently, the company has 50 employees and is looking to hire around 200 more people to work on technology, marketing, and other operations.
It’s free to locate parking spots on Park+. The company is also is working on a paid service that will allow users to book their parking spot ahead of arrival. “If you are going for a movie or a meeting, you can find a nearby parking place and book a spot in advance. People are already comfortable paying for parking. With technology, we are just making this service better. The advance booking feature is a solution for which consumers would be comfortable to pay,” Lakhotia said.
The company is forging partnerships with commercial parking lots and other establishments, such as shopping complexes and cinema halls that have their own parking facilities. So far, Park+ has fostered more than 100 partners in New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. For now, advance bookings will only be available for four-wheeled vehicles.
Lakhotia pegs the number of four-wheelers in India at 50 million, of which he said, “70% are concentrated in the top 15 cities, causing a huge parking problem, as parking infrastructure in these cities is not structured enough to deal with such a high density of cars.”
Bringing commercial parking establishments and shopping complexes on board has been a major challenge for Park+. “It’s not easy to convince shopping malls and other such places to work with us, as they are not very tech-savvy, and they have had some bad experiences in the past working with other players,” Lakhotia said.
To convince these shopping complexes to list their parking inventory with Park+, the company is luring them with a promise of an increase in their shopper numbers. “These shopping complexes make money on higher footfalls. So, we are offering to drive higher footfalls to these shopping malls with our parking solutions. We are confident to increase their footfall by 15–20% to start with,” he said.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.
(Correction: An earlier version of the story had an incorrect spelling of the founder’s last name as Lokhatia. His correct name is Lakhotia. We regret the mistake.)