Barney Pell on parking, payments and QuickPay’s future

Barney Pell has a new startup. The serial entrepreneur, who sold his last startup, Powerset, to Microsoft in 2008 for $100 million, has founded a new company called QuickPay, which aims to revolutionize the way people find and pay for parking. QuickPay has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Fontinalis Partners, a Michigan-based investment firm that counts William Clay Ford, Jr. as one of its founding partners.

Last year, Pell founded a company called Moon Express that is focused on building lunar landing craft. So his new venture, QuickPay, is a little more down to earth. [Ed. Note: Sorry, couldn’t resist.] But what is it about parking or payments that got his attention? I passed along a few questions by email to see.

GigaOM: Why parking or payments? What is it about that particular market that attracted you to innovate on current services?

Barney Pell: I’m always thinking about how the basic things of life can be done better. Every time I look for parking, pay for parking, or worry about a parking ticket, I think that there must be a better way. Last year, I met another entrepreneur who had an initial product in this space and the opportunity totally captured my imagination.

GigaOM: What’s the market opportunity or focus of Quickpay? Are you looking to improve efficiency of the current system, reduce friction in payments or enable more users by taking away cash and making the technology mobile?

Barney Pell: All of the above, and much more. The market opportunity for QuickPay is massive. Parking in the US is a $26B industry (from end-user parking fees alone), but the parking operators know hardly anything about the people who park in their facilities, and parkers have little in the way of technology to help them carry out one of life’s daily activities. With QuickPay, we are bringing the parking industry to the age of the cloud and mobile devices. This brings benefits for parkers, parking operators, and facility owners, of efficiency, convenience, loyalty, rewards, dynamic pricing, and real-time data. QuickPay makes money in general on a per-transaction basis, with a market opportunity for just the payments piece >$3B per year.

GigaOM: What’s the buy-in from on-street (municipalities) or off-street (garages)? What exactly do you need to do to enable this technology to work with existing systems?

Barney Pell: QuickPay [is] getting a great response from municipalities and private parking operators. We are live in 80 locations in the Bay Area and have an active pipeline of national and regional players and municipal RFPs.

To onboard a new facility, we let the parking operators enter the lot information, such as location, open hours, and rate table, into our cloud-based system.

Then to work with their existing systems, we have a proprietary and inexpensive gate-arm kit that we install at each parking entrance and exit gate, which lets our cloud-based system raise the gate whenever a user scans the gate’s QR code with their mobile device. For ungated facilities and metered on-street parking, our system pushes the license plate of our parked users to the enforcement systems of the parking operators, so that our users don’t get tickets when they have paid to park with our system.

GigaOM: It seems like QuickPay is a bit of a departure from NASA or natural-language processing. What parallels can you draw between the technology you’re building now and some of the projects from your past?

Barney Pell: Actually, QuickPay is very closely related to my most recent work on Bing and, in particular, Bing Mobile and Local Search. Parking is largely a local and mobile search and commerce problem. You need to organize large amounts of structured data about users, prices, and locations, organize it, and deliver the data and transactions in vertically optimized user experiences. While at Powerset and Bing I identified major trends in search as Mobile, Local, Social, Personal, Contextual and Semantic, all supported by Cloud. It turns out that all these trends are directly relevant in the future of parking (in fact I’ve published some papers in parking magazines elaborating on all this).

GigaOM: Is parking just the first vertical that you hope to tackle with QuickPay? What other industries could this technology have the potential to disrupt?

Barney Pell: Parking is, in itself, a major vertical upon which we can build a great company. Parking extends naturally to transportation, such as fares for bus, trains, and tolls. But at the heart of it, our system is a cloud-based mobile wallet and payment system, so the possibilities are endless.