Park 'in' Spot, Free-parking app | BCBusiness

Park 'in' Spot, Free-parking app | BCBusiness
Quang Nguyen and Allan Young were surprised to find that no app existed to find free parking in the city.

Sometimes – like in the case of the free-parking app – just solving a problem is more important than making money.

Of course you’ve heard the one about the whiz kid who whipped up a mobile app in his basement suite. But how about the two tradesmen who came up with one in a car?

That’s where 23-year-old ex-mechanic Quang Nguyen and 31-year-old drywaller Allan Young found themselves in late 2010, when inspiration struck. With Christmas creeping up, their search for a free – as in unpaid – parking spot in downtown Vancouver was proving fruitless. Smart phones in hand, they turned to each other with the same thought: There must be an app for that.

Turns out, not so much. The city’s perpetually vexing parking problem has spurred online innovation in the past, but none had managed to gain much traction locally. An open-data-based parking guide dubbed VanPark2010 appeared during the Olympics, but hasn’t budged much since February 2010. Others, including U.K.-based Parkatmyhouse and its affiliated app Parkopedia, and Toronto’s amount to little more than maps of commercial parking lots or classified listings of monthly spots for rent or lease. 

In April 2011 Nguyen and Young, now partners in a business they dubbed A Step Above Apps, debuted Park ‘in’ Spot on iTunes. The first Vancouver-based mobile parking app, Park ‘in’ Spot shifted the game by giving the inside scoop on unpaid on-street parking. Using GPS, the app displays the nearest unpaid parking options through user-friendly, colour-coded maps. With the touch of a button, spendthrifts can locate free parking, complete with information on time restrictions. For those really in a pinch, commercial lots and metered spaces and rates are listed too.

The app drew about 3,000 downloads in its first week and has since succeeded where so many have failed: it continues to gain traction with sustained growth. Nguyen and Young say the app averages 100 downloads a day; they’ve expanded to include information for Toronto and Seattle, and are working on a version for the BlackBerry. In September, Park ‘in’ Spot won unsolicited plugs from and 24 Hours.

Not bad for a couple of guys with no marketing budget and zero tech background. But in 2011 that’s not a problem. “We hired a developer and worked closely with them,” says Young. The majority of their combined $7,000 investment went to EcmaSoft, a company based in St. Petersburg, Russia, charging about $40 an hour to make iPhone dreams a reality.

For two young men considering career changes, getting on the app train offered a low-risk entry point into the world of business. “We already agreed it would be OK if we didn’t make the money back,” says Nguyen, who started business classes this fall at BCIT. “But it would be nice if we did,” chimes Young, still a full-time labourer.

While A Step Above Apps is, for now, a side project, Nguyen and Young say they’re not opposed to creating more – but don’t look to them for the next Angry Birds. “We want to launch more apps, but only ones that solve a problem,” says Nguyen, adding they’d love to win the race to figure out how to match drivers with available parking spots in real time. 

So far, their inaugural app hasn’t yielded much in the way of cash return. Only one per cent of Park ‘in’ Spot’s downloads are for the paid version, which sells for a whopping 99 cents. 

Serious competition may be on the horizon, with planning an aggressive North American expansion later this year backed by a sizeable investment from BMW. But even if competition does come nipping at Park ‘in’ Spot’s heels, Nguyen and Young are prepared to take it in stride, insisting their eureka moment came out of nothing more than a drive to help people save money. “Hopefully a lot of people,” says Young.