Metropolis CEO Alex Israel said there were times during the pandemic where the startup's future didn't seem certain. On Wednesday, he talked about the last year and the future of mobility during dot.LA and CoMotion's Motivate SOCAL conference, dedicated to highlighting early-stage mobility startups in the region.
Israel's Los Angeles-based startup aims to make parking easy in car-clogged cities across the country. Metropolis uses AI technology to read drivers' license plates as they enter a parking lot, then charges them via an app, giving them a "touchless parking experience."
The startup raised $41 million in Series A financing earlier this year. It has parking garages throughout the U.S., in cities that include Los Angeles and Nashville.
When the pandemic prompted businesses to close their doors and remote working took hold, parking structure demand plummeted.
"I think the net result of that on my business at the time, we're thinking April 2020... Armageddon," said Israel. "I mean absolute chaos, collapse, and panic." But the pandemic didn't dissuade investors. Metropolis raised a $41 million Series A round earlier this year.
COVID may have shut down offices, but it also made the touchless parking process like the one Metropolis offers more appealing to consumers. Owners of parking garages and real estate investors were also drawn to it for its efficiency and low-cost solutions, Israel said.
"Nostalgia for the Future"
Israel thinks Metropolis can create "nostalgia for the future."
"What you see when people use our product is this moment of surprise and delight, and it's this sentiment of, 'Wait, why wasn't it [always] this way? Why couldn't I seamlessly pay for parking? Why did I even have to fumble with tickets?" he said.
Israel argues that dominant industries block this by failing to adopt new technologies. He pointed out the relationship between the archaic taxi industry and the newer rideshare industry as an example.
"I think you see very similar trends within parking. You've had a very entrenched industry that has moved in a very standard way for a very long time, making money in a very standard way," he said. "There are players that are forward thinking and interested in innovation, but in general, the industry as a whole has not been interested in innovation because it's been antithetical to their core business model."
Uber and Lyft's successes have added to the discussion on mobility, he said. And he expects autonomous vehicles to do the same. He thinks prices on the cars will be low, making them a "mass equalizer." He said time will tell whether such vehicles will add to traffic or make transportation faster.
"I think it'll be exciting, but we'll have to wait a long time before we see that true shift, and we see less traffic, and a real, true impact on how we move around cities," he said.
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