LA Has Enough Parking Spots for All of Manhattan. This Startup Wants to Make Them Easier to Find.
Though Los Angeles drivers might spend hours per week searching for parking, the truth is that the city actually has an abundance of parking spaces. In fact, according to one study, L.A. has enough parking spaces to cover all of Manhattan.
Alex Israel, CEO of Venice-based Metropolis Technologies, decided it was time to make use of more of that space for purposes other than storage of inactive vehicles. It’s perhaps a surprising point of view, considering Metropolis is the developer of an automated payment platform for parking facilities.
However, Israel said the technology offered by Metropolis will make parking more efficient, eliminating the need for excess spaces that go unused for most of the day.
“[Parking] is never the highest and best use for land,” said Israel. “Lots of that land can be repatriated by the community, for parks and for community centers.”
Israel said space that remains in use for parking could in the future become much more actively utilized, as more electric and autonomous vehicles and micromobility devices hit the market.
“Think about the cleaning, servicing, charging and deployment [of vehicles],” he said. “Someone will need to convert the infrastructure to empower all future modes of mobility.”
Rethinking Parking's Use of Space
How does Metropolis fit in with all this? The company’s technology allows drivers to access parking facilities without obtaining a ticket or paying at a booth or kiosk. Vehicles registered in the company’s database can simply go in and out; the owner’s credit card is charged automatically.
For most users, the system’s appeal will mainly be its convenience. But Israel said the real-time information gathering necessary to make the payment platform usable will be a tremendous asset to parking lot owners and operators, who can get a better sense of how to maximize the value of a given parking facility.
“We look at a [parking] facility and we say, ‘it’s only occupied 35% of the time; how do we fill it?’” said Israel. “Maybe we can deploy vehicle charging [stations] or micrologistics or the staging of vehicles for a delivery service.”
Israel said that parking lots and garages are ideal locations for such uses. A major obstacle to that vision is property owners, who currently have no way of knowing the capacity of specific lots in real time. With a database of parking structures constantly being updated with information about available space, Israel said Metropolis is in a position to facilitate more efficient uses of these facilities by sharing occupancy information with a wide range of potential users.
To that end, the company last month announced a partnership with Uber Technologies which will allow users of the Uber app to enter their license plate information in order to park at garages that employ Metropolis' platform.
Israel said Metropolis is pursuing similar arrangements with a wide range of partners—from scooter companies to delivery services—in order to ensure facilities are being used to maximum potential.
Pointing to studies showing that drivers cruising for parking constitute as many as one-third of all drivers on the road in urban areas, Israel said that making parking facilities more efficient and visible to car owners could also alleviate traffic congestion by making it easier and more convenient to pull into a lot or garage rather than circling around looking for street parking.
Democratizing Parking Data
Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, said the most straightforward way to cut down on congestion is by ensuring fewer cars are on the road in the first place. Still, he notes that new technology like that offered by Metropolis has a role to play in eliminating some of the most obvious and wasteful impracticalities associated with parking.
“These apps are addressing the issue where you only know about parking you can see,” said Matute.
In dense areas like downtown Los Angeles, a parking spot can feel impossible to locate. In fact, Matute said, parking in the area is abundant, but much of it is concealed in garages where pricing varies considerably.
“From the street you can’t see onto level five of a parking structure,” said Matute. “This contributes to a perception of scarcity. Even if 70% of spaces in a district were available, if all the on-street parking and the first floors of lots were full, it could make someone think ‘oh, there can’t be any parking'.”
If real-time occupancy data and pricing information from parking facilities was widely available, it could make drivers more likely to fill spots that are now underutilized due simply to the fact that drivers don’t know about them.
Matute said making parking facilities more convenient for drivers to access could also make it possible to convert more on-street parking to other uses, like outdoor dining, curbside pickup and delivery and bike and scooter storage.
“Those are great uses for on-street spaces,” said Matute. “The urban planner’s dream is to have all that in the curb zone, and put any car that’s staying more than 15 minutes off-street.”
In order for this to work in practice, however, parking and transportation apps must be able to offer a wealth of information to drivers, Matute said. For Metropolis, that means ensuring its platform is used in as many parking facilities as possible.
Israel said the company’s technology is already being used in close to 300 locations, and agreements are in place for it to be adopted at 600 facilities nationwide.
That’s far from ubiquitous, but the company only publicly launched in February, after spending a little over three years in stealth mode. With more than $60 million raised to date, Israel said the focus for the company is now on scaling up and expanding to new locations.
There may be some growing pains along the way. In November, Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus criticized the company’s user data collection policies outlined in its app and speculated that the startup’s eventual aim could be to sell valuable user location and browsing data to advertisers.
Israel said Metropolis collects user data necessary for the functionality of its service and that drivers do not have to download the app in order to park at facilities using its payment platform. The company does not sell user data to advertisers and has no plans to do so, he added.
Instead, said Israel, Metropolis generates revenue through contracts with parking lot owners and through collection of service fees charged at some facilities.
Israel said this will continue to be the company’s business model for the foreseeable future, as it looks to continue bringing new facilities into its system in the year ahead.
“This has been a massive year for growth,” said Israel. “It’s really such an exciting time to be part of the mobility landscape.”
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Though Silicon Valley is still very much the capital of venture capital, Los Angeles is home to plenty of VCs who have made their mark – investing in successful startups early and reaping colossal returns for their limited partners.
Who stands out? We thought there may be no better judge than their peers, so we asked 28 of L.A.'s top VCs who impresses them the most.
The list includes many familiar names. Dana Settle, founding partner of Greycroft, and Mark Mullen, founding partner of Bonfire Ventures, garnered the most votes.
Settle manages West Coast operations for Greycroft, a New York firm with $1.8 billion in assets under management. She is one of only nine of the top 100 VCs nationally who are women, according to CB Insights.
Mullen is a founding partner of Bonfire Ventures, which closed a $100 million second fund in September to continue funding seed stage business-to-business (B2B) software startups. Mullen has also been an angel investor and is an LP in other funds focusing on other sectors, including MaC VC and BAM Ventures.
Below is the list of the top ranked investors by how many votes each received from their peers. When there was a tie, they appear in alphabetical order according to their last name:
Mark Mullen, Bonfire Ventures
Mark Mullen is a founding partner of Bonfire Ventures. He is also founder and the largest investor in Mull Capital and Double M Partners, LP I and II. A common theme in these funds is a focus on business-to-business media and communications infrastructures.
In the past, Mullen has served as the chief operating officer at the city of Los Angeles' Economic Office and a senior advisor to former Mayor Villaraigosa, overseeing several of the city's assets including Los Angeles International Airport and the Los Angeles Convention Center. Prior to that, he was a partner at Daniels & Associates, a senior banker when the firm sold to RBC Capital Markets in 2007.
Dana Settle, Greycroft
Dana Settle is a founding partner of Greycroft, heading the West Coast office in Los Angeles. She currently manages the firm's stakes in Anine Bing, AppAnnie, Bird, Clique, Comparably, Goop, Happiest Baby, Seed, Thrive Market, Versed and WideOrbit, and is known for backing female-founded companies.
"The real change takes place when female founders build bigger, independent companies, like Stitchfix, TheRealReal," she said this time last year in an interview with Business Insider. "They're creating more wealth across their cap tables and the cap tables tend to be more diverse, so that gives more people opportunity to become an angel investor." Prior to founding Greycroft, she was a venture capitalist and startup advisor in the Bay Area.
Erik Rannala, Mucker Capital
Erik Rannala is a founding partner at Mucker Capital, which he created with William Hsu in 2011. Before founding Mucker, Rannala was vice president of global product strategy and development at TripAdvisor and a group manager at eBay, overseeing its premium features business.
"As an investor, I root for startups. It pains me to see great teams and ideas collapse under the pressure that sometimes follows fundraising. If you've raised money and you're not sure what comes next, that's fine – I don't always know either," Rannala wrote in a blog post for Mucker.
Mucker has a portfolio of 61 companies, including Los Angeles-based Honey and Santa Monica-based HMBradley.
William Hsu, Mucker Capital
William Hsu is a founding partner at the Santa Monica-based fund Mucker Capital. He started his career as a founder, creating BuildPoint, a provider of workflow management solutions for the commercial construction industry not long after graduating from Stanford.
In an interview with Fast Company, he shared what he learned in the years following, as he led product teams at eBay, Green Dot and Spot Runner, eventually becoming the SVP and Chief Product Officer of At&T Interactive: "Building a company is about hiring correctly, adhering to a timeline, and rigorously valuing opportunity. It's turning something from inspiration and creative movement into process and rigor."
These are the values he looks for in founders in addition to creativity. "I like to see the possibility of each and every idea, and being imaginative makes me a passionate investor."
Jim Andelman, Bonfire Ventures
Jim Andelman is a founding partner of Bonfire Ventures, a fund that focuses on seed rounds for business software founders. Andelman has been in venture capital for 20 years, previously founding Rincon Venture Partners and leading software investing at Broadview Capital Partners.
He's no stranger to enterprise software — he also was a member of the Technology Investment Banking Group at Alex. Brown & Sons and worked at Symmetrix, a consulting firm focusing on technology application for businesses.
In a podcast with LA Venture's Minnie Ingersoll earlier this year, he spoke on the hesitations people have about choosing to start a company."It's two very different things: Should I coach someone to be a VC or should I coach someone to enter the startup ecosystem? On the latter question, my answer is 'hell yeah!'"
Josh Diamond, Walkabout Ventures
Josh Diamond founded Walkabout Ventures, a seed fund that primarily focuses on financial service startups. The firm raised a $10 million fund in 2019 and is preparing for its second fund. Among its 19 portfolio companies is HMBradley, which Diamond helped seed and recently raised $18 in a Series A round.
"The whole reason I started this is that I saw there was a gap in the funding for early stage, financial service startups," he said. As consumers demand more digital access and transparency, he said the market for financial services is transforming — and Los Angeles is quickly becoming a hub for fintech companies. Before founding Walkabout, he was a principal for Clocktower Technology Ventures, another Los Angeles-based fund with a similar focus.
Kara Nortman, Upfront Ventures
Kara Nortman was recently promoted to managing partner at Upfront Ventures, making her one of the few women – along with Settle – to ascend to the highest ranks of a major VC firm.
Though Upfront had attempted to recruit her before she joined in 2014, she had declined in order to start her own company, Moonfrye, a children's ecommerce company that rebranded to P.S. XO and merged with Seedling. Upfront invested in the combination, and shortly after, Nortman joined the Upfront team.
Before founding Moonfrye, she was the SVP and General Manager of Urbanspoon and Citysearch at IAC after co-heading IAC's M&A group.
In an interview with dot.LA earlier this year, she spoke on how a focus for her as a VC is to continue to open doors for founders and funders of diverse backgrounds.
"Once you're a woman or a person of color in a VC firm, it is making sure other talented people like you get hired, but also hiring people who are not totally like you. You have to make room for different kinds of people. And how do you empower those people?"
Brett Brewer, Crosscut Ventures
Brett Brewer is a co-founder and managing director of Crosscut Ventures. He has a long history in entrepreneurship, starting a "pencil selling business in 4th grade." In 1998, he co-founded Intermix Media. Under their umbrella were online businesses like Myspace.com and Skilljam.com. After selling Intermix in 2005, he became president of Adknowledge.com.
Brewer founded Santa Monica-based Crosscut in 2008 alongside Rick Smith and Brian Garrett. His advice to founders on Crosscut's website reflects his experience: "Founders have to be prepared to pivot, restart, expect the unexpected, and make tough choices quickly... all in the same week! It's not for the faint of heart, but after doing this for 20 years, you can spot the fire (and desire) from a mile away (or not)."
Eva Ho, Fika Ventures
Eva Ho is a founding partner of Fika Ventures, a boutique seed fund, which focuses on data and artificial intelligence-enabled technologies. Prior to founding Fika, she was a founding partner at San Francisco-based Susa Ventures, another seed-stage fund with a similar focus. She is also a serial entrepreneur, most recently co-founding an L.A. location data provider, Factual. She also co-founded Navigating Cancer, a health startup, and is a founding member of All Raise, a nonprofit that supports and provides resources to female founders and funders.
In an interview with John Livesay shortly before founding Fika, Ho spoke to how her experience at Factual helped focus what she looks for in founders. "I always look for the why. A lot of people have the skills and the confidence and the experience, but they can't convince me that they're truly passionate about this. That's the hard part — you can't fake passion."
Brian Lee, BAM Ventures
Brian Lee is a co-founder and managing director of BAM Ventures, an early-stage consumer-focused fund. In an interview with dot.LA earlier this year, Lee shared that he ended up being the first investor in Honey, which was bought by PayPal for $4 billion, through investing in founders and understanding their "vibe."
"There's certain criteria that we look for in founders, a proprietary kind of checklist that we go through to determine whether or not these are the founders that we want to back…. [Honey's founders] knew exactly what they were building, and how they were going to get there."
His eye for the right vibe in a founder is one gleaned from experience. Lee is a serial entrepreneur, founding LegalZoom.com, ShoeDazzle.com and The Honest Company.
Alex Rubalcava, Stage Venture Partners
Alex Rubalcava is a founding partner of Stage Venture Partners, a seed venture capital firm that invests in emerging software technology for B2B markets. Prior to joining, he was an analyst at Santa Monica-based Anthem Venture Partners, an investor in early stage technology companies. It was his first job after graduating from Harvard, and during his time at Anthem the fund was part of Series A in companies like MySpace, TrueCar and Android.
He has served as a board member in several Los Angeles nonprofits and organizations like KIPP LA Schools and South Central Scholars.
"Warren Buffett says that he's a better businessman because he's an investor, and he's a better investor because he's a businessman. I feel the same way about VC and value investing. Being good at value investing can make you good at venture capital, and vice versa," Rubalcava said in an interview with Shai Dardashti of MOI Global.
Mark Suster, Upfront Ventures
Mark Suster, managing partner at Upfront Ventures, is arguably L.A.'s most visible VC, frequently posting on Twitter and on his blog, not only about investing but also more personal topics like weight loss. In more normal years, he presides over LA's biggest gathering of tech titans, the Upfront Summit. Before Upfront, he was the founder and chief executive officer of two software companies, BuildOnline and Koral, which was acquired by Salesforce. Upfront backed both of his companies, and eventually he joined their team in 2007.
In a piece for his blog, "Both Sides of the Table," Suster wrote about the importance of passion — not just for entrepreneurs and their businesses, but for the VCs that fund them as well.
"On reflection of the role that I want to play as a VC it is clearly in the camp of passion. I really want to start my journeys only with people with whom I want to work closely with for the next 5–7 years or more. I only want to work on projects in which I believe can produce truly amazing change in an industry or in the world."
Lead art by Candice Navi.
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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.
Pejman Nozad, a founding managing partner at Pear VC, joins this episode of LA Venture to discuss Pear VC's current initiatives, including its accelerator and fellowships. He's seen as one of the most successful angel investors in the area, and for good reason: he has made more than 300 investments in his lifetime.
"I'm a child of revolution and war and difficult times," said Nozad of his upbringing in Iran during the revolution.
Nozad went to college before dropping out. That's when his brother told him about his dream to go to America. After his brother was denied a visa multiple times, Nozad went himself to the embassy and got lucky; the woman in charge of the process liked him enough to approve him.
"When you're in [your] early twenties, you don't analyze much of the future. And then your risk-takers. I came to America in 1992 with $700 and I didn't speak any word of English," said Nozad.
Nozad went from working at a carwash, then a yogurt shop, to a (now famous) Persian rug store in Palo Alto. Many of his clients happened to be CEOs and venture capitalists; Nozad wanted to be part of that community.
"I was very lucky because I had access to people who normally nobody can see them, but I was hanging out with them at Sunday barbecues while selling carpets," said Nozad.
In his early days as an investor, Nozad bet on companies that included Dropbox and DoorDash. He said he took inspiration as a venture capitalist in lessons he learned from his time playing professional soccer in Iran.
"In soccer, you can score minute one, or you can score at minute 90. Both of them [are] one goal and you can win the game. So, when you go to fundraise, don't get disappointed if you hear a lot of nos, because the yes could be the last meeting after the whole two months," he said.
dot.LA Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
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