office looks and feels like the quintessential, successful startup office—it has the open floor plan, red solo cups, young employees and a gong rung every time a sale is made. But Passport isn’t in Silicon Valley or the Triangle, it’s in Charlotte, and it is dominating its space.
Passport is a mobile payment platform for parkers, giving them an alternative option to paying a parking meter and the ability to buy public transit tickets via a mobile device. Founded in 2010, this startup just landed $8 million in Series B funding from Chicago-based MK Capital
, which brings the company’s total funding to $17 million.
The funds will help Passport grow internationally into Europe and Central America, add to its 55-person Charlotte team (seven new employees have been added this year), and continue to enhance the product, says Khristian Gutierrez, its chief business development officer.
It’s a big year for Passport—the company will also earn the revenue to become cash flow positive.
“(Passport has) built a customer base,” says Don Rainey
, whose Grotech Ventures
co-led Passport’s $6 million Series A in 2013. “They are rightfully confident in their prospects. Startups can start out being hopeful and they can progress to being grounded, and I think they’ve made that transition.”
Investment bankers turned parking gurus
When Rainey first discovered the company, there were less than a handful of people working there. He was impressed by its focused and hardworking leadership. CEO Bob Youakim, along with Gutierrez, previously worked in investment banking at Wells Fargo. Chief Technology Officer Brad Powers was the solution architect at procurement software provider Verian Technologies prior to joining the Passport team.
In its infancy, Passport hoped to be a parking management company with its own hardware, like the parking meters and pay machines you see in cities. But a pivot came after the realization that Passport needed to differentiate itself. Software seemed to be the better choice—its PassportParking mobile app lets parkers pay for a parking spot or bus ticket remotely, relieving them from searching for spare change, swiping a card or running out to their car to refill a meter. The platform also lets cities see parking and transit data in real-time so they can allocate resources accordingly.
Passport’s private label model allows its technology to be branded specifically for each city or transit agency client.
“Driving around, you have no idea Passport is there,” Gutierrez says. “It’s not about us, it’s about the clients. We put our brand in the backseat. By building solutions for them, they can better serve their customers.”
Racking up major cities as customers
While there were some major competitors in the beginning, Gutierrez says they fell behind because they were focused on basic mobile payment technology rather than an entire parking management platform. The Charlotte startup wasn’t even a blip on their radar.
Today, Passport has 250 clients. It’s in 20 of the top 50 cities in the United States, in places like Chicago, Boston, Sacramento, Boston, Detroit, Salt Lake City and Asheville. Just yesterday, the company announced a rollout
with Cincinnati's transit agency. Universities across the nation have adopted the technology too, including North Carolina State University.
Passport has expanded its offerings to help cities issue parking permits and citations too.
Fast user growth has happened because Passport has really focused on on-boarding, Gutierrez says. Typically within the first year of installation, 20 percent of parkers in a locale use the application and that rises by 10 to 15 percent each year. Gutierrez attributes the growth to the app’s ease of use.
“If you see a sign that says ‘Pay for parking with your phone, Pay for a bus ride with your phone,’ you don’t want to sit there and create a username and a password and put in your physical address, and your mother’s maiden name if you forget your password,” he says. Passport lets people register using their Facebook login, enter a parking spot and license plate number, pay and then store that license plate and payment for next time. Notifications are sent to help consumers avoid citations or to prompt them to extend time in the spot.
Early traction, big upside
For Boston, which started using the app in January 2015, meter revenue is expected to rise almost 11 percent to $15.5 million this budget year, according to The Boston Globe.
“We increased their entire municipal parking revenue by $1.5 million and all we delivered was our payment piece,” Gutierrez says. “We didn’t do anything with their ticketing piece at all.”
While Boston accounts for 219,000 of Passport downloads, Chicago has four and half times as many metered spaces using Passport’s technology. Do the math and that’s a lot of money.
Passport has two offices, its Charlotte headquarters and a location in Bangalore, India, which Gutierrez compares to Silicon Valley. There’s a live feed of the respective offices at all times and members from each visit the other regularly. Gutierrez says those connection points are key to having a cohesive company and serving customers 24/7.
One surprising fact about Passport is that it’s not being used in hometown Charlotte. The city has another provider, at least for now, Gutierrez says. Passport will wait patiently until an RFP comes back around and in the meantime, will continue to make parking easier in cities around the world.