Student startup AirGarage receives $12.5M from venture capitalists

Trio — now ASU alumni — formed online marketplace for people to list, find and book parking spaces

Two young men and a young woman pose in front of a parking garage
Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2021 year in review.

AirGarage, the company born out of parking frustration by three Arizona State University students, just received a $12.5 million infusion of cash from Silicon Valley investors.

Their plans for the money?

Keep building the best possible parking operator in the world.

“How do we keep making ourselves an obvious option for any real estate owners that own parking lots or parking garages to work with us versus sort of the old-school default — competitors of ours?” said co-founder and CEO Jonathon Barkl. “A lot of that entails growing our team and continuing to develop our product and our service to improve it and make sure that it's the best possible option out there for everyone.”

Initial steps will be to grow the sales and engineering teams, and growing them beyond those functions as well.

In 2017 Barkl, Scott Fitsimones and Chelsea Border — all students at ASU, and now alumniBarkl graduated in 2018 with bachelor's degrees in physics and economics; Fitsimones in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in computer science; and Border in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in business data analytics. — became aware of student frustration with parking. Most major universities charge $500 or more a year for parking.

They founded AirGarage, an online marketplace for people to list, find and book parking spaces. For example, a homeowner with enough room in a driveway for an extra car could list that spot, and a driver needing to park in that area could rent it.

Since then, they have expanded to 30 states across the U.S. and Canada and added functions to become a full-service parking operator. They handle operations, advertising, marketing, enforcement, hardware and payment processing.

“For me, it comes down to a lot of being able to create value for folks that need it,” Barkl said. “There's a lot of waste, and there's a lot of backward way of doing things in this industry. Real estate in general and parking specifically, it's this very old-school, offline, mismanaged business. And a lot of that leads to waste in the industry ... for the owners. And it also leads to a terrible experience for consumers. I don't know of anybody that's ever really had a pleasant experience when trying to find a parking spot, whether that be in a downtown urban area or elsewhere. You have to deal with machines and attendants, and the machines are broken and the attendants are grouchy, or they’re collecting cash and you don't have cash on you. It's really just overall a bad experience.”

At ASU, Barkl was a member of the Flinn Foundation scholar program, which covers tuition, fees, housing and meals at one of Arizona’s public universities, plus study abroad. Each year, about 20 top Arizona high school seniors are chosen.

“That was actually how I met Scott, one of the co-founders of Airgarage,” he said. “And so we met through that program, and then that program enabled me to do what I'm doing now because they're funding you through your college experience.”

Freedom from stressing about how to pay tuition and bills and holding down a job while going to school enabled Barkl to think about bigger things he wanted to do with his life, as well as having a great support system from the network of Flinn scholars.

Being a member of Barrett, The Honors College also opened up resources, including exchanging ideas with fellow Barrett students.

The team also participated in Venture Devils, which supports entreprenuers from ASU or from the community, with ASU ties. The program’s goal is to supercharge success by connecting entrepeneurs with mentors who provide ongoing support.

“It gave us a lot of exposure to what does developing customer relationships look like?” Barkl said. “What does someone who has started a business think about day-to-day, and what can we learn from them? So I think that that was all really valuable.”

Though Barkl's science classes as a physics major were time-consuming, he says physics taught him how to think and ask the right questions. He considers all of his time at ASU valuable.

To anyone considering a new business, forget the playing-house phase where you create a brand and logo and business cards and talking to investors, Barkl said. He has this advice:

“How do you as quickly as possible get in front of customers that you don't know that aren't your friends and family, and try to get them to pay you for your service or your product? Getting in front of those customers as quickly as possible is going to get you to that kind of kernel of truth of whether or not your business makes sense or not. Are you creating value for some customer, and are they willing to willing to pay you for it? And really nothing else matters.”

Top image: AirGarage founders co-founders (from left) Scott Fitsimones, Chelsea Border and Jonathon Barkl. Photos courtesy of AirGarage

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