Dubbed the “Uber of Parking,” Haystack Launches in Baltimore & Boston, Attracting Lots of Users—and Controversy, too

Aug 19, 2014

Haystack promises to help drivers find parking spots faster. Photo credit: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

If you’ve ever wished there were an easier way to find a parking spot in a crowded city, Eric Meyer can relate. Frustrated by the lack of easily accessible parking spots in his adopted hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, Meyer set out to solve the problem using technology. Fast forward a little while later and Meyer has made good on his promise, having founded Haystack, a startup whose smartphone app could upend how drivers look for and find parking spaces.

Haystack is already being likened to Uber, the innovative car service that has disrupted the traditional taxi model and fundamentally changed how people get around in cities across the U.S. Though there are, of course, differences between the two companies, they do share a number of similarities, especially in regards to the pushback they’ve met in certain cities.

Haystack’s aim is to build a community of users who can contact one another through the app’s interface when they’re searching for a parking spot. The service enables drivers hunting for parking to pay a flat $3 fee to someone who is preparing to leave a parking space. If the timing and location matches, they can agree to the transaction, effectively saving time and, most likely, frustration.

Like Uber, which is still fighting to bring its service to places like New Orleans, Haystack has also encountered resistance, Meyer, who serves as the company’s chief executive, says. In San Francisco, for instance, CNN reports that city officials threatened a cease-and-desist order against MonkeyParking, a startup that was using a similar crowdsourced parking technology in the Bay Area. Unlike MonkeyParking, however, Haystack does not employ an auction-based pricing system, Meyer points out, making it fundamentally fairer.

“With Haystack, neighbors can offer up a spot and receive a standard payment of $3,” he says. “We’re experimenting with $5 to play with incentives, but the standard feature right now remains $3. There’s absolutely no bidding system.”

After its initial launch in Baltimore far exceeded its founder’s expectations, Haystack quickly expanded to Boston. In a matter of just a few months, Haystack is continuing to attract a lot of media and consumer attention, Meyer says, logging thousands of installs and facilitating more than 1,000 parking spot connections. Emboldened by this kind of early success, the startup is actively working on perfecting its platform and building its user base.

Free Enterprise recently spoke with Meyer about his background, his connection to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and his plans for Haystack.

FE: Is Haystack the first business you ever started?

No, it’s actually not. I started my first company through a program called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is actually a proud supporter of. I founded a small video company that started out with wedding and special events videography and grew with some part-time employees to do training, corporate, and even promotional resort videos. I did that for about six years and that was kind of my first foray into business. A year after that, I partnered with a local college and created a summer camp program, which was a big success. We had about 50 kids register the first summer, and then I expanded that to encompass two other regions, Manchester, New Hampshire, and New London, Connecticut. And up until the point when I got out of both those businesses we had grown Young Scholar Ventures to about 16 employees in three states. 

FE: How does running Haystack compare to your experience managing businesses in the past?

Running a company is running a company. It’s really just about figuring out the right pieces, and figuring out the right team members, and putting them together to solve a problem or to fill a void. Overall, I’d say it’s pretty similar. But yes, obviously, Haystack has attracted a high level of interest because it is helping to solve a huge problem, and I think that’s a good thing. There’s certainly been a lot of media interest. All press is good press! 

FE: What’s the response been like so far?

Our blitz marketing campaign was incredibly successful and we were able to generate over 5,000 installs in about a week in Baltimore, and we had similar success in Boston. The feedback from our users has been very, very positive. We’ve had folks say they love how it’s a simple, awesome experience that takes a lot of the chaos out of the parking nightmare. We’ve also had some folks who are really savvy who have actually sent us ideas on how we could improve it. The social parking community we’ve created has also brought some additional great ideas for how we could perhaps tweak our model to be even better, and that’s something we’re currently working on, as well.

FE: What do you make of the regulatory pushback disruptive companies like yours have come up against in certain cities?

I think cities should be open-minded to innovation, especially when it can help enhance the quality of life, and it can help benefit the city by improving traffic flow, reducing traffic congestion, and reducing emissions, which is what Haystack does. At the same time, I certainly understand that cities are set in their ways and that it takes time for laws and regulations—which none of us are big fans of—to understand and address new disruptive technologies. I think Baltimore took a very progressive, measured, and pro-active approach when we first launched here. They took a wait-and-see approach because they saw it had some potential huge benefits for the residents and the city itself. They also had some potential concerns, but they waited to see how it played out. 

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