Several people have asked me the same question, "so what's up with CarHarbor?" It's not surprising that this question would come up as there has been a lot of attention paid to parking issues lately. Addressing parking with expertise in online communities and mobile telecom can generate a real buzz. The simple answer is, CarHarbor was an interesting experiment, but it wasn't worth trying to turn it into a commercial operation. Since early last summer, I have been working full-time on a turnaround involving a household name consumer electronics company, and thankfully it's going well. But since people are curious, let me share a few lessons learned.
Test Market by Blogging. We started CarHarbor with this blog as a way to generate quick feedback from a net savvy community. Within days, TechCrunch and others latched onto us and gave us broad attention, resulting in terrific feedback and business development leads. Not bad for $5 per month. Never write a line of code before completing at least this kind of market research.
Community Dynamics. There is comfort in the relative anonymity offered by most online communities. Considering the shared pain over parking, especially in San Francisco, it was conceivable that reasonable people could cooperate to benefit the community and themselves. However, when it came to the prospect of letting a stranger bring their car near or onto one's property, people expressed some serious reservations. Well, I guess some Match.com dates can seem pretty scary too. Also, the income potential for most space listers was too small considering the level of household wealth in the most desirable neighborhoods.
It's About Execution, not Hype. Another start-up in the space seemed to put a lot of effort into getting media attention. Despite promises to be up and running a year ago, they have little but press to read about the promise. Press clippings even bore your mother after a while.
Need Scale. There are lots of people who will whine about a problem, but it's another thing to get them to participate in a community dedicated to solving that problem. That's not to say that specialized online communities can't succeed. For example, smallworld.com is a terrific place for Euro-jetsetters to interact, but it will never be a commercial wonder like MySpace has been. I'm just not up for doing something like this as a hobby, and that's what CarHarbor would have represented.
Listen to Experts. In addition to having first-rate advisors such as Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame, we met with some people who have devoted their professional lives to understanding the parking industry. Donald Shoup of UCLA and John Van Horn of Parking Today are extremely knowledgeable and interesting leaders in their field.