RE:INVENTION’s Expert Series presents a biweekly interview with a major player at a company that is notable as progressive, transformative and/or innovative within its industry.
This week’s interview is with Alex Kruger, the Vice President of Business Development at SpotHero. SpotHero is a Chicago-based digital startup that connects customers with parking garages, allowing users to locate and reserve parking spots. Allegedly conceived upon the founders’ own frustrations with getting parking tickets from the city of Chicago, this company started at 1871 in 2011 and has grown rapidly since its creation, already expanding to 6 additional cities across the United States.
RE: First, can you give us a brief background of yourself and of SpotHero as a company?
Alex: Yeah—I recently joined the SpotHero team back in March of this year, so I’m still a newb as far as I’m concerned–however, I’m glad to say that in these past 8 months or so we’ve grown incredibly quickly and I’ve learned an astronomical amount about the parking industry, along with the intricacies of growing a transaction-based marketplace.
Before SpotHero, I was at Belly–a Chicago-based digital rewards company over at 600 West Chicago. I was the first sales guy there, had not a clue as to what I was doing, but I made mistakes fast and learned even faster from having the privilege of working extremely closely with the CEO and founder Logan LaHive. After helping to build up the Chicago market, I headed up Austin, NYC and then the enterprise team. I was with Belly for about a year and a half and watched it scale across the entire country. It’s still going strong.
By the time I switched to SpotHero this past spring, Mark Lawrence and Jeremy Smith (CEO and COO of SpotHero) were 2.5 years running and had just raised a round in December, a couple of months prior. They were blowing up in Chicago, were looking to expand their secondary markets, and had a few more in the pipeline. Having done something quite similar for Belly, it seemed like an awesome fit. Turns out, it was.
RE: How did your team start building a culture of innovation or transformation? What approaches do you take to keep up with and develop it?
Alex: We hire people who like taking risks and we encourage them to fail.
If they perform well, they’re given more responsibility. The more responsibility they have, the more autonomy they’ll be given; they’re taking on a lot, with very little direction. With little direction they start trying new things, and most importantly, they start messing up. If they’re messing up, they’re learning–and if they’re learning, we’re all learning. All teams within our organization have complete transparency into one another–if a learning/innovation arises within one team, we do our best to see if there is a transferable analogous innovation that can be created within another team.
RE: Have you found yourself having to transform your business methodology since you started? How have you done so?
Alex: Actually…not really. Since I began, although there have been mild changes, my personal methodologies, along with those of every member of the team, have been quite consistent. This sounds simplified, but from the get go, we’ve all operated with the mindset along the lines of: talk to customers and clients and figure out what makes them happy. Then, with limited resources, go make them happy in the shortest amount of time possible, with the largest amount of return possible for everyone. In essence, fill lots of parking spots with happy customers, really fast. Lather, rinse, repeat.
RE: What do you think is most important for SpotHero to do in order to keep up with the rapid changes in technology?
Alex: “Be ahead of the curve” is probably the best cop-out answer to this question. But, I think in reality it’s more of a….do what we need to do, to do what we do best, and focus on just that. We’re focused on aligning consumer demand with client supply–the intersection of the two those is all we care about, and we know that intersection from being in constant communication with both sides. If our consumers all of a sudden wanted to start transacting with their retinas or something, and our suppliers were suddenly completely on-board with conducting eyeball-based parking reservations, then I guess…that’s the intersection we would pursue. So to keep up with “rapid changes in technology,” we keep our own ears and eyeballs open to see what they both want and how much they care about it.
RE: Where did the idea for SpotHero come from and where does your team continue to look for inspiration?
Alex: Parking tickets. No joke. Mark and Jeremy had accumulated a couple grand or something in fines. For continuous inspiration? We’re inspired by the stories we hear from our customers. Whether they’re looking to avoid following Mark and Jeremy’s citational footsteps, or they just need help finding a spot in a parking-sparse area, the amount of positive feedback we’re receiving has kept us truckin’ on and pushin’ our parking pedal to the metal. Yeah. Sorry—couldn’t resist.