Written by Stuart Foxman
One day, Michael Back parked his car and got on the Toronto subway to go to a baseball game. He ended up getting a ticket when his time expired, a common enough occurrence in the city. “It was my fault, but why couldn’t there be an easier way to pay?” he remembers thinking.
So in 2013, at his kitchen table, he set out plans to eliminate the common parking frustrations. His vision: no more parking tickets because you’re running late, no more running back and forth to refill the parking meter, and no more waits for your credit to process.
He enlisted a team of software engineers to develop a mobile app and an e-commerce website for parking. The result was HonkMobile (honkmobile.com). The company’s cloud-based technology lets motorists search, pay for and top up parking from any mobile phone, tablet or internet-connected device.
Back already had experience in electronic payments processing. He founded Collective Point of Sale Solutions (CPOS), which became one of Canada’s largest merchant acquirers and a leading provider of debit and credit card processing services. In 2013, Back sold the company to a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp.
“I looked at parking and saw a huge market,” he says. Every driver needs to park. From a payments perspective, there’s a low risk of fraud (“If someone steals your card, they typically don’t park a car,” Back notes). And consumers face aggravation with the current model. Says Back, “Here’s a sweet spot that needed some disruption.”
Honk (as the company is also known) has partnered with municipalities, universities and colleges, parking lot operators and private real estate owners. Toronto Pearson International Airport also uses Honk to offer fast and affordable parking reservations to travellers.
Today, Honk is accepted at over 2,000 locations representing 250,000 parking spaces across Canada and the U.S. The company has become North America’s leading provider of on-demand mobile payments and advance reservations for parking.
Last year, Honk ranked 11th on the Canadian Business and Maclean’s Startup Ranking of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies, with a two-year revenue growth of 1,306%. Active users were up 107% year-over-year.
Back says that Honk has its ear to the asphalt, to create new products and solutions. For example, customer feedback has led to a “favourites” function for faster checkout (great for drivers who park at the same location routinely), and monthly aggregation of receipts for people who submit expense reports.
Honk points out a study from the city of London, Ont. After they introduced the ability to pay for parking via Honk, parking tickets went way down but revenue from parking was up almost $400,000. It was because of the convenience, he says.
Instead of idling and circling, with the congestion that causes, drivers can also find parking spots much faster. “We have to think broadly of how we fit into smart cities, and improve mobility within an urban environment,” says Back.
For some whose business is about a place to stop, Back has the opposite advice for entrepreneurs. “Never stop moving,” he says. “Getting it done and out is better than getting it perfect. Keep iterating. And keep moving at the speed of light.”
Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real