By Andrew Seale
The David versus Goliath struggle of the sharing economy as it faces off against regulators makes for juicy headlines but for Tim Wootton and Grant Brigden, co-founders of parking space sharing app Rover, those dynamics are a bit out of touch with reality.
“In order for the shared economy to work you need to have trust between the company and the user, between the city and the user, and between the company and the city – it’s kind of three-pronged,” says Tim. “Toronto is very much behind the shared economy and there are conversations happening about it on a monthly basis.”
But that doesn’t stop this misnomer from being a sore point for Rover – which matches drivers with empty spots for $2 per hour or less – given that the brand’s media debut happened to spin them as an anti-regulations startup.
“When we first launched Rover, a journalist went to a bylaw official who said Rover is illegal and it can't operate in the city of Toronto but that tidbit spiraled into being picked up by pretty much every major news outlet in Toronto and even at the national level,” explain Tim. “It got our name out there but unfortunately it wasn’t telling what the (whole) story was.”
The reality, says Tim, is Toronto isn’t just interested, contrary to what the media attention surrounding Uber might suggest, the city is quickly becoming a hospitable place for the sharing economy. Case in point: in May, city councillors voted in favour of new rules for taxis and ride-hailing services, allowing regular drivers to pick up passengers without a taxi licence and ending a year-long tug-o-war between Uber and the taxi industry.
“In the last six months, we have been to three day long events put on by the city or MaRS specifically to do with the sharing economy that had all the players… they were all very constructive conversations,” he adds. “In order for the sharing economy to really get going the public needs to know that that conversation is happening.”
Both Tim and Grant agree fear is a major hurdle for startups dipping their toes into such a new sphere.
“The shared economy is literally in its embryo stage, not even infancy, so the issues that most arise are derived form the DNA of misunderstanding,” says Grant. “We're still so far away from what the actual reality (and value) of the sharing economy is going to be… a lot of the companies such as ours are going to be dovetailed into others.”
The possibilities, he says, are endless. Which is why fear and a few “out-of-touch” headlines haven’t been enough to stop a flurry of uptake for Rover since it launched in the app store last July. Currently, Rover has more than 10,000 users with 500 parking spots on the platform, 90 per cent of which are in the Greater Toronto Area.
“At this juncture it’s a matter of getting more quality spot,” says Grant.
As for the future, it’s looking pretty bright for the parking app. Much in line with Grant’s conjecture about the direction the sharing economy is going; the entrepreneur can already see the “dovetails.”
He envisions a future where Rover teams up with gas delivery service providers to keep cars stocked up while their owners are working a way; a future where people parking using Rover can get oil changes, car washes, all around service while they’re away from their vehicles – all through the push of a button, all through the power of sharing.
“Toronto is a city that is leaning into the shared economy,” adds Tim. “Not being scared of what could happen.”