“Any publicity is good publicity”, one would say. The team at ParkEasy might have thought the same too before they were hit by a storm of critics and naysayers after their startup got featured by mainstream media The Star and news website The Malaysian Insider.
ParkEasy is a Malaysian startup that allows users to reserve a parking bay spot in a shopping malls so that they do not have to waste time circling the car park. By using a bluetooth-powered indoor navigation system, users will be taken to their reserved parking bays which will have their license plate displayed above it in an LED signboard.
The (small) catch is that users will have to pay RM2-5 as a one-off booking fee per reservation made via their app. When ParkEasy got the attention of the public, there was a great disparity among the responses—some people loved the idea, others hated it.
“Very varied, but I would say most of them are kinda down. They’ve worked really hard on all this so getting slapped in the face was a real downer for them. Imagine all the 24-hour work days, and then someone says you’re shit,” Warren Chan, the CEO of ParkEasy told me when I asked how was the team coping with the negativity.
Here are some of the recurring negative feedback from the public:-
- If you only want to make parking easier, why charge people for your service?
- How does this solve the parking problem? We don’t need a booking system, we need more car parks!
- A booking system will decrease the number of people who get to enjoy a mall as you will have empty bays. First come, first served is the most efficient.
- This service is only meant for the rich! Why is this needed when premium parking and valet parking exists?
- You are promoting laziness.
- What about those who are not tech-savvy, or do not have smartphones (OR) I do not want to have to book a car park every time I visit a mall.
As with most negative comments, they usually stem from one thing—ignorance. Usually we are very quick to judge the feasibility and legitimacy of an idea or concept without taking the time to really understand it. The same applies for anything that goes against social norms (such as LGBT), there is not enough time and effort that’s being put into it for us to dissect the issue, before we make a general statement about it—a general statement that is fueled by personal bias, preconceived notions, and personal preference.
Warren then wrote in length on Medium about these comments and responded to each. I highly recommend that you read it, he explains the problem they are trying to solve, the pricing, his emphasis on the need to be productive, and how they are a service for those who want it and not a compulsory system for everyone. The TL;DR version of his responses is this:
“The heart of ParkEasy was never to extort parkers for their last dime, nor so people can be more ‘kiasu and lazy’. ParkEasy was born to solve a real problem faced by many Malaysians — the long search for finding parking.”
This Is What A Disruptive Startup Does
The word ‘disruption’ might be thrown about too frequently in the startup community (the same goes for the phrase “We are the Airbnb/Uber of food/fashion/etc.”).
Disrupt, means to interrupt the normal course of unity of something. In the startup world, it means that the normal course of how something is being done is changed in such a way that it is drawn away from its traditional or conventional means in order to provide a better and improved method for the users and/or consumers. And with any actual real disruption, there will be lashback from people who are not used to being exposed to something that is not of the norm.
Using an app to reserve parking bays is not an exceptionally new concept and in the U.S. mobile apps have already been transforming the future of parking for a few years now. But in Malaysia it is still a concept that is bringing people into the unknown because of our set ways of fighting it out in the car park. I vaguely remember how my parents would use me when I was younger as the “car park booking tool”. When an empty parking bay was spotted, they’d let me out of the car to stand in the empty bay and ‘chope’ it so that other drivers can’t take it until my parents bring their car to it.
When I first wrote about ParkEasy 5 months ago, I said that it is an idealistic concept that we would find hard to imagine being fully functional, and I still stand by that now. Not because it is impossible, but because it is harder to change the perception of people than to change the infrastructure of shopping malls to accommodate this concept.
“I can understand the public’s response, personally I’m quite happy that people feel this strongly about it. I mean… someone said to me that people care because ‘you’re not just another e-commerce app’,” he said to me when asked how he was doing.
Regarding his crestfallen team, Warren said, “During this time, ur solidarity has shown the strongest. Beyond co-workers, we’re also friends, and we’ve been supporting each other professionally and beyond in this particular incident. The team is resolved to receive and contemplate every point of feedback and see how we may use it to make a product to make people happy.”
“I have an AWESOME team,” he added.
Peter Thiel mentions in his book Zero To One that today’s “best practices” lead to dead ends; the best paths are new and untried. This, is the essence of disruption. And what Warren and his team is facing now is the consequences of a disruptive idea that will be worthwhile when it takes full fledged flight.