November 13, 2018
Admyt takes advantage of licence plate recognition systems to finally do away with the idea of coin-fed meters and the frustration that came with keeping track of paper tickets. Their mission is to provide a seamless experience for anyone visiting a shopping mall, an office park, and pretty much any venue with a parking lot.
It allows property owners to significantly cut their overhead, make a first-time visitor into a returning one, and provides comprehensive metrics to help owners craft a better experience, improve security, and better understand their clients’ needs. All that makes the company grow and expand to new markets.
Devon Beynon COO, and Jaco van der Merwe CTO at Admyt
In this interview I talk to Jaco van der Merwe—CTO, and Devon Beynon—COO, about car parking systems and delivering meaningful software that solves real-life problems and why creating a five-year strategy is no longer sufficient in the contemporary tech landscape.
Devon Beynon, COO at Admyt: The original idea was straightforward. Visiting a shopping mall means you have to take a parking ticket, keep track of it, have change in your pocket, all that kind of stuff. So Jordan [Wainer], the founder of Admyt, spent a lot of time figuring out if he could make it a little bit better. We realized that knowing who is coming in and out and when can be of tremendous value to mall operators and that we could be giving them much better metrics on their parking usage and thus better information about their customers in general.
One of the bigger property owners in South Africa came to us and asked whether it would be possible to deploy our system in their office buildings. Office tenants sign leases, move in and then move out, so as an owner you be able to manage garage and parking access, otherwise you can easily lose track of who’s coming in and out, people start fighting for spaces, and all that. So we started developing an office building-oriented product. We let the market guide us. We had this great idea to begin with, but if people approach us and are willing to pay for something it means that there’s considerable demand for such a service.
In the short term we want to get as many signups as possible, but the medium-term objective is to start doing deals with bigger retailers to provide customers with free parking. How do we reward people? How do we bring them back to the shopping centers? We want to start making it more than just a way to get in and out, to add a reward element to it.
For example, your favorite retailer can send you a message like “We see you arrived at the shopping center—grab a free coffee or get a 20% discount.” We want to do this, but we’re very cautious about it. There’s so much spam on our phones.
Companion app for Admyt users. Get at-a-glance access to useful information like when you arrived, how long you’ve been in a centre, opening hours and more. Source: App Store
Devon: Our biggest challenge from a business point of view is getting our potential client to understand the advantages the technology can bring. The other part that is really hard right now is marketing to users, getting the word out there that you actually have an alternative to typical ticket-based parking systems in malls and office parks. You can download an app and use it to get in and out. We’re working on it all the time to get the message out there.
Devon: Anybody with a parking lot to be honest! At the moment, we’re obviously focused primarily shopping malls and office parks. We have, for example, a client who owns a really small building with 200 parking spots, but we also have really big ones, such as one of the biggest shopping centres in South Africa, with something like 6,000 parking spots.
Devon: Interestingly, there is a variety of methods out there, including the one thing that we see as the biggest competition to our services, namely tap and go systems. People can drive in, tap their card and they don’t have to do anything—like register. Where we think we can combat that is with all the extra stuff that we add to the experience when visiting malls. If we get the rewards feature right, we will give people a reason to keep using Admyt.
Jaco van der Merwe, CTO at Admyt: I think one of the ideas is to always have this window up approach. Other solutions force you to stop, open the window, put your arm out. It may be winter, it may be snowing. But with our solution you can just go through. It’s completely seamless. That’s what makes us stand out from other competitors with other solutions.
Jaco: Yeah, when we talk about our product, people are like “This is a great idea, we have to go for it.” We have to be really careful as this may be the point when some other companies might say that this is something they want to build, and they may be able to attack it with more resources than we can. They could run over us with their big pockets.
Devon: But there’s no doubt that the parking environment is long overdue for a technology overhaul, digital transformation-style. Traditional parking improvements are expensive. As a property owner, you have to spend a lot of money on those boxes that collect coins. You can do this another way around and eliminate that overhead by choosing a solution like ours.
Devon: That’s right. We’re currently working with a couple of property owners on a new development in South Africa. They decided they want a solution like ours and the money they saved will pay for the Admyt system for about five or six years.
Devon: A whole bunch of things were happening. We found Monterail, we liked the team and moved our development here. One of the big funds in South Africa we work with that came here to invest in property gave us a lot of information on Poland. At the same time Jordan had a discussion with one of his mentors and he asked some interesting questions, like “Where would Admyt work really well and why?
We need car parks with barriers, we need paid parking, and we need the weather to have hot and cold season or lots of traffic, so for example people would want to drive quickly into the shopping center to avoid parking outside and walking in the cold. And Poland ticked all of these boxes. It all happened in like three or four months, but we’ve been working on it for over a year.
Devon: We basically spent a lot of money in building the system. The first round of funding allowed us to build a small system and use it as a test case. We like to build something that is 80-90% released, and then fix all the problems and build on it later. It allows you to launch something, test it, and try it. You have to be a little bit brave sometimes and not wait for things to be perfect. It worked for us.
Devon: With businesses in South Africa we’re breaking even right now, so we can cover all costs and salaries. The first two sites in Poland will allow us to cover the development costs and after that we’ll be making a profit. It’s been a three-year journey now. The nice thing is that we’re at a stage when we can confidently tell people that we have a product that works. And that’s the key thing. It’s no longer “Give us a try and see what happens.”
Jaco: It is easier to sell if you can demonstrate successful implementations.
Devon: We’re now trying to work closely with landlords to solve their problems, and so we get an opportunity to become a partner across their portfolios. When they want to do some parking stuff they talk to us, but then give us all your properties. That works quite well. We’ve got three really big landlords in South Africa and want to do this here in Poland.
Devon: We’re focusing on South Africa and Poland, but we have partners in California, Panama, and Australia.
Jaco: We’re not sure yet, but what we’ve noticed just when being here in Poland is that people are less scared of new things, like in South Africa for example. There’s much more positivity towards technology.
Devon: Poland seems to be a really fast growing place. Just from January till now we’ve seen a difference. New buildings, new renovations, things are being fixed, new things are popping up.
The Polish market seems more ready for quick changes. Some sectors are attracting a lot of investment and more investment means new properties and improving properties. All that makes it easier for us to come to such a growing market.
In other European countries things seem more stagnant. But the thing is we’re trying and testing new things so it’s a constant learning process. Unfortunately, our marketing efforts in South Africa are meaningless here. We need to figure out how to communicate to Polish people in a cool, fun way the value we bring.
Devon: All the typical financial metrics. But we also look into user growth—how many people signed up, how many people use it, and how many people continue using it. A huge percentage of people who downloaded the app have used it. The amount of people who downloaded the app and deleted it later is tiny. Once you’ve got the app there’s no need to go back. In three months they can go back to the shopping center and they will use it again. We’ve got a sticky product in that sense. Admyt is set for about 40,000 cars in South Africa and 30,000 users as some families have more than one car. And most of them park between four or five times a month with Admyt.
Devon: We don’t believe in making five- or ten-year strategies. I think you always need a bigger plan and a bigger vision, but the days of making such strategies are long gone. Business and tech change too quickly. Five years is just too long. Particularly in technology. I’ve got a background in strategy and now I’m going against everything I was taught in college!
Maybe in two years someone will unveil a technology that will replace license plate recognition altogether. If it works better and it’s cheaper, we will need to follow that. We’ve got a six-to-twelve-month strategy that we work with, but it’s something we review all the time.
Jaco: We’ve got great ideas, but we want to be realistic and take it one step at a time. We always research other technologies. The fact that license plate recognition has been around for a while doesn’t mean that some other technology will come around and make our solution obsolete. We also look for other technologies that would make ours cheaper and more accessible.