McGuire Center Alumni Reflect on Start-Up Success
March 4, 2019
If Ross Shanken ’12 BSBA (Marketing and Entrepreneurship), Thomas Maguire ’12 BSBA (Economics and Entrepreneurship) and Austin Weiss ’12 BSBA are an example, not all group projects end the day they’re due. Some go on to shape lives and careers.
Case in point: Shanken, Weiss, and Maguire are the co-founders of ParkX, a recently-acquired mobile payment solution for the parking industry. ParkX is a mobile platform that allows consumers to pay for their parking spots from an app on their smartphones, alleviating the need to pay with cash, or to return to a car to add parking time.
The platform was initially developed by the trio when they were Eller undergraduate students. The original idea started when Shanken went out for dinner one night with his parents.
“In the middle of dinner, I was frustrated that I had to leave the table to go put more coins in the parking meter,” Shanken says. “In that moment, I realized that this is a problem shared by everyone who parks in urban areas around the globe.”
That fall, Shanken gained support for his idea from Weiss, a then-acquaintance and fellow marketing student, but they realized their team was still incomplete. “Both of us were marketing students,” says Shanken. “So we knew we needed to add someone with a diverse skillset. We didn’t know Tom at the time but heard that he had a background in economics, which we knew would be beneficial for our venture.”
While choosing a name for the venture, the team had a specific message in mind. “We saw our business as the newest tech in the parking industry and wanted to position ourselves accordingly,” says Shanken. “We eventually settled on ParkX.”
The team used the “X” as a placeholder for the name of potential clients and became a differentiator by allowing the product to be customized by the needs of the city, university or parking entity.
Thereafter, ParkX quickly became a success in the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship. “As part of the assignment, we had to pitch to investors at the end of the year,” recalls Maguire. “We ended up being named the most promising venture in our class.”
The team did not expect the win and attributed their success to synergy—it seemed like the perfect time for a product like theirs: technology for mobile parking payments was still in the infancy stage, and the parking industry was just starting to embrace new technology
With initial success in the classroom, it made sense for the team to continue the venture after graduation. ParkX gained its first customer, a small parking lot adjacent to the University of Arizona, in the summer of 2012.
“There was always a reason to continue after that,” says Maguire.
The team went on to earn an award in the 2014 Arizona Innovation Challenge, a program put on by the Arizona Commerce Authority that gives up to $3 million a year to technology ventures around the country.
Winning the award was no easy feat. “We applied five times over the course of three years,” says Maguire. “We lost outright twice, then made it to the semi-finals, then to the finals and finally won on our fifth try. It’s my favorite success story because our failures made us stronger. If we had won the first time the capital might not have been used as efficiently, because each failure helped motivate us to make our venture and our pitch even better.”
At its peak, the ParkX app allowed customers to pay for multiple vehicles, use multiple payment methods, receive parking reminders and the platform was integrated with local parking enforcement software. Major clients included cities like Austin, El Paso and Corpus Christi.
The company was then acquired in 2016 by Passport, the parking industry’s largest mobile payment provider. “This was a dream come true for us,” says Maguire. “It was a goal we had been thinking about since the day we started and we are proud to have achieved it at such a young age.”
Achieving this goal has helped the trio transition toward thinking about their next ventures. “I know that because of the skills I have acquired through ParkX,” says Maguire, “I have the ability to achieve whatever I set my mind to.”