Game Day Entrepreneurship

Every football Saturday, Taylor Bond parks cars at his office parking lot on South Main just south of Michigan Stadium. And every Saturday he would watch his customers get out of their cars and immediately begin dialing to rendezvous with friends. Bond, a Saline resident, saw an opportunity and this fall he co-founded a new start-up, ParknParty.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up, also co-founded by Pure Visibility's Jason Kapica, allows Michigan Stadium tailgaters to reserve their game-day parking space online. In exchange, the start-up charges a convenience fee of a few dollars. With more than 3,000 spaces available everywhere from the University of Michigan Golf Course to local front lawns, users eliminate the frantic game-day parking search and tailgate rendezvous.

"The response has been tremendous," Bond says. "I have done reservations from throughout Michigan and Windsor. I even took a reservation from a guy who was coming in from England. We are amazed at how far people come for a University of Michigan football game. The idea of being able to reserve your parking and tailgating makes their lives incredibly easier."

This is what Bond does in his spare time. His day job consists of running the Children's Orchard corporation, which resells gently used clothing for kids across the U.S. The 49-year-old father of two came to Ann Arbor from New York City to go to U-M where he received a bachelor's degree in math and a masters in statistics. His children are now starting to go to U-M.

He has worked for corporations as big as General Motors and Domino's Pizza, and owned franchises for Computer Renaissance in the 1990s. He has since started or partnered in so many businesses that he has run out of digits on his hands and feet to count them. Children's Orchard is the main business and ParknParty is his latest entrepreneurial effort.

"I enjoy what I do," Bond says. "I enjoy thinking about businesses, planning them out, working on them. That's what I do."

Bond recently sat down with Concentrate's Jon Zemke to talk about tailgating, Domino's and how he was impressed with a recent decision from the city regarding the City Place/Heritage Row development.

At its base, ParknParty is about making the game day parking less complicated. What was your light bulb moment? At what point did you realize, "Hey there's a business here"?

The second day I was parking cars when I noticed everybody was getting on their phone trying to find their friends. Part of the fun for me is I see a business in everything. I see operations, marketing, target marketing, customer bases. It took me a few seconds to see something wasn't right. To me that was a need that wasn't being met. How do meet that need?

How difficult was it to get all those different parking lots on board with what you wanted to do?

Not long. We were pleasantly surprised by that. Our first customer said, 'Why wouldn't we do this?' We have small lot owners with 4-5 spaces in their yard. It's those small lot owners that are the heart and soul of this. They make it fun.

Are there other services you'd like to provide to your customers? Do you see any other areas where game day experiences can be enhanced or streamlined?

The amenity ideas are nearly endless. Catering. We want to work with catering companies to cater your tailgate. Bathroom facilities. Offering power. Rent a Direct TV satellite dish for the day. Working with RV lots. RV people like being with other RV people. This is just year one. Year two will be better.

Do you think the parking spots on game days are sometimes overpriced?

No. There is a limited amount of space in this town to park in. You have 114,000 people coming in for the game with 25,000 to 30,000 cars. People paid $900 for Super Bowl parking. And nobody comes just to park. They're not here for five minutes and walking off. They're cooking, grilling, entertaining, creating garbage. I have to come back on Sunday morning and clean everything up.

The price for tickets and food and everything else in sports these days seems to be in a bit of a bubble.

Now you're on a different topic, and I agree.

I recently noticed that ParknParty is advertising on MGoBlog. Why that publication instead of more traditional outlets like radio or newspapers?

Anybody who goes to MGoBlog is a Michigan fan. It's affordable, it seems to be working and I am big on buy local, sell local.

It's also seems that MGoBlog's readership is technologically proficient enough for ParknParty.

By and large that's a good target for us.

Any immediate plans to expand?

We're adding U-M basketball this year and Ann Arbor Golf & Outing. We want to add more events. It's just not about football. It could be a basketball game or Art Fair. We're looking at other markets, too.

The brilliance behind ParknParty is its simplicity. The double-edge sword with this is a low barrier for entry. Are you worried about copycats?

It's not as low as you think. You can be a tech-head and think you can build it, but I have been dealing with developers for years. The fact is I can no more run out and become a developer tomorrow than a developer can become a businessman. Most developers are not businessmen.

Ann Arbor has a reputation for its start-up incubation services, yet ParknParty didn't come from TechArb or an Ann Arbor Spark incubator. Are these incubation services as necessary as the hype would have us believe?

I am big fans of those incubators. They are tremendously important. My problem is, unfortunately, they are focused on high-tech. There is a lot more to the world than high tech.

You have been a corporate CEO, a franchise owner, and just started an Internet start-up. Would you consider yourself a serial entrepreneur?

Yeah, I guess so. I sat down in preparation for an interview like this and worked up a list of all the companies I have been involved with in one way or another. I stopped at about two dozen that I had either started or partnered with. Everybody should be required to be an entrepreneur at one point in their life.

Once upon a time you used to work at Domino's Pizza. What do you think about the current state of the company where it's almost as well known for its IT and software work as its pizza?

Isn't that amazing. It's a different Domino's from when I was there. Domino's went from a family-run business to a professionally run, public corporation. It managed to do what a lot of companies can't do, which is go from founder to corporation.

When you started at Domino's, they were just opening up Domino's Farms. How does that stand up as a symbol of Ann Arbor's business community?

It's certainly a beacon. It well represents Ann Arbor. It's a tremendous symbol for the community.

How do you think former Domino's Pizza CEO Dave Brandon is doing as U-M's A.D.?

He's doing well. He handled the Rich Rodriguez thing just like a businessman should. David Brandon isn't at the University of Michigan because of what it pays. He's a Michigan Man, and he wants to do the best job he can for the University of Michigan. He will do a very good job.

What's your take on the City Place/Heritage Row situation in downtown Ann Arbor?

I was impressed when the city recently said, 'This ain't no historic district.' That's incredibly tough for the city of Ann Arbor, a city notorious for making life difficult for developers and wanting to keep everything the same. These buildings had no historical context. If these buildings have historical context then every student slum in Ann Arbor has historical context.


Jon Zemke is the Innovation and Jobs News Editor with Concentrate and is the Managing Editor of SEMichiganStartup.com. He conducted and condensed this interview. His last feature for Concentrate was "A Conversation with Vaughan Taylor".

 

All photos by Doug Coombe

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