Can't find parking? There are apps for that

Water isn't the only thing in shortage in California. In San Francisco, at least, so is the parking space.

But since this is the world's main tech hub, there are, of course, apps for that. Valet start-ups such as Luxe and Zirx are offering everything from basic parking to car maintenance.

It is easy to spot a Luxe valet in San Francisco; look for the bright blue jackets. By pushing a button on a smartphone, the start-up's valets are notified of a driver's car in need of a pick-up. The driver notifies the valet when they want their vehicle returned, and can then head to their meeting, lunch or other activity.

Luxe charges a base hourly rate of $5, or $15 for the day. They have insurance and regular hours of business, and currently service San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle with plans for Boston in coming weeks. They see themselves primarily as a consumer-facing company, despite having companies as clients and monthly parking plans.

Luxe Valet app
Source: Luxe Valet

Luxe's plans go beyond just parking cars. "The longer-term play for us is about creating services to our platform," said CEO Curtis Lee. "We have access to your car, people that have plenty of time and parking spaces for your car."

In other words, by servicing vehicles with oil changes and checking air in the tires, time parked becomes an opportunity for services. The company is also piloting programs with food-based companies in the Bay Area. "I could see something like a pick-up for dogs from groomers," Lee also said.

Zirx, a competitor, also enables e-hailing for valets and parks cars in partner garages throughout the city. It recently raised $30 million in a round of funding and plans on putting it toward expanding beyond its current areas of operation: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

"I think there is a myth in Silicon Valley around 'if you do San Francisco really well, when you launch new cities it is like copy and paste.' I found the exact opposite. No two cities are exactly alike." said CEO Sean Behr.

Zirx valet parking app.
Source: Zirx
Zirx valet parking app.

The biggest challenge for expansion in the on-demand space is scaling. "It's the difference between an all-digital business and an on-demand physical business. Lots of people will try and very few will succeed as they scale," said Behr.

While Luxe and Zirx have the largest amount of funding and brand recognition at the moment, there are others. Caarbon, Vatler, New York City-based Valet Anywhere and Spot Hero are among competitors in the space that are instead opting for parking in secure lots within their service areas.

Some companies have also tried to capitalize on on-street parking, and some have gotten in trouble for it. Monkey Parking started by auctioning off public parking spots to private drivers, which led to a cease-and-desist letter from the city. They now focus on private driveways.

Zirx also has enterprise clients like Automatic and Juno. At the moment Zirx estimates 30 percent to 40 percent of its customer base uses their monthly parking plans.

"We're seeing a lot more companies moving to urban areas. The age of having your headquarters 45 to 60 minutes out of the city is shifting the other way," Behr said. "With all these companies coming in, the parking hasn't grown with the companies and employees."