The power of partnerships between tech startups

A conversation with Autopay’s Robert Mikoś and NaviParking’s Marek Stawiński

“Our cooperation is strategic because both companies benefit from the synergy effect,” says Marek Stawinski, founder and CEO of NaviParking – a technology startup dealing with the comprehensive digitisation of parking lots. In this interview with Marek Stawiński and Autopay’s Product Manager, Robert Mikoś, we discover what were the beginnings and what are the goals of this cooperation, what the startup atmosphere and modus operandi mean, the importance of sustainable development and why partnerships between startups benefit not only the startups themselves.

How did the cooperation between Autopay and NaviParking come about, and what strategic goals are you setting in relation to the cooperation in the field of digital parking?

Robert Mikoś: Regarding the second part of the question, the strategy is still evolving, and we are open to different scenarios. Cooperation with NaviParking opens up huge opportunities for us to scale the business in the field of parking lots on global markets. It is one of our key business directions. Of course, our ambition is to be number one (laughs).

Marek Stawiński: Let me answer the first part of the question and explain how it started and how the meeting with Autopay came about. As in many cases, the power of networking was at work. The contact and the topic were initiated by one of Autopay’s employees in a conversation on LinkedIn. It was exactly on November 18, 2020. He wrote that he was interested in our NaviPay application and that he thought it was a great solution. He added that he represents Autopay, where easy access to parking lots and mobile payments is one of the important strategic areas. Many people might think at this point that we are dealing with two competing entities because we work in the same industry and have similar goals and business assumptions. However, from the beginning, I believe that we are not competing with each other, on the contrary, I am deeply convinced that joining forces and establishing close cooperation will not only bring tangible benefits to both companies but above all will change the face of cities and make life easier for our clients. And that’s how it started. From the meeting of two companies with a coherent vision and mission, whose goal is to revolutionize the parking market. Linkedin has passed the exam in building business relations again. After the exchange of information in this channel, the meeting quickly took place and a few months later we had the first implementation.

RM: That’s right, that’s how it was, but when it comes to me, I joined this project at a later stage. My role began when we were already after the initial arrangements of the execution phase of the project. However, at Autopay, we really focus on openness and do not close ourselves to any propositions. We definitely work in the startup spirit. We also value a highly open attitude in our external partners, and with NaviParking we have managed to perfectly match the approach to business and expectations.

And coming back to the goals you set?

RM: When it comes to Autopay’s goals, the most important thing for us is to provide our clients with the best solution. And when I say the best, I mean not only the form or functionality of the end service, which in its basic assumption is to be safe, touchless and with guaranteed full confidentiality of data. We also care about availability. This is the primary goal of each project we carry out. We always think about how to create a service that will reach the largest possible group of customers. This approach gives rise to very valuable partnerships. We share what we have and both sides benefit from it.

MS: From my perspective, establishing cooperation with Autopay is very consistent with the NaviParking vision. Our strategic goal is to provide parking services to partners such as Autopay, thanks to which you can significantly improve customer satisfaction and increase convenience. As a result, the customer gets one mobile application with which he can use many services. NaviParking, on the other hand, is the provider of one of the many services available to the customer in one place.

Why is this cooperation of a strategic nature and what is its significance for the development of both companies?

RM: As I mentioned before, we want to constantly improve the services we offer. Parking, in addition to tolls for motorways and self-service automatic car washes, is one of the three main services we currently provide to our customers. Considering the area of ​​NaviParking’s activity and the fact that it focuses on development in key cities and locations recognizable to residents, we hope that we will gain new customers thanks to the fact that our solution will be widely promoted. In addition, the hotel sector, in which NaviParking is more and more active, and the global reach of the company, which operates in many foreign markets of interest to us, bode well in the context of achieving our business goals. Of course, expansion into foreign markets requires the efficient functioning of many elements. Education and gradual familiarization with our product is a necessary element of implementing innovations, but thanks to cooperation with NaviParking, the future looks promising. From our perspective, this is one of the key elements that will influence the success of this project.

MS: Yes, from my perspective, our cooperation is strategic because both companies benefit from the synergy effect. NaviParking provides a service that the client uses via the Autopay infrastructure and platform. We provide Autopay users with all the functionalities of our parking service through the well-known application of our partner, thanks to this solution we can scale the business very quickly. At the same time, we are gaining many new users of the parking lot, as our solution reaches the large Autopay customer base. Fast scaling is one important aspect of this collaboration. The second is what Robert mentioned, i.e. a very large potential as part of joint international expansion. NaviParking already has specific implementations on foreign markets and thanks to this, we can more easily promote Autopay solutions. With a solid knowledge of other markets and an established position, we can help Autopay enter new markets. Of course, we are counting on a similar mechanism in the markets entered by Autopay. In my opinion, there is also a huge potential for dynamic scaling here. We also see the potential on the level of innovation. We are starting cooperation in the field of digital parking in the hotel sector, but there will certainly be new opportunities and new directions of development. This is what I call the startup approach, we create together more and more new opportunities in the field of innovation. In the case of this cooperation, we have a synergy effect where one plus one starts to equal three, or rather, as my friends say – it equals thirty (laughs). We count on such a scale and the result of the partnership.

RM: Exactly, we are starting to build cooperation with a camera-based parking service and license plate recognition, but in fact, Autopay, like NaviParking, is a technology company, so we have unlimited scope for innovation and creating new solutions. And as Marek said, mutual support in expansion on foreign markets is definitely part of our strategy, and I hope that we will implement it successfully.

Marek, the strategic direction of NaviParking is to build an intelligent ecosystem of partners and suppliers who develop and supplement together within the framework of key competencies. How does Autopay fit into this narrative?

MS: It fits perfectly. I personally believe in the Minimum Viable Partner Ecosystem concept. The concept was first introduced by a French professor and assumes that in order to be successful, you need not only a great product, but also build a solid ecosystem of business partners who strengthen this product. Thanks to the cooperation and exchange of knowledge, it is possible to create and introduce a unique value to the market that becomes unrivalled. This facilitates the acquisition of new customers by offering much greater value, which is the effect of the synergy of many entities. Our cooperation with Autopay perfectly reflects this concept.

NaviParking is currently dynamically developing in several regions. How does the partnership with Autopay affect the pace of scalability and how do such strategically important partnerships in Europe and Poland translate into scalability in other regions of the world where NaviParking operates, for example in the MENA region?

MS: I have already partially answered this question. I believe that our presence in the MENA region and the relationships that we are successively building here, both with cities and with various local partners, can create a very good platform and environment for the development of services offered by Autopay. NaviParking, as a partner with an established position in these markets, may be responsible for building the right foundation and context for the development of our partners, and our implementations and references of Polish clients will definitely be the driving force here to expand the client portfolio. I think that we will successfully use the first joint implementations as reference projects to promote solutions of both brands in the MENA region. It is very important in the scaling process to rely on existing implementations and solutions that have already been implemented and work well. Based on specific projects in conversations with potential clients, we can support ourselves with specific, tangible results, show KPIs, interesting statistics and trends. This definitely facilitates the acquisition of new projects, also independent of the partnership with Autopay. Thanks to our technological possibility of simple integration with a partner, we also have access to large amounts of data in real time, and their constant analysis and drawing conclusions translate into continuous improvement of our product. Our solution evolves along with the development of the needs and expectations of our clients.

The collaboration with Autopay took place at a time when the world is facing major pandemic challenges. How does this partnership help overcome the mobility challenges faced by customers in the field of mobility?

RM: The topic of mobile parking fees and the general interest in the idea of ​​contactless parking service emerged with us much earlier, even before the pandemic, so our service was not a consequence and a response to a pandemic or post-pandemic reality. This is a strategic direction that we analyzed and took much earlier. In our case, it will fit into the holistic approach of Autopay, which involves streamlining payments and car travel in such a way that it is as convenient as possible, as little absorbing and demanding as possible for our customers. However, it cannot be denied that the whole idea of ​​”contactless” fits perfectly into the “new normal”, which is a consequence of the pandemic. Not needing to press touchpads on payment registers or to contact the parking service is now an expectation of customers. The solutions we offer fit perfectly into the current reality. A contactless, automatic form of payment triggered by reading the car’s license plate by a camera at the entrance to a parking lot – is it possible to imagine a more convenient and faster form of using a parking lot? I think that such solutions are the future and we should make numerous use of locations where such innovative and convenient services are already available.

MS: I agree one hundred percent. Cashless, contactless parking services, as well as other services available in the Autopay application, perfectly match the ubiquitous need that emerged with the pandemic to avoid dangerous contact with surfaces, devices or even with traditional money. I believe that the current trend of “contactless” will translate into the acceleration of digital transformation and implementations related to it because we observe an increasing demand for this type of service in many sectors related to the need for direct contact with the client: hotels, hospitals, public institutions, corporations. The services that we create now definitely have their five minutes and we want to use this opportunity to the maximum, especially since the habits and behaviour of end customers have also changed significantly in a relatively short time. More and more customers appreciate the fact that they do not have to take any manual actions to pay for the motorway or parking lot.

Are sustainable development and ecology reflected in your organization's strategies? How do your sustainability goals fit into this partnership and how can it change the collective mindset of consumers towards using sustainable technology?

RM: For Autopay as well as for the entire Blue Media group, ecology is an extremely important issue. This is one of our core values. We try to implement standards and solutions that actively support this topic in all areas of the company’s activity. In each of our offices, we use, among others, solar panels and reusable water bottles. We educate all employees about the importance of the zero-waste policy because it is a matter close and important to us. We also have a system of rewarding employees who choose sustainable means of transport and thus actively support the idea of ​​sharing resources and ecology. For example, when someone decides to come to work by bike or when going on a business trip chooses a train, we also offer additional benefits for this. We take this topic very seriously. Interestingly, the product that we create is derived directly from our attitude to the issue of ecology. In our communication, we emphasize many times that waiting at the gates on the motorway is not only a waste of time, but above all, it is harmful to the environment. When cars stand at the gates instead of driving – everyone loses. The basic assumption is that Autopay is to improve and unblock the passage on the motorway, and due to the fact that cars reach their destination faster, the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere is significantly reduced. Another aspect is the elimination of paper tickets. It is often forgotten how important it is for the environment to reduce the production and consumption of paper. For us, this is a very key element of the mission.

MS: When it comes to NaviParking, we have a very consistent approach to it. Ecology, environmental protection, reducing traffic jams and air pollution or reducing noise all these challenges fit into our mission, vision, values ​​and business aims. We also structure our message to customers in such a way that thanks to our application you will find a parking space faster, that it is easier, that we avoid traffic jams and wasting time. In cooperation with Autopay, however, I see another interesting direction. Motorway users, at the moment of exiting the motorway and entering the city, can receive a notification in the application about the nearest parking lot where we operate together. Here, there is great potential in Park & ​​Ride parking lots. At the same time, promoting such solutions limits the number of people entering the city centre. In the Park & ​​Ride parking lot, the driver leaves the car and then uses public or shared transport. The same applies to hotel car parks operated by us. The driver can conveniently park off the motorway. Instead of stressing out and looking for a safe place to stop for a rest, a meal or a night will be directed to the nearest or most convenient parking lot of the hotel cooperating with us. And it is not only about parking lots located near highways. The point is that at the time of the motorway exit, the driver receives information on where to find the best places to park, spend the night, eat, etc. All these functionalities and information can be provided to the driver in one mobile application. It is a way to significantly shorten the way to the destination, search time and at the same time reduce the emission of harmful pollutants, but also the consumption of gasoline and thus also expenses.

RM: Exactly, in the context of cities it is noticeable because usually, the tollbooth gates are outside the city. Navigating the driver to a specific place shortens the time of circling and looking for a parking space by, say, 15-20 minutes. This has an impact not only on gas emissions but also on reducing the formation of traffic jams and clearing all traffic generated by other cars, not only our own. It is a smoothly operating transportation system that everyone benefits from.

What do you want to communicate to your clients and corporate clients in connection with this cooperation?

RM: First of all, we want to show how easy and intuitive it is to use our solution. It couldn’t be easier and simpler. You do not need to have cash or a credit card with you. We want customers to use our product because it allows us to shorten the time of looking for a parking space as much as possible, but also streamlines the entire process of moving around. Customers and drivers, we all like convenience. Most of us live in cities and are drivers, so we know perfectly well what are today’s challenges in terms of transportation. We provide solutions and answers to these problems, step by step improving the process on a daily basis. The reaction of our customers to contactless parking solutions is very positive. Customer attitude is positive, so if communication is simple and encouraging, I am sure that more and more customers will be happy to use our solution.

MS: We want to inform you that thanks to our cooperation, as a user of the Autopay application, you can park comfortably, without any problems, without cash, safely, and this is a very strong message. I will give another example explaining why this cooperation is a breakthrough. A large bank came to us with a need to automate parking processes. In the conversation, I referred to the project with Autopay, explaining the assumptions and potential of our solution. As it turned out, one of the managers actively uses the Autopay application. He immediately had the idea that it would be optimal if you could also drive into and out of the bank’s parking lot using the same application. This shows how big the potential is and if we properly communicate our product on the market, the number of satisfied customers will increase. In fact, in our industry, “sky is the limit” or rather “there is no limit”.

RM: Absolutely. This is where the synergy that Marek mentioned and as he rightly said – one plus one will be equal to 3 or even 30 and I agree with it one hundred percent. So far, we have focused on other areas of activity and put the emphasis in slightly different places when it comes to our partners. Now, by joining forces with NaviParking, we will be able to reach both new customers and potential business partners.

MS: I would like to emphasize that now, when we talk to new customers who are interested in our parking solution, apart from NaviParking products, we are also considering the future possibility of using the Autopay application. This means that this is how we implement and set up solutions so that they are ready to be connected to the Autopay platform at any time. This is something that we have changed in our approach as a result of our cooperation with Autopay. Another strong argument in talking to customers is the potential to multiply the number of transactions in a parking lot that was usually perceived as unavailable or not promoted. It’s not really about people using our application, but about generating traffic in the parking lot and thus transactions and turnover. With this approach, I believe that scaling in cooperation with Autopay can definitely gain momentum.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

RM: Yes, that we keep our fingers crossed for the success of our project and that everything goes according to what we have planned (laughs).

MS: Exactly, and let us connect more parking lots efficiently. Now is the time to optimize your business model and master the implementation process well. More and more new players are entering the market and sooner or later it will consolidate. By working with strong partners, we will have a better chance of a high market share.

Thank you for the conversation.

Klaudia Żychowska

Klaudia Żychowska is a Polish native who grew up in Chicago. After completing a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a double concentration in Creative Writing and Professional Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she decided to move back to Poland to reconnect with her roots. She is fascinated by smart cities and innovative technologies and is responsible for content strategy at NaviParking.

All author posts