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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Teenager starts business inspired by a Seinfeld episode

Ben Sann was just a teenager when he came up with a business idea while watching an episode on Seinfeld, where George refused to pay for a parking space. Ben worked to develop a website, http://www.bestparking.com/, to find the best rates on parking spaces in NYC. The site was founded in 2006 and has been rolled out to include Philadelphia, Boston and Washington DC as well. On the site you can find and reserve a parking spot on a daily or monthly basis. This allows the user to shop for the best rates. There is an enormous variation in rates among neighboring parking facilities; BestParking.com's users have reported saving thousands of dollars each year in parking fees. Monthly motorists may also request discounted competitive bids from the site's partners.

Here's an excerpt from our interview:

What was the biggest challenge to starting your company?
My biggest challenge was drafting all the programming specifications up-front, so that I could outsource development work. Nevertheless, the first programming team I hired failed to deliver, in part because my own specification wasn't refined enough. Yet, I learned from my mistakes, and BestParking (then NYCGarages.com) launched the following year.
Did you receive venture capital to fund the company?
I received funding, but not from venture capitalists. VC firms are typically reluctant to invest in early stage start-ups, and if they do, they tend to take a higher percentage than angel investors.

Sounds like you were only 17 or 18 when you started the company, did you encounter any skeptical adults?
I was actually 16 when I watched that Seinfeld episode, and began development work that summer (after my sophomore year in high school). Both my parents were thrilled I was doing something productive that summer. Yet, other adults and friends were skeptical, in part because my first business venture (http://www.ezdtrade.com/) failed. Yet, that first venture taught me many valuable lessons.

What are your plans for growth?
We currently cover 4 cities - NYC, Boston, DC, and Philly. We're planning to expand to additional cities in the weeks and months ahead.

What advice do you have for others interested in starting their own companies?
Spend money only as needed. The longer the initial nest-egg lasts, the more leverage you'll have with VCs further down the road. Burning through hundreds of thousands each year without revenue to support it sends a message to VCs that you're fiscally irresponsible.

How much time do you spend a week on your business? Does school work get in your way?
I spend at least 4 hours on the business each day during the school week. I work additional hours on weekends and during the summer months. Last semester I took 18 credits (at Washington University in St. Louis), which was actually too much when combined with all the work I needed to do for the business; I had little time to socialize. I'll be taking 15 credits this coming semester, which is recommended by the university. I'm double majoring in Finance and Economics.


Mommy Meryl said...

Now that was a brilliant idea!! I love Seinfeld!!!