ParkFlyRent: post-mortem van een startup

Just over four years ago, ParkFlyRent opened. At the end of last year, it closed down. What went wrong? Founder Niels de Greef wrote this ‘post-mortem’ of his own startup and will be speaking in Stadsleven : ‘Start up, Fall down’ on Nov. 26th in Pakhuis de Zwijger.

By Niels de Greef

ParkFlyRent was an airport carsharing platform. The idea was simple: rent out your car while you’re gone and get free parking and a clean car in return. The goal was to operate at 25 airports in 2020, thereby disrupting the car rental and airport parking markets.

In those four years, thousands of travellers used our services, 169 investors believed in us, we won prizes, we were featured in national and international media and we had a team of 11 people. But nevertheless.

After successfully building and  selling an international furniture brand and launching an interim management company managing teams of up to 400 people, that was a difficult moment for me. I knew that ParkFlyRent could only succeed if it became really big. Of course I saw startups all around me fold every week – but you never think it’ll happen to you. It did, and as an entrepreneur in the sharing economy I think this is also worth sharing.

In this video with RTLZ Niels talks about the failure of ParkFlyRent:

The biggest problem was getting enough people to participate. Even though thousands of people park every day at Schiphol and Eindhoven Airport, our marketing only reached a small percentage of them. And of that percentage only 1-2 percent was willing to share their car. We had hoped to have an average of three hundred cars at each location within one or two years, but after four years we still hadn’t attained that goal.

What went wrong?

  • We had assumed that enthusiastic customers would bring in more customers. But that turned out to be wishful thinking. And I should have brought in a co-founder for the marketing right away.
  • We had hoped that businesses would bring us on board for their personnel, especially since we had the extra environmental advantage of using existing cars more and thereby reducing the production of new cars.
  • I was convinced that personal service at the airport was important, but in hindsight a frictionless user experience would have been more valuable.
  • Our aim was to always be at least €1 cheaper than the competitor, but as the car rental market became cheaper – partly because of Uber – we saw our profit disappear.
  • Carsharing is a sympathetic idea but a hard sell: of the eight million cars in the Netherlands, only 30.000 are shared.

I’m glad that we were able to shut ParkFlyRent down in an orderly fashion and repay some of our loans. I acquired a lot of new skills. And I learned how important it is, for example, to test your assumptions. What I wanted was not important; what mattered was what the customer wanted, and even more important, what he was willing to pay for. 

This is a condensed version of Niels de Greef’s post-mortem of his startup. Read the complete text here. Niels is now COO at Camptoo, a sharing platform for campers and caravans.