The battle to baby your car is heating up. This morning, Zirx, a year-old, San Francisco-based company that will park your car, wash it, fill up its gas tank, and rotate its tires, is announcing $30 million in new funding. The round comes roughly a month after Luxe, another San Francisco-based valet app, raised $20 million. (Luxe has now raised roughly $25 million altogether, while Zirx has raised around $36 million.)
Yesterday, we talked with Luxe CEO Curtis Lee – a former product manager at Zynga, YouTube, Google, Skype, and Groupon — about the competition, and whether and when these types of companies turn profitable. Our chat has been edited for length.
You now have 40 full-time employees and hundreds of contract workers parking customers’ cars in San Francisco, L.A., and Chicago. Yet you say that parking cars is step one. What’s next?
We’re more of a services platform than anything else. We happen to park your car, but we’re already doing gas fill-ups, car washes, and oil changes . . . Your car is effectively an urban locker, and we want to get stuff delivered to your car, as well as do things with it, like pick up your keys, get your groceries . . .
How do you decide when to roll out new services?
I’m a product manager. My cofounder [CTO Craig Martin] is a engineer. We worked at Zynga together, and we tend to like to do experimental things often. If they work, we double down. If they don’t, we won’t. And we saw that early on, the primary reason customers decided to use us was for our additional services.
What are you charging for some of these services?
Our rates vary depending on the city, but in San Francisco it’s $5 an hour [to have your car valet parked] and $15 per day. Car washes are $40. Gas fill-ups are the cost of the gas plus a $7.99 surcharge.
Are you dealing with much poaching?
Certainly, other companies are trying, especially because our guys are so obvious on the streets [wearing the Luxe uniform, which are bright-blue jackets]. We’re the only company that shows customers where our lots and our valets are on a map. That makes us vulnerable sometimes, but our retention remains very high. We think [our workforce] is fairly happy. We also have more demand than our competitors, and [valet pay] is hourly based, so [our valets are] not going to make as much money elsewhere. It’s like Uber; people want to work for Uber because it has the [consumer] demand.
What of allegations that on-demand startups short-change workers by classifying them as independent contractors?
We’re not obsessed or worried about it. I think it’s more a philosophy thing than the letter of the law. You treat employees – and independent contractors – with respect. It’s not as much about classifications. Who knows what will happen. [Any potential legal changes] aren’t in our hands. But we’re keeping an eye on it.
Do you pay your valets minimum wage? Do they make much in tips?
It’s completely optional, but our customers can give tips [via our app] because they were trying to do it regardless, through cash. Our guys make way more than minimum wage for sure because of the demand we get.
Also, our guys don’t need to own cars. There’s no equipment necessary [beyond a scooter to get to customers more quickly]. Twenty percent of Uber drivers’ salaries go toward wear and tear and gas.
It’s seems like potentially hazardous work, zipping around town to pick up and drop off customers’ cars as quickly as possible.
We put [our valets] through extensive training so they understand where they need to drop off people’s cars, as well as make sure they aren’t doing anything that puts them at risk. Our bright blue jackets are also designed to ensure people see them. And we have a valet office where people can hang out and eat free food and relax and, if there are issues, go to office hours and talk with us.
Your arrangement with city garages is pretty central to your future profitability. Are these typically monthly arrangements for spots?
We have different agreements with different parking lots all the time — everything from monthly to yearly to daily arrangements. But parking lot owners take care of us and we take care of them, turning over the space enough times that we can make a profit on a per unit basis. The best analogy is to Priceline. For hotels, unused rooms are sunk costs. Priceline has created a billion-dollar business just by providing discounts to customers and getting [hotels paid] for their underutilized inventory.
Still, some VCs think services businesses like yours are too cost intensive. What are they missing?
We’re basically creating a behavioral change. Those days of searching for parking, wasting time, wasting gas – they’ll disappear in time. Also, parking alone is a $100 billion market globally and a $30 billion market in the U.S. And you’re seeing tremendous growth of car ownership internationally, including in Brazil, China, and India, all of which are undergoing massive urbanization without enough infrastructure to keep up. There are just huge opportunities for us.
Will you be fundraising again this year?
We’re open to raising [again] when the time is right.
Photo courtesy of Forbes.
(Bay Area readers, to learn more about the shifts in on-demand startups, you might want to check this out next month. We’ll be there to moderate a panel.)