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Quantum leap: Shareena Sandbrook on the secret to Frogparking’s outstanding growth

Quantum leap: Shareena Sandbrook on the secret to Frogparking’s outstanding growth

With a background spanning investment banking, HR, retail finance, IP and aviation, and with high-achieving hobbies such as TaeKwonDo (black belt, of course) and competitive Bollywood dancing - not to mention being a mother to two girls - Shareena Sandbrook would make an ideal Idealog interview, any day of the week. 

But as CEO and co-founder of Frogparking - a company that’s worked with everyone from Disney to United States mall developer Irvine Company, and even NASA, and which was last year named as one of New Zealand's fastest growing tech business, we thought a chat with Sandbrook was well overdue. 

Idealog: So what’s the story behind Frogparking? Where did the idea for car parking management tech come from? 

Ten years ago, after exiting a couple of successful tech companies, which my father and I had founded, we were looking around at potential things to do next. We had an established core of tech people who had worked with us on other successful stuff in the past and we wanted to combine our expertise again into an industry that badly needed technology. After a period of market research, we’d pulled together a few ideas, but actually what gave us the idea was we saw a parking warden in our home city of Palmerston North out chalking tyres in the pouring rain. There had to be a better way. So we started whiteboarding with our core-team and the rest is sort of history.

Who starts an international tech company out of Palmerston North? Seriously, why Palmy Nth?

Well, first of all, Palmerston North is a great place. We have some superb cafes and places to eat and drink, a great way of life, affordable cost of living, and has literally everything you need 15 minutes away; so I reject the premise of your question! 

But actually, when you’re like us, it sort of doesn’t really matter where in the world you are. People are more connected than ever before and it’s never been easier to run a global business from pretty much anywhere! Our headquarters is in Palmerston North and it’s where we founded the business, sure, but we also have offices now in Australia and in Southern California, so we’re a global business. As long as you have a good video conferencing service - you’re normally good!

Have you always had a knack for business? Or was it something you acquired later?

My father, Don, has been a business guy his whole life. He’s done some amazing things with technology. For example - SpiderTracks, the world’s first way of accurately tracking helicopters with GPS to make the skies safer for them, and Seed Spider, another world-first that is used in fifteen countries worldwide and is the most accurate high-density seeding machine in the world that plants over 80 percent of North American mesclun salad. So as kids, we were brought up in a business household with Dad teaching us the value of hard work, and we have always been a bit of a tag team. Also with my background in business, you learn a lot along the way, of course!

Frogparking did extensive testing in Palmerston North. What was one thing you learned during that trial?  

Having an entire city using your system at full speed including the mobile app, parking meter integration, enforcement and the data and analytics platform all in one go forces you get your ducks in a row internally to make sure you have responsive and intelligent teams for both research and development and support. We sure learned a few lessons along that journey but we will always be grateful to our hometown and the support of the local community.   

You’ve been recognised in the Deloitte Fast 50 Regional Awards - fastest-growing exporter in the Wellington and Lower North Island and the 6th fastest growing tech company overall last year. What’s the secret to such amazing growth? 

You know, I actually think our formula is fairly simple. First off, we have some of the most amazing people that I’ve ever met work for us. A team of smart, talented, and dedicated engineers, developers, technicians, and sales and marketing people who go above and beyond to keep the dream alive. Everyone says it, but we are legitimately like one big family who all pull together to do this. 

Secondly, it’s about having a good product. Sounds simple, but it’s the most important thing. We pride ourselves on being solutions to people and using our technology to solve people’s problems. 

That plays into our third thing, which is looking after our customers with exceptional customer service. You get a lot of people, especially in our industry, who promise the world and deliver you a globe. We’ve got this reputation in the industry that if we say something, we deliver to the highest standard. That’s how you not only grow business but get vocal early adopters. That’s important.

You’ve had some high-profile Kiwi investors come on board - what’s been your experience with fundraising in New Zealand in general? Is it easy to secure funding here? 

Our experience with capital raise to date has been great. To date, we have attracted investors who not only buy in financially but who also buy into the culture and Frogparking family. 

One point that I would make, actually, is that in the early days, we had a lot of support from the Callaghan Innovation through the old style of grants and financial assistance you need to pay wages and ultimately get by while you’re developing your technology into something commercial. That assistance isn’t there anymore and, in my view, that’s a mistake by this government and really sad for those gutsy entrepreneurs who with a little support can be major contributors to the New Zealand economy.

Now with clients such as United States mall developer Irvine Company, the City of Laguna Beach, Vicinity Centres, Lendlease and New Zealand's three major international airports - to name a few - Frogparking has come a long way. Are there any particular international markets you’ll be focusing on next?

About 90 percent of our business is overseas and we have a great foothold in the three key markets that we targeted early in the piece, New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. You mentioned some of our reference customers in your question - these are all premium providers of parking, who are predominantly using our technology as solutions to things in their current parking journey that they need to improve to improve their customer’s (the shopper/visitor/traveller) experience. 

At the moment, we’re pushing hard to grow in areas where we have reference sites and grow our pipeline by taking people and walking them through a site so they can experience the difference. I believe Europe and Asia will be our future growth markets.

Are airports and malls the main focus for Frogparking in the near future? What other industries/sectors could benefit from this sort of tech? 

Our technology is all about improving the experience of parking for users. So it’s good for pretty much any industry or sector where you have people searching for parking spaces because it stops them circulating waiting for someone to leave or, even worse, leaving all together because parking is a hassle. So for our shopping malls, it means getting people parked quicker because that means they’re more engaged with their offering after an easy parking journey and also actually shopping sooner and for longer, for airports, it means less stressed passengers, and for cities - it’s reducing congestion and carbon emissions caused by people circulating looking for parking. 

Given you're growing so fast, in terms of strategy, what’s next for Frogparking? 

Continue the growth! We want to build to $50m in five years and we are on track to do so. To get there, we have to keep building on our references and expanding within our key segments in the markets where we have a good foothold. We’ve sorted a lot of the operational delivery growing pains, caused by the rapid expansion that we saw in such a short period, we experienced recently, by hiring smart people to implement processes to ensure we keep delivering for our customers.

You’re CEO and co-founder of Frogparking. And a black belt in Taekwondo. And a competitive Bollywood dancer. How do you find time to have all this life outside of the business? 

It’s an interesting thing: I often used to view such hobbies as a waste of time because sometimes it can seem unproductive, and working globally means that no time is technically work downtime. But forcing myself to make time to ride my horse, dance, run, or spend time with my girls takes my mind away from work and sometimes it’s even when best ideas to apply to the business come. 



 

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