Alex Stephany: The Innovation Interview

Alex Stephany, CEO of JustPark, the world’s largest peer-to-peer parking website shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the sharing economy.

JustPark generates millions of pounds annually for property-owners by letting them rent out their parking spaces. At the same time, its web and mobile applications provide cheap parking to over half a million drivers. JustPark is backed by Index Ventures, BMW, and a recent record-breaking equity crowdfunding campaign on CrowdCube.

Alex is is a widely recognized expert on the sharing economy and author of The Business of Sharing: the insider’s guide to sharing economy and Macmillan’s flagship business book of 2015. The book has been critically acclaimed by the likes of Martin Varsavsky, Mark Suster and Lily Cole. He also mentors at Techstars, the foremost tech accelerator program in the UK.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

For me, innovation means bringing a fresh perspective to an existing field, often solving an everyday problem that people face. For example, at JustPark, we have created a way for drivers to bypass all the traditional headaches associated with parking – not being able to find a space, paying over the odds, getting ticketed for parking in the wrong place – and we’re reinventing an industry that has changed little in the past few decades. Innovation means rewriting the rulebook – much in the way Uber have done for taxis and Airbnb have achieved in the hotel industry.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

I think that any industry should be constantly searching for new and improved ways of doing things, but based on my line of work I would naturally point to the parking industry. It has struggled to embrace emerging technology over the years, especially the smartphone.

Thankfully, we are now seeing change. Councils and car park operators are allowing people to pay for parking by phone rather than feeding clunky parking meters with loose change, and drivers are using apps like ours that let them find and pay for parking online. More and more of this old-fashioned industry is now being streamlined using the Internet – we are harnessing the power of the web to introduce efficiencies into the process.

This type of disruption drives the more traditional businesses in the sector to innovate and improve their services to keep-up, forcing them to incorporate this new technology in the way they do things.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Before I worked for JustPark, in a former life I was actually a corporate lawyer. I soon realized it wasn’t for me though, and shortly after joining Clifford Chance LLP I started looking for a career move. However, I do remember the Head of Litigation there offering me a valuable piece of advice – “impress everyone”, he said. I’ve tried my best to carry that philosophy with me throughout my time at JustPark, bearing it in mind before going into any meeting, conference or pitch.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

What I’m most proud of is writing The Business of Sharing – now the leading book on the sharing economy – alongside overseeing the growth of JustPark from 4 to over 40 employees, and taking the company through a funding round with Index Ventures. It was no mean feat juggling completing the final draft of the book and trying to run a fast-paced startup at the same time – I sacrificed a lot of sleep, but it was completely worth it to see the final version on the shelves earlier this year.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

I spend so much of my time looking at screens that I’ll take a paper book any day. There’s a certain pleasure to doing something thoroughly old-fashioned from time and time and not having an almost limitless amount of information (and distraction) at your fingertips. I have a Kindle but I barely use the thing.

Through your partnership with BMW, you were successfully able to create a seamless parking experience that benefits the driver, parking space owner and the car manufacturer. How did you first present this concept to BMW and what was their initial reaction?

BMW was very alert to the possibilities of a partnership ever since approaching us with a view to making an investment in JustPark – then called ParkatmyHouse. They’re experts at building cars and we’re experts at software and as the two worlds begin to move ever closer, partnerships like ours begin to make more and more sense.

What are some of biggest advantages to being a startup that was founded and based in London?

After Silicon Valley, there’s no better place to be a startup than in London. There is a very progressive culture that fosters innovation and growth, plus there are ample funding opportunities and a wealth of expertise and talent to draw from. There are also some great Government tax schemes like EMI for share options and EIS and SEIS for startups raising capital.

The eyes of the tech world are trained on this city, as there are so many amazing companies developing awesome ideas within its startup community. At JustPark, we’re very proud to be a homegrown tech business coming out of London – and there are huge advantages to being based in such an innovative and forward-thinking city.

How did you first conceive the idea of ParkatmyHouse and what lessons did you learn as you were scaling the service?

Anthony Eskinazi – our founder and my trusted business partner since 2011 – came up with the idea when he was traveling in San Francisco. Before attending a baseball game, he was struggling to find any parking nearby – on seeing an empty driveway, he thought that it would be a massive win-win if he could just pay to park at that house rather than circling the streets. After returning to the UK to start a grad scheme with Deloitte, Anthony decided that what he actually wanted to do was pursue this idea and put all his efforts towards realizing his entrepreneurial dreams.

ParkatmyHouse was born in 2006, and after 5 years of grueling solo work, Anthony hired me to help him in growing what was already a very promising small business. Since then, we have rebranded, received investment from arguably Europe’s leading tech investors, Index Ventures, and closed a record-breaking crowdfunding round – and more recently won Richard Branson’s Pitch To Rich competition.

We’re continually learning lessons and new things about our own business. But one lesson I’ve learned is to be completely uncompromising on the talent we bring into the team. As a result, we’ve built a fantastic culture of achievement, creativity and innovation, and sheer fun among people who are on a fascinating journey together. If it’s the kind of journey that might be for you too, please check out our careers page.

Have you had discussions with City Managers and Town Councils about possibly integrating the JustPark service into existing City Parking Places and Structures? If so, how have those discussions gone?

We have – JustPark currently works with many councils at their car parks, helping drive them significant amounts of new revenues from the drivers on our platform. As with other car park operators and hotels, they see us a new and impactful channel that can take care in part or full of the digital space for them.

When are you planning on expanding JustPark in the United States? Are there plans to develop a US focused version of the service?

JustPark is a service that is open to drivers and property owners worldwide, and we already have thousands of property owners making money from their parking spaces in the US – without having properly targeted the market there yet. We’re currently very focussed on growth in the UK, but ultimately we want JustPark to be a global solution for a global problem. Inevitably, this will lead us to the US, but it isn’t a focus for the immediate future.

Scott Hempy: The Innovation Interview

Scott Hempy, Co-Founder & CEO of Filld, the on-demand fuel delivery company shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and energy.

Prior to Filld, Scott spent time as an associate at Cote Capital and as project manager for Omega Ophthalmics, an innovative medical device startup. With experience in operations, private equity, venture capital, and project management, Scott learned how to drive a company forward and achieve key deliverables.

Scott leads the Filld team as they bring change to the refueling industry. He is based out of Palo Alto, CA, where he lives with his wife, Kylie.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is disruption, used to bring about change. Innovation adds value to a current problem or situation. Entrepreneurs who seek to improve, building on those who came before them, while seeking to create what has never been created before, will bring about innovation.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Regulatory bodies need to further embrace innovation. If modern regulatory and lawmaking agencies could embrace an innovative spirit, they would be capable of finding unique solutions to problems with only a fraction of the time and resources they currently spend.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Lead by example.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Surrounding myself with people who push me to never stop thinking creatively about the things around me. First and foremost, my wife, family, and friends.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital. I always have my phone with me, which allows me to use spare moments to stay connected and informed.

What was the inspiration for Filld?

One day my fuel warning light came on and I started talking to my wife about how Air Force One can refuel in-flight. Obviously, that’s not practical or necessary solution for cars on the road. So my wife suggested that we take advantage of the time your car isn’t in motion; while you’re at work and overnight. I began hunting for a way to have someone else to fill my tank and realized there wasn’t a good option out there. I asked a few close friends to help me solve the problem. After months and months of work, Filld has launched and is refilling gas tanks at the press of a button.

As you scale Filld do you plan to introduce diesel gasoline and eventually scale into recharging electric cars?

Yes. We plan to expand our gasoline and diesel fueling offerings as we grow. We intentionally call ourselves on-demand fuel delivery; we are excited for the day when we can also provide alternative fuel delivery.

What was your greatest takeaway from working at Omega Ophthalmics? Was it the experience that you gained dealing with Government agencies that allowed you to successfully launch Filld?

At Omega Ophthalmics I had the opportunity to work with two co-founders who are incredibly talented, passionate, and wise. They identified one of the biggest problems in ophthalmology and set out to find a way to solve it. It was that passion and drive to solve big problems that taught me to persevere through a tough regulatory climate.

When Filld launches in more cities across the United States how do you plan to manage the fleet of refueling vehicles while keeping response times to a minimum?

We will only expand to a new city once the demand in that geographic area has exceeded a necessary quantity. This will allow us to enter new cities but still have response times be fast. Marketing and advertising campaigns will launch before the service actually launches in new markets. With our “waitlist” model, we able to identify where the next best market for Filld to enter will be. So sign up and get your friends to Sign Up Filld!

What is the future of energy in America and how will you position Filld to benefit from future consumer habits and trends?

There are many promising options for the future of energy in both American and globally. No matter which alternative energy our society moves towards, an infrastructure will need to be built. Whether it’s a problem of recharging your electric vehicle in a public parking lot not yet equipped with a charging station, or hydrogen-powered vehicles like the new Toyota Mirai; Filld hopes to be a part of that infrastructure.

Ralph R. Debbas: The Innovation Interview

Ralph R. Debbas, Chairman & CEO of W Motors S.A.L shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and hypercars.

Raised in Beirut, Ralph hails from a family of industrialists. From a very young age, he was surrounded by entrepreneurship and family businesses spreading around the region in several sectors of the industry.

With a background in economics, Ralph pursued a degree in Design at the Lebanese American University, continuing his higher education in England. There, he studied Automotive Design at the prestigious Coventry University School of Art and Design and graduated with honors.

Sponsored by the European Union in 2008, Ralph worked on several award-winning concepts across Europe, gaining excellent access into the automotive world and industry.

A true pioneer in the region, Ralph R. Debbas is the founder of W Motors S.A.L, a company that was launched in 2012 in Beirut, Lebanon, as the first Arabian Manufacturer of High Performance Luxury Sports Cars.

January 2013 witnessed the World Premiere of W Motors’ first revolutionary model, the “Lykan HyperSport” at the International Qatar Motor Show. This was followed by a regional and European tour that helped to create global exposure for the automotive brand, which has been positioned as the most luxurious and exclusive brand of Hypercars in the world.

Following the successful launch of W Motors and the “Lykan HyperSport”, Ralph R. Debbas has been bestowed with several international awards to salute his achievements, namely the Arab Nations “United Nations Foundation for Creative Entrepreneurship” and “The Visionary Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 Award by CCS” amongst others.

Headquartered in Dubai since early 2013, W Motors S.A.L plans to relocate its factories and manufacturing facilities to the UAE in the coming year by expanding the company locally with the construction of a new production and assembly facility thereby creating a new industry with new job opportunities.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is the approach of an existing idea or product by looking at it from a different angle. We are surrounded everyday by inventions that made our life easier, innovation simply makes life more interesting. At W Motors we base all our work on innovation in technology, luxury, performance or design. Always taking things further in developing never seen before products.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The Automotive industry is constantly going the extra mile to embrace innovation, however most manufacturers have a calculated risk in order to stay inline with the trends. This is bound to change, many manufacturers are looking further down the line for their future products.

But innovation can also be as simple as creating a new door opening mechanism, designing a futuristic gear stick or integrating new technologies inside the vehicle cabin. These risks have to be taken in order to make a statement “we are different, we are more advanced, we are willing to take the risk to change the perception of how the consumer looks at cars today” and this is how all manufacturers in this industry should be thinking (in my opinion).

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

A quote by Eleanor Roosevelt : “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. This quote has been the basis for making W Motors come to life. Believing in your dreams can help make others dream along with you, achieving the impossible in making a beautiful dream become a reality.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

My greatest achievement is having created one of the most incredible cars in history, a brand that people look up to and, most of all, being remembered as the first Arabian manufacturer of hypercars in such a short time. In short, bringing pride and honor to all Arab nations and Arabs around the world. Knowing that we are followed and supported by thousands and millions of people that are proud of our creation, this simply makes me know that I have at least achieved something close to success.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

With all the innovative technologies on the market today, we are programed for more comfort. And yet, one thing that can never change is the feeling of holding a newspaper or magazine in your hand, flipping through the paper pages and writing notes on the pages. Or waiting eagerly for a publication to come out featuring the Lykan HyperSport printed on thick glossy paper. Paper gives you a completely different feeling of excitement, rather than simply reading it on a digital screen.

As Dubai’s economy continues to strengthen and Emirates introduces new airline routes, how will you position W Motors for international growth?

W Motors has become an international brand that is recognized around the world as the most exclusive and luxurious brand of Hypercars. Being based in the UAE has helped us create the exposure and visibility we require to expand the brand globally. Our marketing strategy was to first create brand exposure in the Arab region and then access the European and Asian market through Hypercar dealers in conjunction with events in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Monaco, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Nissan is leading the push towards wearable computing inside the car with the introduction of the Nismo Smartwatch that delivers real-time data on a driver’s performance. Is wearable computing something that you have explored integrating into the Lykan Hypersport driving experience?

The Lykan HyperSport is mainly focused on Exclusivity, Luxury and Technology. We are not focusing on advanced performances and driving experience, even though it is one of the most exceptional cars to drive. Yet this kind of technology can be integrated in our next upcoming model in the pipeline, the SuperSport series that is mainly focused on pure driving pleasure, performance, power and speed.

How do you envision in-dash infotainment systems evolving over the next five years and how will you position W Motors to capitalize on these trends?

The Lykan HyperSport currently has the first 3D Mid Air Holographic display system in the world. Projecting floating images in mid air with full tactile control and interaction (GPS, Multimedia, Telephone).

This is a revolution for in-dash infotainment and again a cutting edge innovation for the technology sector which was developed in collaboration with the University of Tokyo. The Lykan HyperSport is the first and only car in world to ever integrate such a system.

With partnerships with companies such Cyrus Klepcys and Quintessentially, W Motors is positioning itself to be an aspirational brand. Was this always the plan from the founding of the company?

Since its first conception, the company had to collaborate with strong partners and names in the automotive industry to create confidence and trust in the name as well as to guarantee a high standard of quality, luxury and safety in our cars. W Motors was initially launched in partnership with Magna Steyr, RUF Automobile and Studiotorino, all leading names in the automotive sector. Today we have over 15 partners in different sectors supporting the development of our cars (Carrozzeria Viotti, 2Elle Engineering, Novasis, ID4Motion, University of Tokyo, Quintessentially, Cyrus Watches and many more).

As W Motors grows and matures as company, will you follow Lamborghini’s lead and introduce an SUV in order to gain market share?

W Motors will always design, develop and produce limited edition vehicles positioned in the high end category (between 3 and 25 cars per model). Today we are mainly focused on Hypercars with the Lykan HyperSport and Supercars with the SuperSport model coming next year. We have no plans to start with SUVs anytime soon. Gaining market share is not our goal as W Motors is positioned in a very niche market offering very limited and exclusive products. Who knows what the future holds for W Motors.

Daniel Furberg: The Innovation Interview

Daniel Furberg, Founder of Furberg Snowboards shares his thought and insights on innovation, technology and the snowboard industry.

Daniel has been ranked among the 10 best freeride snowboarders in the world and has been frequently published in freeride magazines. By training Daniel is an engineer, so developing the best freeride snowboards on the planet is a job that suits him quite perfectly.

How do you define innovation, and what does it mean to you?

Well, there are a lot of people who come up with great and innovative ideas. But most often it stops with a great idea. So I would say that innovation is to think outside of the box and to actually take action.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The snowboard industry is the least innovative industry that I know of – which is great for us. Apart from the last few years’ crazy rocker profiles, with way too short curve radius, the snowboards have had the same shape for decades.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received?

Follow your passion and don’t think too much of what the people around you are expecting.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I am quite proud of having revolutionized the shape of freeride snowboards, even though most of the ideas were stolen from the ski industry. It took the ski industry 15 years to copy the sidecut from the snowboards. At least it did not take me that long to figure out that the shape of modern freeride skis would be superior for snowboards as well.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital newspapers and physical books.

How has your background as an engineer impacted your thinking when it comes to designing snowboards?

I think it is a great background for the understanding of how forces act on a snowboard and thereby how the snowboards should be shaped and built up.

Microsoft’s Kinect could provide the possibility to track individuals movements/reactions in simulated snowboard runs to get a better understanding of snowboarders habits. Have you thought about experimenting with a Kinect sensor to enhance Furberg Snowboards?

I do not see the need for this. To become a good snowboarder you need to ride a lot. Or as Ingemar Stenmark put it after winning a ski race with a small margin – “I don’t know anything about luck, only that the more I train the luckier I get”.

What makes the reverse sidecut design unique compared to traditional snowboards?

The combination of rocker and reverse sidecut creates a long, smooth and undefined transition from effective edge to the nose and tail. Thereby the force gets distributed over a longer section of the edge and you don’t get the hooky characteristic of a “normal” snowboard. Another effect of the long transitions is that the board will impact irregularities in the snow with lower angle and thereby there will be less force hitting the board out of direction.

What are the benefits and competitive advantages that Furberg Snowboards will gain with the relocation of the product development department to Sogndal, Norway? Could we see a year-round Snowboard Innovation Lab?

The location of Sogndal is unique with year-round possibilities for splitboarding and lift accessed riding, which is great for product testing. Stryn Summerski, two hours away from Sogndal, has the by far best lift accessed freeriding on the northern hemisphere during the summer.

We are also working on a cooperation with Endre Hals (the world’s most creditable freeride skibuilder), who has a ski factory in Oppdal just a few hours away from Sogndal. So we hope to start building prototypes at his factory next year. That would mean that we could go from idea to prototype testing in just two days.

How do you see the snowboard / winter sports industry evolving over the coming years?

I think that within a few years many snowboard brands will have copied the shape of our boards. So we will have to work hard to stay ahead of the big brands. There will probably be great improvements on the splitboard interface and hopefully we can lead this development as well.

Graham Hawkes: The Innovation Interview

Graham Hawkes, an internationally renowned ocean engineer who is the Founder & Chief Technology Officer of Hawkes Ocean Technologies shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and deep sea exploration.

Graham has been responsible for the design of a significant percentage of all manned (and more than 300 remote) underwater vehicles built for research or industry worldwide, including the Wasp and Mantis Atmospheric Diving Suits, the Deep Rover research submersibles – which were recently featured in the James Cameron 3-D Imax film, “Aliens of the Deep,” and the Deep Flight series of winged submersibles. He is currently building the prototype for a new generation of highly advanced Remotely Operated Vehicles.

Mr. Hawkes has successfully founded and managed six high technology companies, including, Precision Remotes, Inc., which manufactures remote (land-based) systems for the military. Precision Remotes’ products were hailed by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2004; and Hawkes Ocean Technologies (HOT), which designs and builds the Deep Flight winged submersibles and other state of the art manned/unmanned vehicles for deep ocean exploration. HOT’s most recent projects include building a full ocean depth submersible, Deep Flight Challenger, for the late adventurer Steve Fossett; the Deep Flight Super Falcon submersibles — the first Super Falcon was delivered to venture capitalist, Tom Perkins; and the DeepFlight Merlin — the first Merlin was delivered to Sir Richard Branson.

Additionally, Mr. Hawkes runs Flight Schools for individual pilot training, as well as private expeditions for underwater flight experiences He has successfully led many ocean expeditions around the world, including, most recently the first baseline study beyond diver depths of the Gulf of Aqaba (Jordan), and the first DeepFlight submersible encounters with Great White Sharks off of Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

In the early 1990’s, Mr. Hawkes co-founded with Dr. Sylvia Earle Deep Ocean Engineering (DOE). In the 1980’s, Mr. Hawkes designed Sensory Manipulator Systems used by the U.S. Navy, NASA and AT&T for various industrial underwater vehicles. In 1989, Mr. Hawkes founded Deep Sea Discoveries (DSD), a commercial marine archeology company which located over 350 shipwrecks.

In the late 1970’s, Mr. Hawkes co-founded Offshore Systems Engineering (OSEL) in England, where he designed and managed the manufacturing of the atmospheric diving systems, the Wasp and Mantis. Previously, Mr. Hawkes refined the design of the atmospheric diving system, the JIM suit, for operation in depths of 2,000 feet. Prior to that, Mr. Hawkes was an engineer at Plessey Underwater Weapons Unit (UK), and before that, he was an Engineer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Graham Hawkes is widely considered to the leader in his field. In 1987, Mr. Hawkes was named an Associate Laureate for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise and in 1996 and 1997, he was nominated for Engineer of the Year by Design News. In 1997, Mr. Hawkes received Design News’ Special Achievement Award. In 1998, he was a finalist in the Discover Awards for Innovation; in 2000, Mr. Hawkes received the Computerworld Smithsonian Award (Science Category) which recognizes individuals and organizations who have demonstrated vision and leadership as they use information technology to benefit society; and Mr. Hawkes is the 2004 recipient of the Explorers Club William Beebe Quadrennial Award for Oceanography/Ocean Science. Most recently, in 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Oceanology in recognition of his work in innovating new technologies for deep ocean exploration.

How do you define innovation, and what does it mean to you?

Innovation to me, means identifying a problem/need and coming up with a solution that didn’t exist before, and this solution addresses the problem better or at lower cost than any previous solutions.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

I believe banking and science could use more innovation and take more risks.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received?

My father told me not to gamble what I couldn’t afford to lose.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I believe my greatest achievement has been introducing the technology for underwater flight. Why – because Earth is a stupid name for an ocean planet, and we have been successful in developing technology to open this largest part of our planet for exploration. We have been able to take our work in this area the furthest — however, we are still at the early stages of this introduction, and who knows where it will lead to.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?


Where does your love of the ocean come from?

My real love is engineering. The oceans offered me the wildest and rawest challenges for engineering.

What new technologies did you invent in order to make underwater flight a reality and how do you see underwater flight evolving for consumers and Governments?

Our work in this field doesn’t hinge on a single innovation. The new technologies we developed have been extremely broad — from life support, to materials, to electronics. We are not masters at all of these, but have proven adequate to incorporate all in a successful technology. We have also been successful in taking advantage of technologies developed for other fields, such as batteries for electric cars and materials developed for aerospace.

As far as how do we see underwater flight evolving — We believe that consumers will more and more be able to access underwater flight for their own enjoyment, and we see the power and potential of underwater flight as providing powerful tools for commerce and science.

As you continue to build and improve upon the DeepFlight submersibles design, are there plans to automate flight functions and /or launch deep water robots that humans can control from the submersible?

We do have an extensive unmanned program, however, we do not see unmanned probes being operated from manned vehicles simply because if you have to relay the information elsewhere, you might as well relay the information back to the surface. That said, unmanned operations from manned vehicles may have narrow applications. As far as automating our flight functions, these are off the shell add-ons that we can incorporate when and as needed.

Since underwater flight is such a unique experience that creates memorable moments, have hospitality companies inquired about adding underwater flight adventure programs to their resorts?

Yes, we have recognized this potential for several years now, and are just starting to be approached by governments and hospitality companies about offering underwater flight experiences.

Why do you think successful technology entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are so heavily focused on Space Exploration while the future of mankind could very well exist under the sea?

Beats me. I’ve said before, I think their rockets are pointing 180 degrees in the wrong direction. That said, they may very well see things/opportunities that we are not seeing. They have said they are looking to mine space for resources, however, this is an ocean planet, and the largest amount of resources are untapped, right here, under our own feet. I believe many people have a fundamental misunderstanding that we live on an ocean planet that is largely unexplored and undeveloped.