Everyday, hundreds of prospective students travel to Providence to visit college hill. Traveling far ways from all over the country (and world), some families overload their college search with another stressful search: parking. The congested one-way streets of Rhode Island’s capital make the parking search an often frustrating experience for families trying to make it in time for their college tours. Residents of Providence also sacrifice time circling around the block, squeezing into the limited street parking spaces available.
Luckily, Brown alum Albie Brown ‘16 has developed a mobile app to address this very problem.
Albie is the CEO and co-founder of Spotter, an iOS app that currently holds the most parking locations in all of Providence. Considered the “Airbnb for parking,” the service allows users to rent out their private parking spaces, such as driveways and office lots, when they’re not in use. On the flip side, drivers can claim one of these spaces for just $1/hour with the tap of a finger.
A: “Our goal is to create the world’s largest parking lot of parking spaces we don’t own. We hope that Spotter’s ability to better utilize space can ultimately create better cities and improve mobility.”
But before Spotter, Albie was another Brown student excited about the startup world. Studying Computer Science, Albie was ambitious enough to develop his own app entering his senior year. Experiencing personal frustrations with parking, he used an independent study with Assistant Professor Rodrigo Fonseca to build the first prototype of Spotter.
A: “I always think about how much time and gas we collectively waste circling the block looking for parking. Space is another precious resource within cities. Spotter utilizes existing parking spots to waste less.”
With this in mind, Albie binge-watched a number of online courses and began piecing things together. He finished prototyping the app on a bus ride back to school at the beginning of the summer. His motivation to build Spotter on his own connects back to what he describes as the whole pedagogy of Brown’s computer science department:
A: “When you’re working in industry or building things out on your own, a lot depends on how you’re going to figure things out. The things you learn at Brown aren’t about memorization or learning specific skills. I’d say it’s more about gaining the independence to teach yourself.”
The community found within Brown’s computer science department helped Albie develop the skills and confidence, which were essential to implementing Spotter. He remained heavily involved with Brown’s CS community after graduation, coming back to College Hill for various startup fairs and workshops. It is this very community that allowed Albie to connect with two current Brown computer science students, Zander Chase ‘19 and Palak Goel ‘19.
Palak is concentrating in Computer Science/Economics (one degree from two departments), and Zander is double-concentrating in Computer Science and Hispanic Studies. They emphasized that the most rewarding aspect of Computer Science is the ability to build so many connections with students professors, and alumni.
A: “There are 11:59 deadlines for a lot of the projects, and everyone is in the the CIT at 11:50pm trying to figure out their last line of code. Spending many hours on each project, but doing that beside your peers, is what really tightens the community.”
P: “Some of my best relationships were from the intro CS course-that’s where I met Zander. There are also so many opportunities with professors, Zander and I even play squash with of our professors.”
This community also manifests in its unique undergraduate teaching assistance program. Palak was a teaching assistant himself this past fall:
P: “Having teaching assistants who are your age and helping run the class makes it a much more collaborative learning environment. The undergraduate teaching assistance program helps you make personal connections with someone in the department who understands all the struggles you may be going through when coding a project, and then they’re there to help you out. Other schools, where professors entirely run the class and just give out written tests, are not analogous to any realistic coding setting Getting feedback from students who actually help run the course makes it a lot more personable and fun.”
A: “Assistant Professor Jeff Huang has also been a big supporter of Spotter. He listed his own parking spot and posts on Reddit about using Spotter to find parking in Providence. We only realized this because we were getting linked to from some random Reddit post, and we eventually traced it back to Professor Huang.”
But when not playing for Brown’s Varsity Squash Team and coding projects for their classes, Palak and Zander went to various startup fairs that the department offered. This is where they ran into Albie and Spotter:
P: “I first met Albie through mutual friends, but the first time I actually got to know about Spotter was by accident. I was in the CIT at a startup fair with Zander. We went to the third floor and ran into Albie’s presentation.”
Z: “It was a great pitch.”
A: “That was actually my first pitch. I got all my friends to come so they could sit in the back cheering me on the whole time.”
P: “We kept seeing him at all these fairs and conferences, and also the Brown Datathon. Throughout the year I just got to learn more and more about Spotter and thought they were doing something really cool and important.”
After making plans to stay in Providence for the summer, they decided to reach out to Albie with hopes to contribute to Spotter. Palak has been doing research with the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab, while Zander has been commuting to Boston working for a wealth management firm. But outside of those jobs, they have been building an analytics tool that Spotter can use to see how users interact with the app. Albie has also been a mentor, giving them tips and pieces of advice for their work.
Z: “The projects are different from what we do at school because we get to do what we want, building it as we go based on what we think is best. The work that we’ve done for Spotter has been so helpful because let us do what we want to do and decide how we want to contribute.”
A: “Mentoring student entrepreneurs and watching them connect the dots is one of my favorite parts of every week. It has been awesome hanging out with Palak and Zander and helping them work on whatever’s most exciting to them.”
Z: “What has amazed me the most is just seeing all the different things they do to keep the company going. There’s the app that everyone can see, but there’s also a ton of coding that goes on behind the scenes. We are also exposed to customer relations, seeing how drivers and driveway owners interact. It’s just been such a great opportunity to help build the future image of the company and also see how an early stage startup runs.”
Being able to mentor students has been a rewarding experience for Albie because he’s helping them take a leap into the startup world that at first seems wide and intimidating.
A: “What’s stopping you? There’s no shortage of excuses that can be made as a college student for why not to start doing something. Get together with your friends to mess around and build something and maybe even put it out into the world. Many current students are on the edge of taking that leap. That’s the hard part, deciding to jump and just go for it. You need to get over the self-consciousness and self-doubt.”
Albie has big dreams for Spotter, hoping that it will one day be the world’s largest parking lot of private parking spaces and also help improve urban sustainability. But being able to hold those dreams confidently is what Albie believes is essential to not only navigating the startup world, but also to inspiring others to do the same.
Learn more about Spotter here.