Sontag Winner On ‘Instally’ and Creating a Successful Business Idea

By Brendan Aguiar

We at the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship sat down to chat with MBA student Ryan Klekas, who is this year’s Sontag Competition winner for his parking app, Instally. The purpose of Instally is to solve the often wrenching problem of finding parking on the outskirts of campus by acting as a intermediary for homeowners living around the University to rent out parking spaces to students.

Brendan: What was it like being a finalist in the Sontag competition? Did it influence you to become more involved in the community?

Ryan: Sure. As a finalist, they had a lot of workshops that we had to go to at the Innevation Center. There were other members from the entrepreneurial community that would come in and give talks to us about different things. Someone from the MIT Venture Mentoring Service came in and gave a talk about the financial aspects of starting a business plan. Individuals from CUBE at Midtown came by and spoke to us. Prior to doing the Sontag, I wasn’t really sure what the entrepreneurship community had and doing it really exposed me to a lot of the resources that exist.

B: Have you thought about the future of Instally? Where do you see it in 5 to 10 years time?

R: Obviously I see it in a good place or I see it being a service that is provided all over the country. I try not to be super optimistic, but I think it is possible to build it to something like that with a lot of hard work. I think one thing that helped me win was I took it out of the idea stage a little bit and created a minimum viable product. So I did it. Just through text messaging, I actually rented out parking between owners and people that wanted to rent parking for a period of a month in a half just like a simulation. I was able to get a lot of questions I was curious about answered about the process of how the app would work and just to see if people would pay money for it and they did. So right now I’m talking to a lot of development teams trying to get that set in stone so we can start building the platform. Within the first six months I plan to stay around UNR so I can validate some of those concepts in the app that I think will make it successful. See how people are receptive to it before making it available to anyone who wants to use it throughout the country.

B: Do you see it expanding within the community?

R: I’m not saying it’s not possible. It’d be cool if it did. The purpose of it really is to help individual in harder to park areas and Reno, aside form the university area I’ve never had an issue parking anywhere else in Reno. I think Midtown, with it expanding and becoming more popular, could get to a point where it could utilize something like that. I’ve had friends who said they’ve had a hard time parking at midtown at certain times at night on the weekends so maybe on a small scale. Other than that, I don’t see other areas where its hard to find parking.

B: I’m just thinking in crowded cities like New York or L.A. there could potentially be a demand there when you’re talking about lending out your space. Even in Reno, just for specific events like the Rib Cook Off or Hot August Nights, it’s harder to find parking, especially if it gets really packed.

R: The thing about those one time events, those are all great and I completely agree with you that people can utilize something like this, it’s all about opportunity cost though, right? I mean, how much resources am I going to have to go out and educate the individuals living in the area and also the individuals going to the events that this service exists and what kind of return am I going to get? Is it worth it? It’s not recurring throughout the entire year where those people can continually use it all the time. During that one time it’d be great, because the demand would be so high, so that’s definitely a question I’ve asked myself. Would I be willing to for a week prior to that just go out and hit the area really hard and educate them and hope it works? Because if it doesn’t, nobody ever uses it then it was a big waste of time. That’s the only issue I see with one time events like that, but I agree with you. I’ve been to the Rib Cook Off and there’s people with signs in their yard saying, hey park here, so it already goes on and this obviously a more streamlined way for them to do it.

B: Do you see yourself doing other business prospects in the future, continually growing like an entrepreneur would?

R: I hope so, regardless if this succeeds or fails. I’ve already taken a lot of the concepts I’ve learned on the abstract realm within academia. They teach you these concepts, but you don’t really get to apply them. I mean just in the MBA program there are so many things I’ve already done in the past month that apply to my business that I’ve been able to take away from what I’ve heard come out of my professor’s mouth. It’s good to legitimately apply these concepts. It’ll definitely give me a more solid foundation as an entrepreneur to have the courage and experience to go out and start a new venture. The whole thing, just the learning experience, is really a wealth of information and I’m really excited about further pursuing the field of entrepreneurship.

B: You went out to the community and you’ve talked to the home owners. Can you tell me what that was like?

R: I surveyed well over two hundred fifty houses. I spoke to a lot of home owners and business owners and the feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive and that was cool to be able to validate those ideas.

B: What about the legality of it?

R: I know in Reno at least through the proper authoritative parties I’ve spoken with so far, that as far as renting out your private parking, not the street, but your property, that there is nothing wrong with it. I’m sure there will be different restrictions in other areas like San Francisco that we’ll have to deal with, but all I can say to that is you look at some of the bigger disruptive companies like Uber and Airbnb who are going through the same things right now and that doesn’t stop them. All the rules and regulations they’re running into came into place a long time ago. We’re seeing this new collaborative consumption sharing economy coming about and people aren’t really sure how to handle it from a legal aspect. Uber wasn’t allowed to come to Nevada initially. We just got it. That was a process of having to go through litigation, lobbying, and having to rewrite rules to accommodate this new technology and the new ways that people want to make money and I think that over time, when enough people want to use it, eventually those old laws will be rewritten to accommodate it.

B: You mentioned the sharing economy. Your app is involved with that like Uber and Airbnb is as well. It’s like you are sharing in this increasingly popularized world because it is getting more difficult to navigate and we do need to accommodate people so I think that is pretty cool.

R: Absolutely. In a world that’s already filled with so much concrete and parking garages, why add more parking garages when there’s all these driveways and there are people who want to rent out their driveways? You need 500 more spaces to accommodate the university, well it already exists. It’s just a unique way of solving the problem versus spending 25 million dollars on concrete structure that adds zero appeal to the school and they’re probably never going to see a return on its investment anyway. It’s amazing to me that a company like Uber that owns zero taxi cabs is valued at 25 billion dollars. Same thing with Airbnb. They own no houses and yet they are crushing traditional hotels who own all these properties. The infrastructure is there, it’s just finding a creative way to utilize the different assets.

Brendan Aguiar is the Social Media Intern and the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship he can be reached here on LinkedIn.