BEIRUT: Most people in Lebanon, at some point in their lives, had to go through the tedious process of parking in a mall or a large center. They had to first get a ticket from the parking machine, keep the ticket with them while they roam the mall (God forbid they lose it, that’s extra charge), wait in line so they can finally pay at the ticket machine and exit.
A group of seven Lebanese entrepreneurs have decided to change this status quo and digitize the parking process in malls and similar premises through an app called Soffa, which means “park it” in Arabic.
Soffa works with a smart camera that recognizes the vehicle plate number as the car enters and exits, and debits the user (ie, removes the parking fee from his credit card) as he or she exits the parking. As for users who don’t have a credit card, they can access an electronic wallet that can be charged at the cashier present in the premises where Soffa is installed.
“We were once hanging together in one of the Lebanese malls when we realized that the parking process is still very obsolete in all of its steps,” Leila Christel Daher, cofounder and business development manager of Soffa, told Annahar. “We thought this could change and that we can digitize it.” That was in July 2017.
The first challenge was finding the right tech savvy individuals who can work on the smart camera and license plate recognition. “We managed to find two very talented developers who helped us in implementing our idea. They later became shareholders in Soffa, and that’s how we became seven founders.”
After the application was ready in its iOS and android version, the team of seven decided to approach ABC Achrafieh for a pilot testing phase of 30 days. “We were able to convince ABC with our idea by explaining to them that they have everything to gain by offering their clients an innovative all digital hands-free parking access and payment solution” Daher explained. “We also convinced them by saying that the idea behind Soffa was to have a universal parking solution across all malls and premises with the ease of accessing it as if it were one’s own parking.”
According to Daher, after 30 days of testing and a thorough review of the system the management of ABC was satisfied with the result and agreed to implement Soffa’s solution in its parkings across its branches in Achrafieh, Dbayeh and Verdun later on. Soon after, Beirut Souks and Zeitounay Bay followed and signed an agreement with Soffa, thereby digitizing their parking process.
“We’ve been operational for the past seven months,” Daher explained. “We have amassed around 25,000 users and have about 1500 active users per day. That’s about 300,000 parking operations done.”
When asked how they managed to amass such a large number of users in a small country like Lebanon, the team answered that they relied mostly on word of mouth to deliver their message to the users, and that ABC customers were able to use the app for free in the beginning which encouraged them to download it.
“Another important aspect in convincing the users was the fact that our solution is hands-free and touch-free,” Louise Doumet, another cofounder of Soffa, told Annahar. “This, in the times of COVID-19, reassures the user that we are a safe option.”
How does Soffa monetize itself?
Soffa monetizes itself by charging an additional 10% of the applicable parking fee defined by the parking with a minimum floor of 500 LBP.
What are Soffa’s future plans?
“We want to be a universal parking solution, so the idea is to expand to all parkings available in Lebanon, and to have a step outside of Lebanon as well,” Daher said.
The Android version of Soffa can be downloaded at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.soffaparking.soffa&hl=en_US
The iOS version of Soffa can be downloaded at https://apps.apple.com/lb/app/soffa/id1387564103
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