…it helps build your personal and company brand. It facilitates your interactions with prospective customers, partners and other key stakeholders, which directly impacts the company’s growth rate. I think it also inspires your employees. For them it’s exciting to work for someone they see as a visionary, someone who’s always pushing boundaries and challenges them to do the same.
As part of our series on how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Juan Rodriguez, the co-founder and CEO at FlashParking. Rodriguez is a leader in parking and mobility solutions powering the parking evolution from isolated parking assets to connected mobility hubs. Rodriguez is responsible for directing the planning and management of product development and oversees FlashParking’s overall strategy. FlashParking is committed to helping owners and operators of parking garages and lots in cities, leverage technologies such as cloud computing, real-time data collection and analysis, and the Internet of Things (IoT), to turn their facilities into connected mobility hubs for all types of passenger and commercial vehicles. These mobility hubs can help solve the traffic challenges that research shows are getting worse. One of the main challenges of attaining a “smart city” includes, solving the congestion issue, which FlashParking is actively doing. There is a lot of talk about “smart cities” and people have visions of boarding driverless buses, shuttles and cars, or zipping along the streets and sidewalks on rented electric bikes and scooters. The issue is, none of those advancements will solve the current traffic congestion problem. Even a driverless Uber car will still have to roam the streets between fares, trucks will still block traffic while making deliveries, and the sidewalks will still be cluttered with rental bikes, scooters and their docking stations. Rodriguez has taken an interest in making sure that those issues are resolved and become a topic of the past. Prior to FlashParking, Rodriguez held senior executive positions in both operations and retail at various companies including MPower Labs, Inc. and Rev Worldwide, Inc. (MPower Group companies), as well as senior technical positions at Terremark Worldwide and CACI, Inc. He led efforts to launch financial and mobile payments services to the world’s unbanked populations in over 10 countries. In 2005 Rodriguez co-founded Klevernet, LLC (acquired by MPower Ventures), an online insurance portal that bridged the gap between local insurance agents and internet insurance shoppers. To connect with Rodriguez, check out his LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was born in the Dominican Republic, and raised in Miami, FL. After attending Miami-Dade College, I enlisted in the U.S. Army. That experience changed my life and started me on the path that I’m still traveling today. After completing Basic Training, I spent four years stationed at the Pentagon and I fell in love with the field of IT system automation. The idea of having a computer making our lives more productive and efficient by doing work for us was exciting. I went to school at night and earned my degree in Computer Information Systems, and went to work for a government contractor. It was a great experience, but the entrepreneurial bug bit me, so I moved back to Miami to start a business.
The first venture for me and my partners was to launch an insurance lead generation business, which we later sold to a company based in Austin, TX. After the sale was completed, I remember we were sitting at my kitchen table and brainstorming new ideas. Daniela Diaz my co-founder’s wife was expressing her frustrations while using valet services and that sparked an idea.The seed for what would become FlashParking was born, an automated parking valet stand that enabled you to request your car, pay the fee, and even tip the valet driver from your mobile phone — no more searching your pockets for paper tickets and waiting by the valet stand.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
My expertise lies in using cloud computing, mobile devices and other technologies to create new business efficiencies, improve customer service levels and generate new revenue streams. The parking industry is at the dawn of a new era of innovation, and we’re part of that evolution as pioneers of the industry’s adoption of software as a service platform. I believe it’s important for any CEO — no matter what industry you’re in — to surround yourself with people who have the expertise in your industry to guide your decision-making process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think people find it interesting that I was working in the Pentagon on 9/11. I wasn’t a great student in high school, and college wasn’t really an option for me. So I enlisted in the U.S. Army, and as I was finishing Advanced Individual Training (AIT), I was selected to work in the Pentagon as a Private First Class right after completing Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
Yes, we all felt confusion and fear after that plane slammed into the building, but my clearest memories are of people helping their colleagues to safety and treating the injured. It was both a horrible and proud day for all of us.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started prototyping our FlashParking SmartStation Kiosk, I did not know much about outdoor rated hardware and how resistant our equipment would be too harsh environmental conditions. I purchased 17 ruggedized military-grade tablet computers and tried running them inside a baking pan on the roof of my house all day in an attempt to replicate a scorching hot summer day. My neighbors came over to express their “concerns” (to put it nicely) that if my house caught on fire, so would theirs. Later I discovered extreme heat/cold chambers exist, so now I use those instead of frightening my neighbors with my Rube Goldberg-esque systems.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is someone who not only understands what’s happening today but keeps an eye on the future. To be a thought leader in any industry, you have to try pushing the boundaries of today’s business practices and technology implementations to drive change. Always be asking “how does this work today, and how could it be slightly better?” It’s that kind of thinking that enables you to disrupt an entire industry, and that’s what we’re doing today.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it’s worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
One key benefit is that it helps build your personal and company brand. It facilitates your interactions with prospective customers, partners and other key stakeholders, which directly impacts the company’s growth rate. I think it also inspires your employees. For them it’s exciting to work for someone they see as a visionary, someone who’s always pushing boundaries and challenges them to do the same.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
I think a great example would be when we won Texas Medical Center over as a client. TMC is the largest medical center in the world and they have the largest paid parking facility in North America. Because FlashParking secured that deal, it gives us credibility and makes people take us serious. When I show up to meetings as the CEO of the company that delivered such project in 44 days, people immediately feel more comfortable.
Another example would be when we migrated over from a valet system provider to PARCS, a lot of our clients took a significant leap of faith in us, trusting that our team would be able to deliver results, which we did. If you look at the companies we stand against, these are billion-dollar companies, so it’s a pretty big deal that FlashParking is able to disrupt the industry.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
1. You have to be hyperactive in your industry and be constantly in the know of what’s happening, which includes being up to speed on the latest and greatest innovations.
Example: The first thing I do every morning is take 20 to 30 minutes to catch up on all things parking related, reading what’s new, who closed a deal, etc.
2. While you are learning about the industry’s latest trends, you need to get evidence that shows what works and more importantly what does not work, or didn’t work.
Example: Just because you read something does not make it a fact, so when I read something and it sounds too good to be true, I drive or fly to places in order to see it with my own eyes. I recall a company saying they had a 99.999% accuracy rate on license plate cameras, so I drove to Dallas to checkout one of their installations and I was able to prove, that is was not true. While this may just have been an exaggerated statement from the marketing department, it was factually not correct.
3. You have to be able to challenge the status quo and identify the current problem. Ask yourself if you can apply an existing solution maybe from another industry.
Example: When we started our FlashPARCS product, we would hear people say, “The cloud won’t work for this application, you must have servers onsite.” We proved everyone wrong.
4. Follow other thought leaders.
Example: I attend trade shows and meet other folks that are making waves in the industry as I know I can learn something valuable that I can later apply to my own business.
5. Be observant of the world around you and don’t accept what you see as the only way for things to be.
Example: We noticed that Bluetooth was being used in other industries for a ton of cool things, so we decided that we would install Bluetooth devices inside the FlashPARCS kiosks. This enabled people to enter and exit a parking facility without having to lower their window. We didn’t re-invent, we just repurposed it.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
I’ll give you two: Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Their ability to see the world how it could be, and also rally their people to pursue their visions, is impressive. Jobs transformed how we communicate for work and our personal lives, and Musk is on a mission to get everybody driving electric cars. At least, that’s one of his many missions that also include mass transportation and space travel. I mean, it’s really hard. Over the years they’ve motivated me to try to approach problem solving in different ways and think not just “how can I make this better?” but “how can it be 10 times better?” They both embody what it means to have a grand vision and then actually implement and execute on that vision.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
Personally, I don’t like to use the term. The greatest minds out there remain humble and are not showing off their title and status. Think about respect, it’s not something you can demand, you have to earn it.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
What I’ve learned is that I must spend my energy on the things that really matter, and where I can move the needle. The temptation when starting a company is to try to do everything yourself, and that never works over the long run. Focus on your strengths and doing what no one else can do, then surround yourself with people who can do the same in their own areas of expertise.
You are a person of enormous influence. Ask yourself: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
You never know what your idea can trigger!
Bringing basic health care education and treatment options across the country and around the world. So many people living in rural or remote locations don’t have easy access to doctors, nurses, medical facilities, or educational resources on how to improve their health and wellness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you have to overcome all objections before you start something or try something, nothing will ever get done.” When I was going to start FlashParking, I would analyze the pros and cons and I would spend hours on it. Sometimes you just must use your best judgment and try things in practice vs. just paper analysis.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Mary Barra the CEO of GM, it would be nice to grab lunch and discuss the future of mobility (autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles, etc.).
How can our readers follow you on social media?
FlashParking’s Website: https://www.flashparking.com/
FlashParking’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FlashParking/
FlashParking’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flashparking/
Flashparking’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/flashparking
FlashParking’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/flashparking/
Juan’s Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/juanrodriguez/
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.