Podcast Transcript – Series One, Episode 20

jim Gibbs MeterFeeder  October 2020


Jim Gibbs: [00:00:00] I started writing software back in yeah, 1983.

Could you work for $8 an hour and do what you just did? I was like, I would love to, and that is how I got my first job as a software developer.

She pulled out a fist full of parking tickets and said, if you guys made an app to pay for parking, I would use it every day. I was just lit up like, Oh, clearly we can make that.

I mean, to be honest, the point where we were like, we should probably take the serious is where we were accepted to Y Combinator.

He was working behind the counter. He cracked a JavaScript joke. I hired him.

I personally have a strong conviction to helping other black founders at least catch up to where I am.

[00:00:37] I want people to make parking so easy that no one ever gets another parking ticket.

Dan: [00:00:43] What’s up Unfound Nation, Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for listening in to another episode of Founders Unfound. That was Jim Gibbs, Co-Founder and CEO of MeterFeeder, a company that predicts parking availability and enables vehicles to pay for parking with no human interaction.

[00:01:00] Basically cars pay for themselves. Jim and I actually both did some work with a well-known local Pittsburgh tech company called Branding Brand. So, I was excited when we recently reconnected this year, Jim is a brilliant coder and a visionary, and he’s out to convince us all that. It isn’t even a question…

[00:01:17] Pittsburgh is the place to be. Make sure to listen in to learn how this guy who has done development for the likes of USA Today and American Eagle set out to reimagine the parking meter. Our episode is sponsored by The Plug. The Plug is a one-of-a-kind place to find research stories and data relevant about, and for the black tech landscape.

[00:01:36] They have unique reports and analysis and members only calls with some of today’s premier leaders use the code unfound to save $10 on a name subscription at TPinsights.com or find a link in the show notes. Our hearts go out to the family and our nation over the loss of Justice Ginsburg. She was an amazing leader role model and moral giant. Her impact will be felt well beyond her presence with us.

[00:02:00] If you’re a new listener to Founders Unfound, we’ve got something special for the black founders out there who are still struggling to get recognition. There is another way to get onto our podcast and it’s absolutely free. Just leave it. And a five-star rating on Apple podcasts, or at podchaser.com. If you do this and identify yourself as a black founder, I will read your review in an upcoming episode. So make sure to plug your numbers, bunny and your URL and all the relevant handles. So why not podcast episodes live on and on and on basically getting a free ad as a thank you for taking the time to give us a review and support our mission.

[00:02:34] So be sure to drop your review today. So, to that end, I want to give a shout out and a big thank you to Celeste who gave us five stars and wrote:

[00:02:43] I love everything about this podcast. There is something powerful about hearing someone share a story that is transparent. I start to see I’m not alone as an entrepreneur. It’s important for me to remember that because it can feel like a lonely road. Thank you so much, Dan, for creating this amazing masterpiece.

[00:03:00] Wow. Thanks so much. The last that was incredible. So, Les does a great show of her own and I’ve been on it called Celeste the Therapist. She has a podcast. She lives streams.  She’s written in published books, all with the goal of helping to empower people and shifting their mindsets. Make sure to check out Celeste at Celestethetherapist.com on Twitter @_itsmeCeleste_, and simply Celeste the Therapist on YouTube and wherever you listen to podcasts.

[00:03:28] Celeste is C E L E S T E. And therapist is T H E R A P I S T. Wasn’t that? Cool. Now is your chance head over to Apple or pod chaser and drop us a review.

[00:03:40] Now on with the episode, stay safe and hope you enjoy.

[00:03:56] Hello. Welcome to Founders Unfound, spotlighting, the best startups you don’t know yet, we bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented backgrounds. This is episode number 20 in our series on founders of African descent. I’m your host, Dan Kihanya, let’s get on it. Today, we have Jim Gibbs, co-founder and CEO of MeterFeeder, a company that predicts parking availability and enables vehicles to pay for parking with no human interaction.

[00:04:24] Welcome to the show, Jim, we’re super excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time. Hi,

[00:04:29] Jim Gibbs: [00:04:29] Dan.

[00:04:30] Dan: [00:04:30] Glad to be here. Awesome. Awesome. Hey and congratulations on your Steelers, a 2020 debut win.

[00:04:38] Jim Gibbs: [00:04:38] Well, thank you very much. I was busy hiding under a rock writing software, but you know, I’ll take it.

[00:04:44] Dan: [00:04:44] Yeah. It’s the beginning of the season.

[00:04:46] So it’s still early. It’s amazing how people just sort of jump into the conversations and the debates and everything around the around sports when it kicks back into gear.

[00:04:57] Jim Gibbs: [00:04:57] Absolutely. I kind of, uh, Poke my head out every once in awhile, when I’m like, how are you guys handling parking over at the stadium is over there.

[00:05:05] But then besides that, I kind of stay in my hole and keep getting back.

[00:05:10] Dan: [00:05:10] Uh, well, that is a great segue. So why don’t we start off with helping the listeners understand exactly what MeterFeeder is all about.

[00:05:17] Jim Gibbs: [00:05:17] Sure. So, I mean, even before COVID cities, we’re losing billions of dollars trying to price the curve for shared vehicles.

[00:05:24] So we’re talking Cartago and scoot and FedEx folks like that. We actually made a way for traditional and autonomous vehicles to pay for parking with no human interaction. So CDs can make money and I can stop getting parking tickets.

[00:05:37] Dan: [00:05:37] Yes. The parking ticket is a Bain for most people, especially if you live anywhere near a city that somehow is vigilant about that aspect of, uh, enforcement.

[00:05:47] Jim Gibbs: [00:05:47] It doesn’t make it very much easier that, um, you know, we also have a digital enforcement solution and it’s kind of geared towards the small to mid size municipality that doesn’t have the, the budget of someone that like a Seattle or a Pittsburgh, since we’re doing, making it really easy for the parking enforcement officer to write more parking tickets, you have to make it easier for people to be able to actually pay for parking.

[00:06:11] So they didn’t get the parking ticket to begin with.

[00:06:13] Dan: [00:06:13] That makes total sense. There is a lot of inefficiencies there for sure. And it seems like somebody is always on the losing end. So it’s an awesome concept. But before we dive more into the company, let’s hear a little bit about who you are. Are you from.

[00:06:28] Pittsburgh originally?

[00:06:29] Jim Gibbs: [00:06:29] No, I’m actually from New York all the way out on long Island, New York, uh, people generally don’t believe me unless I say it like that. Yeah. I ended up coming out to Pittsburgh back in, uh, 95 where I went to Carnegie Mellon for a couple of years, but then I found out that I could get a two-bedroom apartment for 500 bucks a month.

[00:06:48] So essentially came out here for artificial intelligence and just stayed for the rent.

[00:06:53] Dan: [00:06:53] Nice. Nice. Well, I know Pittsburgh is, is now trending in terms of like one of the more popular cities or, you know, nicest places to live. So you, you, uh, you picked a good one.

[00:07:05] Jim Gibbs: [00:07:05] Absolutely.

[00:07:06] Dan: [00:07:06] So tell us about growing up on Long Island.

[00:07:08] Um, what was, what was that like?

[00:07:11] Jim Gibbs: [00:07:11] So my father is an interior-exterior painter. My mother is well, she was a secretary growing up, but they knew that I was into technology. Um, I started, uh, writing software back in my teenage 83. So, um, it was really just them scraping their pennies together and sent me to places like New York tech.

[00:07:35] So when my friends were out in, uh, summer vacation, I was off at programming camp learning how to like build robots and stuff. But then when I got older, it was one of those awkward situations where, you know, a lot of people are like, Oh, I need to find myself. It’s like, cool. I need to find myself too. So I stopped programming for a summer.

[00:07:56] And I actually got an internship at the Brookhaven national laboratory where I was working alongside scientists. Like, uh, it was, how did you know physics? So they had things like a Lin act, the alternate ingredient synchrotron, and the relative is the caveat and Collider and all this other stuff. And, um, yeah, suddenly one of the scientists told me.

[00:08:16] You’re going to be begging for money for the rest of your life. If you go any higher, you physics just be a software developer. So that was pretty much that was going to be finding myself.

[00:08:27] Dan: [00:08:27] Oh my gosh. Wow. You could have been the next like Einstein or something. And uh, and then steady redirected your, uh, your life in another direction.

[00:08:36] You talked about, uh, writing code early. What drew you to writing code back in the eighties when it was not really a thing?

[00:08:43] Jim Gibbs: [00:08:43] Yeah, so. I actually saw the movie Tron in the theaters. Yeah. After I was done, I was like, that was the most amazing thing that I’ve ever seen before in my life. And my mom was like, well, he was a software developer.

[00:08:58] So I was like, then that’s what I want to be. Right. And, uh, yeah, I knew that I wanted to get into a video game development, and then suddenly I found myself in like medical software and. Parking and things like that. So

[00:09:13] Dan: [00:09:13] what, um, did you, did you have any friends, I mean, you talked about going to programming camp.

[00:09:17] Did you have sort of a, a loose affiliation or a tribe or anything of other people that you knew that were doing coding

[00:09:25] Jim Gibbs: [00:09:25] and programming? I meanwhile I was there. Yeah. Right. The basic friends that you meet at summer camp, they would say awkward things. Like I could program pong in my calculator and listening to half-hour.

[00:09:35] I’m like, cool. But then it’s like, as soon as you leave, you’re like, I want to interact with normal people again. So what is the end of those relationships?

[00:09:45] Dan: [00:09:45] Uh, that’s funny. Um, and so you talked about going to New York tech. Um, what, how was that experience? Was that a big difference in terms of the focus around STEM that you had been used to prior to that?

[00:10:00] Jim Gibbs: [00:10:00] Well, I mean, absolutely. Because the thing that you have to remember, I mean, I was still very young, so it’s like when you go to programming cam and you’re doing things in, you know, Hey in normal life, you’re used to using numbers in base 10. Right. Then all of a sudden you go back to school the next year.

[00:10:21] And they’re like, okay, let’s review what’s one plus one. And my response being 10 is clearly wrong.

[00:10:27] Dan: [00:10:27] Yeah. Uh, for those who don’t know, base 10 is not what programming is based on. And base 10 is what we know is sort of the normal, uh, how we, how we count.

[00:10:37] Jim Gibbs: [00:10:37] Yeah, good old Arabic numerals.

[00:10:41] Dan: [00:10:41] That’s pretty interesting.

[00:10:42] So, I mean, it must have been interesting for your parents though, to want to encourage this again, this is not, you know, the eighties was an interesting time for sure, for video games and the introduction of the PC, but again, it wasn’t, it wasn’t like the. You know, sort of powerhouse career track necessarily that we see today where they hesitant about that or where they just sort of like whatever Jim wants to do, we’re going to support him.

[00:11:09] Jim Gibbs: [00:11:09] They were supportive hands down, you know, my older siblings, they wanted to go into music, looking back. I was like, Why, but it would still, so it was like my, everybody else went into music and I went into, you know, tech and software development. So, they gave me the similar amount of support that they gave my, my older siblings.

[00:11:35] Dan: [00:11:35] Are you the youngest? I am, uh, they go to, the parents were already broken in that’s uh, I’m the oldest. So I know what I’m the oldest of three. And by the time my youngest brother came around, uh, you know, the parents were like, Oh, okay, whatever.

[00:11:49] Jim Gibbs: [00:11:49] Well, the funny thing is I was also one of those people who saw what my older siblings did wrong.

[00:11:56] And just didn’t do it. So,

[00:11:58] Dan: [00:11:58] ah, nice. Yes. This is another burden of the older sibling is you got to kind of do everything first and make those mistakes. So tell us about, um, so you made this decision to kind of quote-unquote, officially pursue programming technology. What, what drew you to Carnegie Mellon? I mean, it’s not someplace within the Geographic’s fear of long Island for sure.

[00:12:23] And. What, uh, what was that choice about?

[00:12:28] Jim Gibbs: [00:12:28] So there were two main factors and they seem so petty right now, like looking back decades, right. It’s 25 years ago. So number one, I needed to rebel. So I needed to get away from my parents. So, I couldn’t stay local. Right. Yeah. So, I was like, okay, I’m going to take computer science at MIT, but then my guidance counselor.

[00:12:54] She was like, Oh yeah, give me all of your applications. I’ll go through them and I’ll send them out. I was like, cool, thanks. And she sent out my MIT application a week late. Oh, so yeah. Awesome. Right. So, I was like, Oh, well I guess I’ll go into Carnegie Mellon then. And that was pretty much it. That was the decision.

[00:13:14] Dan: [00:13:14] Wow. Wow. You have a lot of these little sort of, um, a fork in the road, destiny type things, and a parallel universe. You could have been a physicist. At MIT.

[00:13:25] Jim Gibbs: [00:13:25] I could have been a physicist at MIT, but Hey, who knows? I could have been a musician, right?

[00:13:30] Dan: [00:13:30] That’s true. That’s true. Was it, was it a monster of a culture, an adjustment when you went to Carnegie Mellon?

[00:13:38] Oh,

[00:13:38] Jim Gibbs: [00:13:38] my goodness. Well, it was just very close my days at programming camp. Right. But it was like, it was just nonstop, right. There was no reprieve, you know? Cause you have to remember when I’m at New York tech, I was staying with my aunt and uncle. So I’m sitting here like break down Hanson and b-boy in and you know, Getting down, feeling good with the culture, but then turn them back around.

[00:14:05] And you know, when I’m in class, that’s when all of a sudden, I’m, you know, shifting bits and doing all these other wonderful things, right. Carnegie Mellon, there was no, there was no reprieve, right? It was just built, it was software. It was math. And that was the extent of my life at Carnegie Mellon.

[00:14:26] Dan: [00:14:26] Wow. Was there any kind of a social scene that you, or be a part of, especially as an African American.

[00:14:33] Well,

[00:14:34] Jim Gibbs: [00:14:34] actually, this is, I don’t mean to be telling on people right now, but, um, we had sleeping bag weekend, right? So, it was when they were trying to bring people who were thinking about going to Carnegie Mellon so that you can like go and see what the classes look like and stuff like that. So, what I didn’t realize was, you know, down the block, they had Pitt, which had they, they had a bustling black American community, right.

[00:15:00] So, what they did was they had Pitt throw up a party with a whole bunch of black people during sleeping bag weekend at Carnegie Mellon. So that when we all showed up, we were like, Oh man, look at all these smart black people. So, he showed up the first day, we were like, this is, we were duped. It was a bait and switch hands down.

[00:15:23] Right.

[00:15:23] Dan: [00:15:23] Wow.

[00:15:25] Jim Gibbs: [00:15:25] Yeah. I mean, There, there were some, some great people, you know, there was a spirit they had, there were a lot of folks that had the ability to meet and work with. And there was a lot of, uh, hip hop and, you know, underground hip hop culture that I was able to tap into and start to feel a little bit more at home.

[00:15:47] But, um, yeah, it was greatly, greatly, greatly outweighed by, uh, you know, writing printer drivers on a Friday night. Right. Rather than like going out and spinning on my head.

[00:15:58] Dan: [00:15:58] Oh, my gosh. Wow. It sounds to me like, you know, I don’t know if you’ve read that book by Malcolm Gladwell, the outliers, and you know, you have to do the 10,000 hours of practice.

[00:16:10] It sounds like you got your 10,000 hours of coding practice in pretty easily between your pre-college and college days.

[00:16:18] Jim Gibbs: [00:16:18] Yeah. Well, and it made it so weird because when my parents came to pick me up, I realized that I lost the ability to speak English. Well, normal English. So, you know, I’m trying to say things and I’m forgetting words like car and ball, then suddenly, you know, I find someone else, you know, like I see a computer science professor or, you know, calculus or another classmate of mine.

[00:16:43] And suddenly it’s just. Normal, you know, I’m speaking the normal language of software development and matrix algebra sorting and searching and common tutorial algorithms and things like that. Right. So, yeah, it was, it was just a weird time for my brain to do that shift between like normal human mere mortal human beings, and like actually becoming a living, breathing computer.

[00:17:10] Dan: [00:17:10] Wow. So, you come out of Carnegie Mellon and, and, and sort of what, what drew you to, so whatever was next,

[00:17:17] Jim Gibbs: [00:17:17] I definitely needed to make some money. So I actually went and try to get a job and I had two different resumes. One was. Hey, my name is Jim and I type 70 words a minute. And the other one is, hi, my name is Jim and I know assembly C++, so on, so forth.

[00:17:38] So I went going to interview after interview, after interview, everyone is turning me down. I mean, there was just one time I sat down and. This guy was interviewing me. I handed him the wrong resume and he saw me like, look at it. My eyes got really big and I put it back into my bag and he was like, no, no, no, let me see that.

[00:18:00] He took my resume. He was like, can you really do all this? I was like, yeah, sure. So he took me to a computer and using assembly. He was like, let me see you do something. So then I type in a whole bunch of stuff and he was like, this guy is just writing ones and zeros, but then when I hit enter, it just printed.

[00:18:17] Jim is King !!. He was like, are you willing to work for the same amount? Like, cause they were hiring for essentially a real estate assistant. So I was just going to be a receptionist in essence. Right. He was like, could you work for $8 an hour and do what you just did? I was like, I would love to.

[00:18:38] And that’s how I got my first job as a software developer.

[00:18:42] Dan: [00:18:42] That is certainly not a traditional path, I would say. And a, and I would call it a hack, but I don’t know that you could repeat

[00:18:49] Jim Gibbs: [00:18:49] it that I don’t think I could because yeah, the guy that I was interviewing with his father was like big-tim electrical engineering, like one of the staples at Carnegie Mellon University.

[00:19:04] So I didn’t realize that I was talking to this fancy, you know, software guy and I got to even hang out with his dad a couple of times, you know, to see, you know, some of the things that he was tinkering with. So yeah, it was, it was really serendipitous.

[00:19:19] Dan: [00:19:19] That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And so how long did that last, what happened next?

[00:19:25] I

[00:19:25] Jim Gibbs: [00:19:25] stayed there for a while. Went back to New York, started working on wall street, got a job at the IRS. And then the firm that I was working for, they got shut down by the IRS. I had nothing to do with it. After that I made enough, I worked at MCI, made enough money to go back to Carnegie. Mellon came back to Pittsburgh, ran out of money again, you know, so it was a lot of back and forth between, uh, here in New York.

[00:19:50] There was even a time where I was. There’s this one pizza shop outside of Pitt called. Oh. And I used to dance outside the O for spare cash so that I could do things like buy food and books. Right. So being a computer science student at Carnegie Mellon is not supposed to be. That’s not supposed to be part of the, uh, the experience, but here we are.

[00:20:15] Right.

[00:20:16] Dan: [00:20:16] So you really dance, like dance, dance.

[00:20:18] Jim Gibbs: [00:20:18] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We would, we would go out, put some music out and we would just start dancing. I was, I used to dance everywhere. I was. Do dance competitions. And everything’s just so that I can like actually make spare cash. But yeah, so I went from real estate, then I actually built a domain name registrar.

[00:20:40] Then I, uh, went into the medical software business. Then I went into, you know, I started my own thing. Right. So that was just making websites for people, helping startups get off the ground. After that started working for a retail company. Translated their site to 13 different languages enabled them to ship to 57 different countries left there, set up a USA today, uh, help them, uh, redo their entire website.

[00:21:08] When they went from the globe to the blue dot. After that, I went to a company that I know you from Dan, uh, where we were doing a lot of, um, retail stuff. We were powering a lot of retail sites out there. Yeah. And then after that, then I started MeetFeeder.

[00:21:26] Dan: [00:21:26] All right. Well, we’re going to get into that story for sure.

[00:21:29] But first we will take a short break and be right back with Jim Gibbs of MeterFeeder.

[00:21:35] The PLUG: [00:21:35] who gets to be called innovative or genius. If we look at the current media landscape today, we often don’t see people of color dominating the business or tech news headlines. I’m Sherrell Dorsey, data journalist and founder of The Plug.

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[00:22:34] Dan: [00:22:34] So we’re back with Jim Gibbs from MeterFeeder. So, we were just about to get started on this wonderful journey that is meat or feeder. Tell us about how it came about where’s the idea come from?

[00:22:45] Jim Gibbs: [00:22:45] Sure. So the first idea, I was actually helping someone with another startup idea and we had lunch and sat down with one of their salespeople.

[00:22:56] And at the end of lunch, the salesperson reached into her bag and. Instead of pulling out money to help chip in, she pulled out a fist full of parking tickets and said, if you guys made an app to pay for parking, I would use it every day. So I looked at my co-founder who I’d been at this point, been working with for about 15, 16 years.

[00:23:14] Right. And we just, I just lit up like, well, clearly, we can make that. Right. Um, you know, put it on the back burner for a little bit, but then we saw that there was a hackathon. That was a, you know, it was for 10,000 bucks. So 300 people entered, we built it, we ended up winning. So, yeah, that was essentially the beginning of me.

[00:23:37] Dan: [00:23:37] You said that, um, you and your cofounder had been working together previous to me to feed her. What, uh, how did that relationship emerge?

[00:23:46] Jim Gibbs: [00:23:46] This is going back a little bit, right? So, you remember when pretty much the only place where you can buy a domain name was through the internet.

[00:23:55] Dan: [00:23:55] I do.

[00:23:55] Jim Gibbs: [00:23:55] I do. There was a site called internet.co.uk.

[00:24:01] And I wrote that domain name registered. So, the sad thing is the gentlemen who ended up becoming my co-founder. He was the one who had to work support. So he would be up from like three o’clock in the morning till, you know, whenever, when they found out that he was in the U S he was called some of everything like a charlatan and this, that, and the other.

[00:24:24] So I was like, clearly this guy is, you know, he’s resilient is the best way that I could think of putting it right. Then there was a situation where he just didn’t get paid and I didn’t get paid. So, then we looked at each other and we’re like, I think it’s time for us to like, build our own stuff. Right.

[00:24:46] And that’s when we started to, uh, you know, start getting clients on our own. We actually started renting out the office space across the street from our old office. It made things real awkward, but that’s how it started.

[00:24:58] Dan: [00:24:58] Did you have to change like where you went for lunch and coffee? So you wouldn’t bump into people.

[00:25:03] I’m

[00:25:03] Jim Gibbs: [00:25:03] six foot five, 250 pounds. Nobody is messing with me. My lunch. Yes.

[00:25:11] Nice.

[00:25:13] Dan: [00:25:13] Um, so, so you two have been working together for a long time, so that’s, that’s really amazing. And I think that’s one of the hallmarks you see from co-founding teams, that there is sort of this common thread of either working together, going to school together, being in other activities together. So you get to know the person, you know, what’s their strengths, what are their weaknesses, how you work together.

[00:25:39] Jim Gibbs: [00:25:39] Absolutely. And if something goes wrong, the first thing that I’m doing is I’m not like trying to scheme to fire him. I actually care about him. I care about his family. Right. So the first thing I think is, is he okay? And kind of gets ready to have one of the biggest dysfunctions that I’ve seen in other organizations.

[00:26:01] Where it’s like, everyone’s trying to one upon another to show their value. If they’re, if everyone’s trying to demonstrate their value by tearing everybody else around them down, then it’s not going to be a healthy environment. So, we essentially started the company with that mindset. And then, uh, yeah, everybody else who comes on board, if they can’t get down with, you know, I’m genuinely trying to help everybody else, then they don’t belong to our organization.

[00:26:30] Dan: [00:26:30] That’s really great. You were thinking about that and it’s probably a benefit of the fact that you, you formed your bond out of slim. My rebellion against somebody else’s approach.

[00:26:40] Jim Gibbs: [00:26:40] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I mean, but it was really just, you know, we like being around each other, so we wanted to be around people that we liked being around.

[00:26:50] So it, we kind of just fell into it.

[00:26:52] Dan: [00:26:52] There you go. At least it was the priority. Right. Which again, I think sometimes people just focus on the X’s and O’s. So you win this hackathon, but you have sort of, to me, it feels like you’ve got sort of a nice gig rhythm going kind of a life business where you can come in and sort of parachute in and take on clients and build things for them.

[00:27:12] What was the thing that made the two of you say, you know, we really need to build a separate product company around this. What was, I mean, was it just the hackathon or did you stop and say, let’s think about this. Is this, was that just fun? We put $10,000 in our pocket, but. But let’s move on or was it like, yeah, this, this is the potential for really big business.

[00:27:32] We

[00:27:32] Jim Gibbs: [00:27:32] knew that people are spending over a hundred billion dollars for parking payments. Right. So we knew it was a big market. I mean, to be honest, the point where we were like, we should probably take the serious is where we were accepted to Y Combinator. I realized that so many people put a lot of stress into getting into accelerators and things like that, but it was almost like.

[00:27:55] I felt like we were going to do it no matter what. Right. Applied just the application process itself made me ask questions about the company, about the business. And it was during that process where I was like, Hey, Dan, I think, well, Dan’s my co-founder’s name. Hey Dan. I think we actually need to try that this is actually a thing that we can do in order to build generational wealth.

[00:28:20] Right. And, um, we were right. So

[00:28:23] Dan: [00:28:23] when, when was that? When was Y Combinator?

[00:28:25] Jim Gibbs: [00:28:25] That was 2016.

[00:28:27] Dan: [00:28:27] They keep track of like cohorts. What, what number cohort was that?

[00:28:31] Jim Gibbs: [00:28:31] I’m not sure I can make it be do bad. I think it’s like eight, nine, 10,

[00:28:36] Dan: [00:28:36] somewhere on there. Yeah, it was, it was pretty relatively early in the whole arc of things.

[00:28:42] What was, what was that experience like?

[00:28:45] Jim Gibbs: [00:28:45] It’s bizarre because you know, you, you do things like watch videos on how to start a startup. And then all of a sudden they’re like standing right next to you and they’re way shorter than they look on YouTube. Right?

[00:28:58] Dan: [00:28:58] Tom cruise, Sylvester, Stallone, uh, uh, trick.

[00:29:02] Jim Gibbs: [00:29:02] Yeah, it was.

[00:29:04] It was great because all the people that you just never even thought about. Right. Like I remember talking to this one guy, I’m like, Oh, nice to meet you. So and so forth. So what brings you here? He was like, Oh yeah, I wrote Gmail. I’m like, you’d never even think about the person. Who wrote g-mail like ever, you just assumed Gmail that Google put out there.

[00:29:34] And as a company, they just magically in candidate. And now it’s on the, so, uh, being able to meet the guy who, uh, built the product that eventually became Gmail was, was astounding. That I think that that was, that was one of those times where meeting. The Airbnb guys and talking about when their company was smaller than ours, it was really, really interesting and helped me get my mind wrapped around.

[00:30:02] Like, this is possible. It may be difficult and our journey may look significantly different than everyone else’s, but it is absolutely possible.

[00:30:10] Dan: [00:30:10] Cool. I mean, I think that’s part of the, the value add is that they help you figure out. You know, is there, they’re there and where’s the momentum and kind of put structure around that.

[00:30:20] Do you participate in alumni network or, you know, that’s kind of, one of their claims to fame is that they have sort of the secret handshake that, uh, all the Y Combinator alums have and, and help each other. And that kind of thing.

[00:30:32] Jim Gibbs: [00:30:32] There are a few companies that were, you know, keeping an eye on and we’re keeping in contact with definitely to help one another out, but take it one step further.

[00:30:44] I personally have a strong conviction to helping other black founders at least catch up to where I am. Right. So being able to use those like that network in order to influence the next generation of entrepreneurs and not only from a business level but sort of the social level as well.

[00:31:08] Dan: [00:31:08] Tell us a little bit more about how MeterFeeder works.

[00:31:11] I imagine there’s, it’s got two sides to it. There’s sort of the municipalities or the payees, I suppose, who, um, who take in parking fees and then you’ve got the payers, the folks who pay for parking. Yeah. How do you get set up? Do you have to work with us civic municipality first and get implemented with them?

[00:31:31] Or you start with payers and then go, um, where they. Want to park or how does that work?

[00:31:37] Jim Gibbs: [00:31:37] We generally start with the city first. We also have an app to pay for parking, but even still we go in there, they’re like, I don’t understand this pay by vehicle mindset. So then we sort of roll in with just the app and they’re like, okay, I get this.

[00:31:56] And we’re like, cool. We go out. We sell the fleets. Fleets are super easy to sell. Because essentially we just say, Hey, do you want to stop getting parking tickets? And then they sign up to get their fleet management solution put in their payment information, and then they’re ready to go. Suddenly the city to understand what the pay by vehicle thing is just because it looks exactly like the app payments are.

[00:32:25] So it’s like being able to. Speak the language of the city starts, where they understand, and then moving into the mindset of the vehicles paying for themselves.

[00:32:37] Dan: [00:32:37] That’s awesome. And, and on the city side, is there, is it a software solution or a hardware solution or a combination, or how does that work?

[00:32:46] Jim Gibbs: [00:32:46] We are software guys, so it is a completely software solution. I mean, even as far as the fleets are concerned, we don’t do any hardware. We just don’t want to. Compete with all of these amazing companies that are already in the space. So yeah, I mean, whatever vehicle or devices that they’re already using, we have a great team of software guys, and we just build out any sort of, uh, the integration that we need.

[00:33:13] And. Yeah, that’s, that’s pretty much it.

[00:33:16] Dan: [00:33:16] Nice. And I would imagine that there’s probably a handful of hardware folks out there that have a pretty good footprint across the market at this point. Absolutely. And from a fleet, what’s an example of a fleet that might be either that’s a customer, or it might be a potential

[00:33:32] Jim Gibbs: [00:33:32] customer.

[00:33:33] If you think about like a, a utility company, if it’s like Acme electricity, normally they have a fleet management solution inside. And essentially, instead of trying to negotiate with the city and trying to get better deals, they can just. Pay for what they use. Right. So we can do things from rental car companies, mobility solutions, to delivery companies, all sorts of things in order to make sure that people don’t get parking tickets and cities are okay with that because what we’ve heard resoundingly is that right?

[00:34:10] The cities want to foster a culture of compliance. I mean, as authoritarian, as scary as that might sound, they would prefer to not give people parking tickets, because that just turns into

[00:34:22] Dan: [00:34:22] yeah. And I would imagine that while parking tickets generate revenue, there’s probably this hole right. Where, you know, people are paying.

[00:34:32] Are not paying for parking, but also not getting a ticket for whatever reasons, the compliance isn’t a hundred percent. Right. And so, and then from every point of view, probably at the end of the day, it’s cheaper to just do 100% pay parking then to pay, you know, 30% of the time for the parking and then have to pay, you know, 25% of the time, big tickets that are going to be, you know, whatever, a hundred times X, the cost of what the parking would

[00:34:58] Jim Gibbs: [00:34:58] have been.

[00:34:59] Yeah, exactly. And then you start to think about, you know, delivery companies in New York city got like a hundred million dollars in parts tickets. So just imagine having to do all the data entry for all of those parking tickets and then turn back around and say, not guilty to every single one. So now you have to hire a legal in order to find it.

[00:35:24] And then you have the city who’s super upset because. Now the courts are overflowed. So yeah, it’s a mess. It’s pretty bad. So, um, yeah, I’m glad to be able to essentially solve a pain point on both sides of the aisle. That’s

[00:35:41] Dan: [00:35:41] pretty cool. And so the no human interaction and the no app, I mean, so basically it’s all sort of kind of GPS, as soon as the car or vehicle enters into some sort of a geofence that’s within a certain.

[00:35:57] Distance of the pain meter, then it’s just automatic.

[00:36:01] Jim Gibbs: [00:36:01] Yup. That’s it. I mean, once the person goes and parks and turns their vehicle off, you know, they send us the latitude-longitude engine, state timestamp, in which case we say, cool, the vehicles off, they probably want to start paying for parking and then we start the meter running and then when they turn the vehicle on drive away and, uh, We assume that they want to stop paying for parking and then that’s it.

[00:36:28] Dan: [00:36:28] Wow. That’s cool. I mean, you make it sound so simple, but I’m sure behind the scenes, it’s not simple and it is profound, right. I mean, even from an efficiency standpoint, right? Like not having to worry about even dealing with an app. Right. I mean, even if it’s simple and straightforward, it’s. You know, 20, 30 seconds up to maybe a minute and a half or two minutes of data entry or, or, you know, what sector am I in and things like that.

[00:36:52] And so if you’re in a situation where those kinds of time, you know, sort of impacts, like if you’re delivering packages, Which is probably like a 45 second thing. If you’re just dropping them off somewhere right now, you’re adding,

[00:37:06] Jim Gibbs: [00:37:06] not adding a couple of minutes cause they’re just not going to pay for it, right?

[00:37:10] Yeah. Because you have to think about it, right? It’s like if you have a thousand delivery people, are you going to put your credit card information on every one of their phones? So, yeah, they’re just like, I’m just going to get the ticket and they just park anywhere that they want to.

[00:37:25] Dan: [00:37:25] Interesting. So, tell us a little bit, but like, where are you at now?

[00:37:29] And what’s sort of your big vision for the company? I mean, how big could this be? And do you have sort of a, you know, a goal in mind of, of where you want the company to go

[00:37:38] Jim Gibbs: [00:37:38] a red-blooded human being? I want to say my vision for the company is I want people. To make parking so easy that no one ever gets another parking ticket.

[00:37:50] That is my vision. I’m talking directly to me when I say that I hope I never get another parking ticket ever again. I hope that on everyone else, as well, as far as the actual vision for the company, we want to make sure that if you look at the bigger picture, we need better mobility. I mean, the place where our office is, is in Braddock, Pennsylvania.

[00:38:13] The median household income is $24,000 a year. They need to get to work. They need to be able to travel in order to get better work in order to do that, there needs to be better mobility solutions. So if we can help cities understand just usher in a brand new era of mobility, I feel like. The whole world would be a better place.

[00:38:39] Dan: [00:38:39] I totally agree with you. And mobility is going to change dramatically over the next 10, 20, 50 years. We just had; our last episode was with somebody who was working with the dollar vans. If you can remember those from New York. Yeah,

[00:38:52] Jim Gibbs: [00:38:52] yeah, yeah,

[00:38:53] Dan: [00:38:53] yeah. He’s trying to, um, basically Uber rides those and, uh, and so yeah, mobility is going to change pretty dramatically and.

[00:39:01] We haven’t even talked about autonomous vehicles. I’m sure they’re a part of your roadmap down the road as well.

[00:39:06] Jim Gibbs: [00:39:06] Absolutely. I mean, so far all of the people that we’ve spoken to from in the autonomous vehicle side, They’re like, I think we have it figured out and then I have one conversation with them and their response is we don’t have to figure it out.

[00:39:21] Like, okay, cool. We’re here for you when you’re ready for us.

[00:39:26] Dan: [00:39:26] Nice. Nice. That’s good. You’re ahead of the curve. So, we’re going to take another short break and be right back with Jim Gibbs of MeterFeeder,

[00:39:34] The PLUG: [00:39:34] who gets to be called innovative or genius. If we look at the current media landscape today, we often don’t see people of color dominating the business or tech news headlines.

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[00:40:33] Dan: [00:40:33] So we’re back with Jim Gibbs. So, Jim, uh, let’s talk a little bit about fundraising. Have you raised money for MeterFeeder? Do you plan on raising money? What’s that experience been

[00:40:43] Jim Gibbs: [00:40:43] for you? Yes. We have raised money. We have not raised much money, but we have successfully raised some money. The experiences is always interesting.

[00:40:54] A lot of it has to do with what’s in Vogue. For the time being, for example, um, when people start talking about doing like diverse investments, it actually wasn’t until recently where black people were considered a part of diversity. Now that people are saying, Oh, black people have a hard time raising folks actually look at me as someone who might actually be on to something.

[00:41:24] It sounds kind of weird. There’s been a number of people who have talked about me being in parking and saying, Hey, that’s like not a traditionally black problem? You know? So like when you talk about like black problems, like, Oh, hair salons, barbershops, you know, stuff like that, like how are you going to run this Jitney?

[00:41:44] And like, I get it. But my issue is that I have a wife and five kids and there’s zero chance of me ever having change in my pockets. So. I’m not able to pay for parking.

[00:41:56] Dan: [00:41:56] Yeah. You’re I hate to see a grocery bill, man. Geez,

[00:41:59] Jim Gibbs: [00:41:59] five boys,

[00:42:00] Dan: [00:42:00] man.

[00:42:01] Jim Gibbs: [00:42:01] Wow. But yeah, the idea is being able to speak to folks and have them not immediately just doubt me.

[00:42:10] I mean, I’ve been doing software for a very long time. I’ve been building for a very long time. So now that. Black tech. Twitter is a thing now that there there’s all this new wave of entrepreneurs. Now those people have the ability to actually look and see what I’m doing and what I’m building and kind of understand and have confidence in me and the mission in order to start backing it.

[00:42:37] Dan: [00:42:37] Wow. That’s interesting. So, do you feel? Do you feel like it’s a benefit now that this lens is sort of opened up, as you say, around black entrepreneurs? Or do you find it sort of frustrating that it’s like, I’m still the same person in a company still is the same thing? Why is the, why is it different

[00:42:55] Jim Gibbs: [00:42:55] now? It’s frustrating.

[00:42:57] But the

[00:42:59] Dan: [00:42:59] best thing that I could possibly do,

[00:43:02] Jim Gibbs: [00:43:02] right. If they’re trying to get 10 X from everyone else, If I can get 20 X, 50 X, a hundred X thousand X, then the next time they see a black person walking down the street that says that they’ve been writing software for the last 36 years of their life. Maybe just maybe they’ll give that person a shot.

[00:43:24] Essentially. I don’t care what the reason is. And I realized that this is, this is somewhat controversial. I don’t care what the reason is, but I feel like it’s my duty. To help them realize that they made the right decision and they should look at my brothers and sisters, like they are actual human beings and give them the opportunity as well.

[00:43:49] Dan: [00:43:49] That’s profound. And I agree with that a hundred percent that I’ve had these discussions with other folks, like it’s not just about representing, it’s also about normalizing, right? I mean, there’s people who come from certain backgrounds. Or their background isn’t even brought up. It’s not even mentioned.

[00:44:08] It’s not even in somebody’s subconscious. Right. They’re just evaluating that person based upon what’s in front of them, around the business opportunity or the investment opportunity. And, um, and so I think it’s a great opportunity to be a successful startup. Uh, and for those to start to string together in a way that people say, Oh yeah, this is not a.

[00:44:30] Outlier. This is not a one-off. And so I love that you want to wear that mantle. That’s that’s amazing. That’s great.

[00:44:37] Jim Gibbs: [00:44:37] It’s a heavy burden to bear, but it’s hilarious because like I found a number of other people who are also bearing the same weight. So, um, yeah, it’s, it’s one of those things. After we’re all like cashed out and have written our books.

[00:44:56] We can just be like, cool. Hopefully, the next group of people, they find it way easier. Even from the software perspective, into the entrepreneurship perspective. Uh, I’ve consistently been hit with doubt. It’s really just, I see it as my job to make sure that, you know, the next group of folks do not have to go through the same thing that I have to go

[00:45:20] Dan: [00:45:20] through.

[00:45:21] That’s awesome. So, thank you. First of all. So, one of the things you mentioned though in the last segment was this idea of helping other black founders. I’m curious, are there other kinds of specific ways that you try to do that? And I guess a follow up to that would be, were there people who helped you along the way?

[00:45:39] Jim Gibbs: [00:45:39]

[00:45:40] My uncle is the one who got me hooked up with programming. So that’s, that’s a long ago. That’s how it started. Right? You have people like, uh, this one lady, her name is Rihanna. Renee flack, right? She’s the one who got me into the Brookhaven national laboratory. So there’s, it’s just been consistent consistently throughout my life.

[00:46:02] There’s been people who have been dropped into my life, who. Essentially, let me know that they’ve been fighting for me and I better take advantage. So, it’s, it’s sort of my job to do that for the next group of folks instead of

[00:46:17] Dan: [00:46:17] pay it forward, I guess.

[00:46:19] Jim Gibbs: [00:46:19] Yeah. I mean day, hopefully, I’ll get to the point where I can start investing.

[00:46:24] And it wouldn’t even be paying forward. It’d be beneficial to me because I’ll be making all this money from all these amazing black people that everybody who’s is underestimating.

[00:46:31] Dan: [00:46:31] That’s right. That’s right. And I’ve had this discussion with a few investors and I say, you know, there’s, there’s a, it’s like, there’s a draft out there.

[00:46:40] And there’s a bunch of folks that are ready to be picked. And, um, you know, if I were in their shoes, I’d say I want all the best ones. I want to be greedy. Yeah. I wouldn’t be, I wouldn’t have a monopoly all the best talent out there. Um, and so go hard at it, so totally right.

[00:46:58] Jim Gibbs: [00:46:58] Yeah. And I’m glad that we’re starting to see more GPS out there.

[00:47:02] More black GPS. You’ve got folks like Charles Hudson, Arlan Hamilton, um, the, the Brackeens with their, a Lightship Capital closing effect, a million-dollar shout out to them. I think that there’s not nearly enough money. We say yay, $50 million. But you know, there are funds that would invest million dollars a week.

[00:47:21] They were $50 million funds. So they raise one fund every year and invest a million dollars in a new startup. Comparatively speaking. We’re still in that phase of, I like to talk to about the black mom who is like go to the store, it gets milk and it hands you a dollar. It’s like, mom, this is enough.

[00:47:41] We’ll make it enough. Oh, okay. You know, so we’re still not in that phase where we can like be comfortable. We still need to be vigilant. We still need to pinch pennies and we still need to work our butts off. So.

[00:47:54] Dan: [00:47:54] Um, so tell me, I’m curious. So you set up shop in Pittsburgh. Um, you must’ve gone on to the Valley at least for a little while though.

[00:48:02] I see. What makes did you decide to anchor your company in Pittsburgh? Let me see. Yeah, I

[00:48:07] Jim Gibbs: [00:48:07] have a three-bedroom house, the two car garage, big old kitchen and walk-in closet, NEF land to grow food, chickens, all this other crazy stuff. And I am paying a mortgage with all of my insurances and stuff like that. It comes out to about a thousand, $24 a month.

[00:48:30] Now let’s compare that to me, living in Sunnyvale, staying with my co-founder, loved the man dearly. Don’t want to live with them, but it was a two-bedroom apartment, the size of my downstairs and. Yeah, it looks like it hadn’t been updated since Miami vice. I was paying $4,000 a month, you know, so, and that was, that was a discount.

[00:48:57] She gave me a discount because we were paying early. So, it’s, it’s just a way for us to keep burn noxious, honestly, low and, you know, stay focused and. Build all the software that we need to. Right. I think the best way to think about it is like, we’re sort of like Gusto, Gusto had to go from state to state to do all the state regulations.

[00:49:21] Right.

[00:49:21] Dan: [00:49:21] But what cuts though is for those who don’t know.

[00:49:24] Jim Gibbs: [00:49:24] Sure. So Gusto is, in my opinion, from what I’ve seen is one of the best and easiest ways to manage your HR. Right? So paying, hiring, right. Handling your, your 10 99 is your documentation and things like that. So there’s a lot of things that you have to do on the federal level, from the state level, so on and so forth.

[00:49:48] So there’s really no reason for me to be doing that in a place where I’m spending $4,000 a month. I might as well get my thousand square foot office for 650 bucks a month. Newly renovated. And sit down and get that stuff taken care of and get that stuff done. So now that the integrations are starting to finish up, now we can start taking advantage of all the effort that we put in and it’s as low cost as we could have made it.

[00:50:17] Dan: [00:50:17] Nice. Hey, here’s the question. Tell us something about the Pittsburgh startup ecosystem that we may not know. I’ll

[00:50:26] Jim Gibbs: [00:50:26] bring it back to a YC. They were telling me don’t move back to Pittsburgh because there were no examples of a billion-dollar company. They were like, what was the last billion-dollar company?

[00:50:39] I was like, well, there were four systems and they were free markets. And I’m like, I’ve never heard of those. They were in like 2004. So now we have Duolingo. So is that is essentially the best thing that I can think of as far as things that are going on in the Pittsburgh scene.

[00:51:02] Dan: [00:51:02] Oh, wow. And I imagine with Carnegie Mellon there, and to some degree Pitt, I mean the talent.

[00:51:08] Opportunity. I know Google has a big shop. There, there must be a good amount of talent that you can use to grow within terms of hiring, at least on the tech side,

[00:51:18] Jim Gibbs: [00:51:18] Dan, I’m a hundred percent serious. I am not lying a pound. I hired somebody out Arby’s

[00:51:25] Dan: [00:51:25] at RVs from Arby’s.

[00:51:27] Jim Gibbs: [00:51:27] He was working behind the counter.

[00:51:30] He cracked a JavaScript joke. I hired him.

[00:51:34] Dan: [00:51:34] That’s an awesome story.

[00:51:36] Jim Gibbs: [00:51:36] They’re literally everywhere. I mean, like find programmers everywhere in Pittsburgh. It’s it’s just, you know, where are you going to go? Right. That’s sort of the downside. That’s one of the reasons why I’m excited to be part of the, the people who are building out the startup ecosystem so that these developers don’t have to work at RVs.

[00:51:55] They can actually come and work for new companies. There

[00:51:59] Dan: [00:51:59] you go, there you go. That’s an underappreciated aspect of go systems that are outside the Valley. And that definitely makes sense when you’ve got sort of those anchor universities. So, our time is growing short. Unfortunately, this is fun. But one, one question we like to ask is if you could go back to the pre-startup version of yourself.

[00:52:19] So let me, let’s just say, I guess before the hackathon and give that gym some advice. About what to expect, what to look out for, what not to do in the journey that came afterwards. What advice would you give that gym?

[00:52:33] Jim Gibbs: [00:52:33] I think that at the end of the day, it is the two main things that I would say is. Don’t feel bad.

[00:52:43] Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Yes. The game is rigged. Don’t feel bad for yourself. And the other thing is your wife is more important than you can imagine. Treat her as such and have her be a part because if she doesn’t feel like she’s a part of it, then the startup consumes you. And if she’s not a part of the startup.

[00:53:09] Then she’s not a part of you. I’m not my startup. However, it’s just one of those things where. It’s easy to feel unimportant. And that is the last thing that I need to do to the mother of my five boys.

[00:53:25] Dan: [00:53:25] Right? Yeah. I was just reading something where somebody wrote, they were a founder and they said my spouse was my first cofounder and I’ve had to look at it from that perspective.

[00:53:34] They’re invested in this right alongside me. So that’s a great point.

[00:53:38] Jim Gibbs: [00:53:38] Absolutely.

[00:53:39] Dan: [00:53:39] I still can’t get over five boys, man. He awesome. But it just makes me tired thinking about it as we wrap up here. Um, why don’t you tell the folks, um, how can they find out more information about MeterFeeder or, uh, if there are ways to get in touch with you, if you have social media handles.

[00:53:56] W what do you want to share with the audience? Sure.

[00:53:58] Jim Gibbs: [00:53:58] So actually our winnings from the hackathon is we went out and bought the domain name, www. meterfeeder.com. So that’s where you find us online. Our Twitter handle is meterfeeder, go figure, but you can find me at my old b-boy name at heezo H E E Z O.

[00:54:17] We’re always around and we’re trying to help people not get parking tickets. So reach out to us if you do, and we’re not going to pay it for you, but at least we can go and. Nag the people who gave it to you and see if we can make it a little bit easier for you to pay.

[00:54:29] Dan: [00:54:29] I love it. I love it. That’s awesome.

[00:54:31] Well, thanks so much, Jim. We’d like to thank our guest Jim Gibbs and our sponsor, The Plug. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to foundersunfound.com/listento. That’s Listen, T O and follow us on Twitter and Instagram or LinkedIn @foundersunfound.

[00:54:51] This podcast was produced by Dan Kihanya.

Editing and production by Giorgia Garcia-Moreno, Albert Holguin, and Katelyn Limber.

Social media, and other promotion by Omama Marzuq and Aneisha Barnett.

Our music was composed by Michael Kihanya.

I am Dan Kihanya and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.


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