How to live vs. how to make money

Igor Pauletič / / Sales

Every time I come back from the United States, my friends, acquaintances, and business partners in Slovenia ask what life in the US is like. And every time I go there, Americans (even completely ordinary Uber drivers) ask what the business opportunities are like and what it’s like to do business in Europe. This always makes me think.

One of the reasons I’ve been spending two or three weeks a year in the United States recently is that I always find it—despite its being a bizarre country and society in quite a few ways—fascinating and, above all, inspiring in one particular area. As a consultant who helps my clients gain a new perspective on their business, I tank up on ideas from everyday life there.

Their entrepreneurial thinking is at a higher level than ours in Europe. In the US I’ve experienced examples that represent a step beyond the situation in which we Slovenians/Europeans would say that we’ve already exhausted all the possibilities. Everything that is a “commodity” here already has at least one more iteration there. The thing I look for there is “business hacks” that we Slovenians usually overlook. I’ll explain with two relatively banal examples from everyday life, so I don’t get directly into the financial industry or “utility services,” which were the subjects of my exploration during my last visit.

Subscription parking

Imagine that you own a parking lot that people pay to use during their time at work. In Slovenia it’s normal in this situation to pay a monthly fee up to €100 or so as monthly rent for the parking space. This way, the user saves some money compared to paying hourly rates and is guaranteed a parking place. The parking lot owner receives a regular income and somewhat reduces his billing costs. At first glance, it appears that there are no additional opportunities in this arrangement. In order to bring in more income, the owner would either have to increase rates or increase the average occupancy. That’s how we see it here.

But what would happen if we changed our view of this same situation a bit? What if we recategorized monthly parking fees into reserved parking spaces? For a cost of €50/month you wouldn’t rent a parking space, but rather have the guarantee that “your” parking space would be free between 7 and 9 am. The use of the space itself would be free. Considering that you have around twenty-five days of vacation, a few days of sick leave, some period of absence due to business trips, and thirteen holidays, “your” parking space will be empty for at least two out of the twelve months and every weekend. During those times it would be available to other users, who would pay hourly rates. The parking lot owner would thus have additional opportunities to earn money, and the city would have more available parking. Perhaps this has only a small potential for greater yield, but I haven’t seen anything like this in Slovenia yet. Probably we’ve already concluded that there’s nothing more to do in that line of business.

Solving the problem of traffic jams on main arteries during rush hour

Another “hack” that I got excited about has to do with infrastructure and another area where we Slovenians think we’ve already exhausted all possibilities. While more and more European cities are introducing “eco tolls” for driving a car into the city, I like the “hack” Americans are using to increase “mobility” in cities. They’ve arranged it like this: just like we’ve arranged yellow lanes for buses and taxis, they’ve arranged “fast lanes,” which anyone who pays extra can use. Paying this toll is electronic, of course, but what seems especially interesting to me is the fact that the toll amount changes dynamically based on how busy the lane is. It’s a simple way to guarantee the time of arrival at your destination, and it’s regulated by the toll amount. That is, when traffic is moving slowly on main arteries, the fast lane still guarantees you a faster trip, but using the lane costs significantly more than it does during less busy times. When I became enthusiastic about how they know how to profit even from public infrastructure, I talked about this “hack” with my American friends, who said that some cities have gone still another step beyond what I saw in Denver. In some places, dynamic toll payments also depend on the number of passengers in the car, because some lanes are reserved only for cars carrying three or four passengers. This seems pretty interesting to me, too, but I can’t imagine how they monitor it.

Think outside the box

I’d rather not get into discussions about class stratification and the privileged position of the rich with this type of traffic regime, because there’s no end to that. Even though equality is a key value in today’s very egalitarian Slovenian society, it seems very useful to me to encourage businesses or individuals to think about the still unexploited business opportunities, especially in areas where “we’ve always done it that way.” Maybe that’s how someday we could have even better quality of life in our little country.