Feb 22

Not seeking sympathy but very interested in comments from folks who have been burned by this parking/towing scam. Here’s the tldr; version of what happened today:

Take a poorly marked parking lot that was just converted to being a paid lot, an electronic centralized meter that gives one no way to know or prove whether payment went through and an aggressive towing company that makes $135 per carcass and you get what is from my perspective a shady money-making racket that extorts patrons and kills local merchants (and potentially enriches the property owner but that part I can’t prove yet).

For the longer more Woodward & Bernstein version watch the following video. This is a compilation of footage i shot today from my phone showing the poorly marked lot, an interview with the owner of the coffee shop and an undercover session where I’m getting strong-armed at the tow company. I’ve already attempted to dispute the towing charge with my cc processor but it has to clear before they can lodge that complaint. I will update this post with the outcome of that effort once they come to a verdict for anyone interested. I attempted to file a police report as a stolen vehicle when the towing occurred the but the lady at the police dept informed me if it was towed it was a civil mater and I would need to take issue with the company that handles the meter.

The key two questions here are:

  1. “is there a financial relationship between the property management company such that they make more on towing fee kickbacks than on the metered parking fees?”
  2. “if so, is the a) awareness that it’s a paid lot and b) payment experience for the well-intending patron intentionally degraded to yield a better profit for the towing company and prop mgmt co?”

I admittedly have zero way of proving this hypothesis today but from talking with various people lingering in the lot and judging based on what I experienced, I’m highly suspicious. Certainly from a pure game theory perspective and analysis of the factors present, that hypothesis makes sense. If that is in fact the case, then this is a super shady racket and people should blow the whistle if they have access to any documented info that proves this to be the case. Anyways, I don’t expect to learn the answer anytime soon nor do I expect the property management guy who had a chance to right the situation today to ever admit that it’s true. Anyways, evaluate the facts and draw your own conclusions. And if you have anecdotal evidence to add of your own, leave it in a comment.

Here are some useful links:

  • SWAT Towing Company google result (they don’t have a website). Notice how many complaints pop up.
  • Website of the Vue on Apache complex
  • Property management company for the Vue
  • Forms for lodging a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General and City of Tempe. If you’ve been extorted or have substantive evidence of shady kickback arrangements between property management companies and towing companies in AZ contact one of the investigative journalism teams.
  • Lastly, here are some interesting photos:
    Gallery is empty!
    Anyways I spent way too long on this already but I figure writing this post and publishing the vid would at least air the issue out there and provide a place for others to comment if they’ve been victim of a similar scam.

    If you have been fleeced or know of friends who have been hit by parking scams in Tempe, share this link and have them leave a comment here describing their situation. If enough legitimate stories amass here I will share this with authorities and urge them to hold the offending entities accountable. thx

    UPDATE 3/13: As expected SWAT was never able to produce photos they claimed they had that proved the meter was expired. I recorded this phone call with them. The lady seemed to take genuine delight in encouraging me to call back tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day… weirdly enough at the end of the call she thought it was a total bluff when I told her I had recorded it. This company is truly awful. I’m awaiting to hear the result of my dispute with Citibank Mastercard and will update this post accordingly once I hear back.

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    Aug 21

    I want to make a public apology for writing this post a few days ago. Stressful times but no excuse. I understand what happened now and this was a misunderstanding on my part. For anyone that cares here’s exactly what went down:

    • I had pre-ordered Eric’s book before SXSW and just assumed I had elected to receive the digital version.
    • I didn’t realize that his book was included in the AppSumo bundle I purchased at SXSW (cool). AppSumo apparently mistakenly advertised it as including the digital edition.
    • Eric’s email a few days ago was clarifying the mixup and just getting mailing addresses from the people that purchased the AppSumo bundle. I interpreted it as him just changing his mind and choosing not to make a digital edition that had been offered via his site and that I had purchased.

    So basically I’m an ass for making that post earlier and jumping to assumptions before doing proper fact checking. Now that I understand the situation I feel bad and sincerely apologize. Eric, I’m sorry. Looking forward to reading your book. It’s an important work.

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    Aug 19

    Apologies for the rant in advance but this is a bigger topic than the title implies.

    I had pre-ordered Eric’s book many months back because I’m interested in the lessons but also largely out of sheer support for CustDev/Lean startup movements. These are important concepts. The mysterious art of entrepreneurship is finally getting codified into a repeatable framework. IMO this is one of the more promising developments in terms of advancements that has the most potential to restore our economy from the shitter.

    So I was surprised this email from Eric this morning:

    Now arguably this is a trivial thing. Being nomadic & virtual I’m trying to slim down and have less physical stuff so I’d prefer the digital version I ordered, but barring the existence of that, I’ll take the hardcover. The stance taken here though seems pretty absurd. If somebody pre-orders a hotdog from you and you decide not to make it for some reason, you can’t simply insist that they accept a burger. What’s worse, it’s not even like he ran out of hotdogs, he just seemingly decided not to make them.

    Again, in the grand scheme, not a big deal and I’m far more interested in the content so we can apply the relevant lessons to our . But what’s troubling is I’ve noticed a theme developing (Eric sorry to call you out personally as the example here) where founders are so immersed in conversion funnels and A/B testing and cohort analysis that they forget the basics of running a hotdog stand. This is the guy who (2nd to Steve Blank IMO) is in a position to massively influence the next generation of entrepreneurs and he has this approach to something as fundamental as basic customer service

    Here’s a novel idea Eric: explain the situation and why you’ve chosen not to make the digital edition and realize that 98% of people will be fine with the hardcover. But give folks a choice for a refund if you can’t deliver the product they purchased. To insist that they accept a substitute with a 2wk ultimatum that they’ll otherwise forfeit their money – not how you do it dude.

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    Jun 23

    A couple people have recommended I read the book The Black Swan recently. I’m only 40pgs in and already I have a serious issue with it. The picture below is a good summary of my gripe:

    It’s essentially like that highway roadsign that warns you of falling rock – it’s useless advice. Since when has that sign ever altered your driving behavior? In fact it’s worse than useless, it’s presence is detrimental because it generates unnecessary worry and distraction without giving you any actionable info to be able to do something about it. It merely broadcasts, ”
    Yeah, so rocks might fall on you. Sucks.

    Similarly The Black Swan appears to offer this as its core message:

    Despite our best efforts to make sense of situations throughout history, inevitably a massive, random event at some point manifests and its unpredictable effects trump everything we knew previously.

    Basically “rocks might someday fall on you. sucks” – a completely worthless and defeatist message. And yet somehow this book has won a bunch of praise as being insightful. I’m not sure if the author is advocating that we stop applying science to attempt to understand current situations but that is a message that one could infer.

    I’ve admittedly only read a sliver of this book thus far so maybe the author eventually gets around to offering some type of prescriptive advice. But at this point it appears to be a pop psychology wankfest (and a verbose one at that). At least books like “Tipping Point” and “Blink” had concise writing and referenced interesting psychology experiments to yield conversation fodder. This one appears to be entirely devoid of both. Somebody who’s read it and found it valuable – what did you take from it that was useful and how has it changed your behavior and how you think?

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    Jul 24

    TempeNerds got its 300th member today. This is a monthly lunch gathering I organize to bring together techies from Phoenix Metro. The thinking is that the better we know each other’s talents and businesses, the more we can make appropriate referrals. This group has been growing steadily since its inception a year ago and saw a significant influx of new members with the last lunch we did at Terralever.

    Groups like Nerds, Geek ‘N Eat, Gangplank activities and Reopen Phoenix are badly needed to compensate in metro areas like Phoenix that suffer from massive urban sprawl and fragmented communities. If you’re here and know a fellow techie that hasn’t been to one of these group events, follow the action on Eventification and bring that person out to the next event. Help the nerds prevail.
    We. Are. SpartaaAAAAAA!

    Any other worthy local tech groups I failed to mention?

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    Jul 22

    gslogoThis free web application I discovered via a ReadWriteWeb digest on streaming music apps allows you to listen to any song on demand. There are no audio ads interjected and the only ad displayed at all is an unobtrusive skyscraper on the right. The sound quality is excellent and the interface is a treat. It’s like a free Rhapsody service with a UI that doesn’t suck.


    The Good

    Couple this app (a “music vetting” tool) with other discovery-focused apps like Last.fm and Pandora and you have an easy way to find and test new music. The 30sec samples you get from iTunes just aren’t enough to decide whether you want to buy an album. I’ve found that I typically need to live with the songs for a few days for them to grow on me. With Grooveshark you can listen to an entire album on demand and and then share a URL that instantly plays an album or specific track. They’ve made it so the service doesn’t require any registration to use and works within a couple seconds of the first page load. The advantages of registering appear to be the ability to save playlists, love tracks and sync recommendations with networks like Facebook and StumbleUpon. So far I’ve been using it without registration and it delivers exactly what I want.

    What needs fixing

    I only have two minor gripes about the app so far:
    1. Duplicates: As well done as the interface is they should add a little bit of intelligence to the queueing so it removes duplicate tracks. For some reason there seems to be quite a few duplicates even within the same album sometimes. I would think they could default it to recognize when the name of the track is identical and have it weed out the duplicates.
    2. Auto track ordering: The tracks on an album are intended to be listened to in a certain order however Grooveshark jumbles the ordering for some reason. It would seem trivial to hit an external service like Amazon or iTunes to order the tracks properly so clicking the play button on the album yields the same experience as playing the tracks sequentially in iTunes.

    Both of these issues are miniscule in relation to how good (and free) the service is and both can be corrected by manually tinkering with the playlist once it’s created. But these two tiny improvements would make the service flawless IMHO.

    My concern

    So at this point my only real concern is: “how can they possibly be making enough money to sustain it?” This is a service for which I would happily pay $5-10/mo. They have to be paying the ASCAP royalties on every song they stream. Given that there are no audio interruptions and that I typically listen to it with the interface minimized anyways (plus when I AM looking at it, the ad displayed is so unobtrusive I don’t notice it) I wonder how they can be covering the bandwidth charges and streaming royalties. It would be a shame to see this disappear. Kudos to them if they have a different model in mind and are just grabbing eardrums right now. Their Compete traffic graph certainly indicates that they’re doing something right. I just hope the service doesn’t go away as I’ve vowed to never give Rhapsody another dime and this is currently filling that void.

    What music discovery and vetting apps do you use?

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