A car drives down Lombard Street in San Francisco, California.
A car drives down Lombard Street in San Francisco, California. - 

Recently, I was late for a meeting in downtown San Francisco. Worse yet, it was during the workday when it was impossible to find parking. 

Now, this is a problem you’ve likely encountered if you live in a big cityThat is, circling around looking for parking. Well, no surprise, the techies in Silicon Valley have an app for that. And so I pulled out my iPhone, clicked on a parking app called Luxe and told it where I was going.

When I got to my location, Kelda ran up to greet me. She was my Luxe valet.

How long are you staying today?” she asked.

I told her about an hour. And then I asked Kelda how she knew what side of the street I was going to be on.

She took out her iPhone and said, “I have it right here on the app and so you can see where you’re coming from.”

Kelda took my car to a parking lot that had partnered with Luxe. For this service, I pay five-dollars-an-hour with a $15 dollar maximum. Not bad for valet parking in downtown San Francisco. And when I was ready to leave, I pulled out the app to get my car.

Curtis Lee, the CEO of Luxe Valet, says despite its name, the start-up isn’t just providing a luxury, it’s using technology to tackle real transportation problems.

“Thirty percent of traffic is people looking for parking,” he says. “And in parts of San Francisco, that amounts to 27 minutes on average” of people circling around.

With parking being a $30 billion industry in the United States alone, Lee points out there are a handful of start-ups in San Francisco that are trying to capture that market.

I call it the 'instant gratification economy,'” says Liz Gannes, a reporter at Re-code. She says it started with services like iTunes, where with one click, Apple could zap a song to your computer. Now smartphones are bringing it into the real word.

You push a button on your phone and get rides through Uber and Lyft,” she says.

She says this new iteration of the instant gratification economy has a few big challenges. First off, these parking-tech companies probably don’t make sense outside of densely populated cities

“And, you’re dealing with real world goods and services,” Gannes adds.

Unlike, say, a digital music file, you can’t just zap up a hundred parking spaces. Plus, you need real people in the real world to provide the service.

One of the ways that different companies are doing that is that they’re working with people who are not full-time employees and are subcontractors,” Gannes says. 

And that introduces real world labor issues. In other words, as the instant gratification economy tries to move offline, tech companies are losing their online advantage and facing many of the same problems brick-and-mortars do.