- Octopus is putting tablets into ride-hailing vehicles that let passengers play games alongside advertisements.
- The startup helps drivers make extra money, while advertisers can get hyper-local when targeting their campaigns.
- Founder Cherian Thomas recently sat down with Business Insider to show how the platform works.
The next time you step into an Uber or Lyft, there might be a small touchscreen tablet enticing you to play a quick game of trivia.
And if you bite, next up could be an ad from Disney promoting the new Aladdin movie. But if your ride happens to be in New York, for example, and takes you through Midtown’s Theatre District, the next ad to roll might be promoting Disney’s Lion King Musical.
That location-based shift is just one example of how companies are using a platform built by Washington D.C.-based startup Octopus to put hyper-local ads into the back of ride-hail vehicles. The company’s already recruited more than 5,000 drivers to install the tablets, translating to more than 250,000 engagements every day.
CEO Cherian Thomas recently explained to Business Insider that Octopus is trying to solve one of the toughest — and oldest — problems facing out-of-home advertising: how can companies be sure their ad gets seen?
“I was on the other side of the table as the buyer who was spending money,” he said. “I wanted to know ‘where the heck is this bus right now?'”
So, like many founders, he set out to solve the problem himself. His first obstacle? Make sure it didn’t look or feel like the dreaded Taxi TV that’s installed on many New York City cabs and notorious for its loud and intrusive content.
It’s also a way to help drivers earn extra cash while picking up fares. There’s no cost for drivers to have the product installed, and Octopus covers data. It also pays drivers for every game passengers play through a points system. Every play is half a point, and 250 points is worth $25. Thomas says drivers can easily make $100 or more on average.
In a demo for Business Insider, Octopus showed how it can remotely track all of the cars running its ads. This allows advertisers to know instantly where its ad was played, and see anywhere its campaigns are running.
For now, the tablets are live in major US’ east coast markets like New York, Washington, D.C, and Philly, as well as Los Angeles. The 21-person team is largely focused on engineering now to build out the product, but is already profitable, Thomas said.
And with the flexibility to change content or ads at the click of a button — what Thomas calls a “Tesla-like approach — the company sees an easy path to growth across the nation. And with the ride-hailing market projected to grow up to 35% annual, according to a new report from HSBC this week, Octopus just might be able to ride that wave.
“We are in the business of getting the attention of ride-sharing passengers,” said Thomas. “While trivia works really well right now, it might be karaoke soon … all I have to do is click a button.”
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