One startup is sending tablets to Uber and Lyft drivers that display advertisements to their riders. Cherian Thomas, Co-founder and CEO of Octopus explained to Cheddar how this is opening up another stream of revenue for drivers.
We’re spreading our tentacles to San Antonio! We would love your help sharing the Octopus opportunity as we liftoff in San Antonio. Let your friends know how much you love your tablet, and start racking up the referral bonuses in our newest city!
How to capture consumer attention in a rapidly evolving environment.
An epidemic is underway. It is killing 99.5% of advertisements. It’s happening on mobile. It continues on desktops. The root cause – competition, evolution of content, and natural selection of consumer attention.
Without engagement, an ad dies a quick death. Yes, it may achieve brand awareness, but viewer engagement provides it with a much longer, meaningful life. While marketing spend has risen in recent years, engagement has decreased. Advertisers have become complacent with click-through rates in the thousandths. Most LinkedIn ads see 3 clicks per 1,000 impressions, Facebook ads see 9 clicks per 1,000 impressions and the saving grace for many brands has been the 10 clicks per 1,000 impressions on Instagram.
The ever-growing competition for consumer attention has brought on this alarming trend. It’s a survival of the fittest content. Colorful videos of influencers’ exotic vacations act like a great white shark and consume clicks in quick, powerful bites. Text messages and emails flood the waters like schools of jellyfish. Click-bait media’s sole purpose is to lure, distract and feed content-hungry consumers. It’s no surprise that digital advertising has had trouble keeping up.
Sure, sophisticated marketers will gravitate toward native, run continuous A/B tests or buy millions of impressions at the right time, to the right (oversaturated) consumer. But in the booming digital ecosystem, all these efforts pale in comparison to the ever-evolving content generated and shared by billions of friends, influencers and new media companies.
So how does an advertiser rise to the top of the food chain in a fiercely competitive environment? They change the environment. They leave the feeding frenzy and head for the open seas.
Savvy advertisers are shifting budgets from the mobile craze to new screens altogether. Octopus is an interactive video screen platform in rideshare vehicles. Our reactive video ads are seeing a nearly 3% click-through rate on average. That’s right, 30 clicks per 1,000 impressions on video ads, a success level typically reserved for paid SEO. Rather than standing face-to-face with the competition, Octopus catches consumers in an entirely new environment where they can freely enjoy content and interact with brands. No enticing vacation pictures, no blinking notifications, and most importantly, users have no predetermined agenda other than to have fun and explore.
Octopus embodies a trend in video advertising which is newly possible with smart, connected screens that attract a captive, public audience. Placed within easy reach, the ad impressions thrive. In between games and original Octopus content, non-skippable ads enjoy unrivaled engagement: clicks for more info, entries for special offers, answers to surveys and more– all welcomed by consumers when pulled out of their natural habitat.
Get your riders to play the most games Fri-Sun to help your city win! We’ll be looking at the games played PER DRIVER (so smaller and larger cities have an EQUAL chance!) to determine a winner. The city matchups are below:
- Houston vs Austin
- New York City vs Boston
- Philadelphia vs Washington DC
- Richmond vs Baltimore
One randomly-selected driver from each winning city will get $100! Drivers must have driven this weekend and had games played to be eligible. Winning cities and drivers announced Monday afternoon.
A Washington, D.C.,-based startup is selling ad inventory inside ride-share cars.
Octopus places screens inside vehicles for Uber and Lyft to let riders decide if they want to play a game to win cash, which also means watching a 15- or 30-second ad. The startup, which launched in 2018, isn’t the first of its kind, but it’s been able to impress some brands like Red Bull and agencies like Omnicom.
“We jumped on it right away. We do a lot of Taxi TV, and with the growth of Uber and Lyft in the market and the fact it’s reaching a younger millennial audience with disposable income and with the engagement option, it made sense for us,” said Hailey Barton, digital media director at Omnicom’s Serino Coyne.
Octopus’ current audience is about 2 million unique passengers per month, said Octopus co-founder and CEO Cherian Thomas. The passenger demographics are 32 years old, 48% female and 52% male with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, on average, per the pitch deck reviewed by Digiday.
“The average ride share is very different than a bus stop, very different than who’s in a taxi. It’s important to know that this is high disposable income and are early adopters to technology,” Thomas said.
But beyond generalization of who rides in an Uber, Octopus also touts being able to know that at least an actual person is viewing the ad. It has sensors in the tablet that verified a person is there. Thomas said the system does not take or store photos and is GDPR compliant.
“They’re not charging you if someone were to put an umbrella in the seat. It has to be an actual person. In the digital space, you feel like you’re getting your impressions,” Barton said.
Octopus charges on cost per impressions, where CPMs range from $15 to $30, depending on the extent of the deal. For example, buyers can purchase 100% share of voice for a particular area of the city and choose specific cities.
Serino Coyne signed a contract with Octopus to run ads for the rest of the year. Barton said they did not take from their budget dedicated to Taxi TV but rather is pulling from the digital budget.
“It’s debatable what [Octopus] is. Is it outdoor or broadcast? Because it’s interactive, we bucketed it there in video,” Barton said.
Octopus is live in DC, Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Austin and Houston, and will be expanding to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, Atlanta and Dallas this year, per the pitch deck.
Thomas said one of his biggest challenges is balancing growth with available ad inventory. Octopus is shipping about 1,000 to 2,000 tablets every month to new drivers. Currently, the system only sells ads via direct deals but plans to expand to programmatic this year.
“I just added 20 million video impressions in the ecosystem. We’re going to continue I/O, but we’re also connecting with programmatic so Trade Desk can use us. Advertisers won’t get interactive units with that, but they’ll get video plays,” Thomas said.
With the coming of 5G, programmatic bidding and AR, DOOH is rapidly evolving beyond its initial position as a video version of a static billboard.
‘A canvas’ for a new generation
For Gregg Witt, chief strategy officer at youth-oriented marketing agency Engage Youth, outdoor digital screens can be seen as an extension of social media.
There is “so much noise in [conventional] social,” he said. But, when curated Instagram posts are displayed on a digital screen outside a concert or some other event, it becomes “a canvas, an opportunity for the new generation to be part of the experience.”
This also elevates the status of any event-goer whose Instagram post gets selected and shown, he said. In multi-channel campaigns, Witt said he considers DOOH to be most effective at the top of the funnel, generating awareness of a product — not unlike broadcast TV ads. Outdoor ad firm OUTFRONT Media says that DOOH introduces a brand, and an accompanying social campaign can offer “a personal invitation to engage with that brand’s culture.”
In fact, the pairing of outdoor digital screens and social media on mobile devices has emerged as a distinct kind of user experience. Brick-and-mortar stores, for example, commonly display large screens, along with an invitation for customers to post their images into a continuing feed. In this mode, DOOH screens become a kind of ad hoc projector for visitors in a retail experience.
The car-based customer journey
Earlier this week, DOOH marketing platform Broadsign announced a partnership with outdoor advertiser Starlite Media to update its thousands of traditional, static screens into digital ones. But the transformation is not just to video versions of Starlite signs. Instead, the companies said, the screens are becoming informational kiosks inside thousands of retail outlets.
To get to those retail outlets, many customers drive. That fact means there’s an emerging channel that can follow the would-be customer out a home’s front door via location-based messaging to a smart phone, pick up the campaign thread in an apartment garage, continue in the car’s dashboard screens and culminate in ads in a store’s displays and on the user’s phone.
Location platform service HERE, for instance, has partnered with mobile platform Verve to expand on this newly targetable “customer journey.” Verve CEO Tom Kenney said via email that the companies see a traveler’s journey as connected steps in this emerging channel.
“The mobile space has changed the underlying flow of that conversation,” he said. “Since the automobile and the out-of-home screen increasingly speak the same data language as the phones and tablets consumers already know and love, we’re talking about cars and DOOH as new participants and new opportunities for any kind of brand.”
Another variation of this trend to see cars as moving inventory are the screens showing ads as well as content in the back of cabs or, as Washington D.C.-based Octopus does, in the back of Uber and Lyft rides.
A connected screen on any surface
In fact, one of the biggest reasons that DOOH is splintering as a category is that wirelessly connected screens will become available for virtually any surface, a possibility made more realistic by the coming of 5G.
Vengo, for instance, is a service that offers digital vending machines, but the large screens in the machines are also used for ads unrelated to the vending machine’s offerings.
David Weinfeld, Sales Director of Publisher Solutions at marketing agency Vistar Media, said via email that “advertisers are increasingly looking to engage with consumers through a combination of unique place-based activations,” including gyms, office buildings and schools. And the combo of physical location, the customer’s selection of a vending machine product and mobile location data help to pinpoint the ad to the audience.
Jason Kuperman, Chief Product Experience Officer at OUTFRONT Media, pointed out that the integration of DOOH into the programmatic ecosystem and the use of mobile location-based data is moving out-of-home advertising from buying a sign at a given roadside location to buying audiences, as the rest of the digital world does.
Audiences, not screens
Advertisers don’t pay for TV screens, he pointed out. They pay for audiences, and that’s what’s beginning to happen in DOOH.
This kind of targeting, he noted, is going hand-in-hand with context-specific messaging on DOOH inventory.
Kuperman pointed to a JetBlue campaign run by OUTFRONT in New York City’s Times Square, which incorporated real-time traffic and flight schedule data. Essentially, those ads were customized for viewers based on third-party data. He pointed out that, increasingly, advertisers will also take into account the longer dwell time of certain DOOH locations, such as the estimated four to eight minutes in front of a screen that is located on a New York City subway platform.
Similarly, OUTFRONT offers DOOH screens accompanied by geofencing, so that mobile devices can be targeted in coordination with the larger displays. Again, this is a new way for advertisers to pinpoint audiences when they make their purchase decisions.
David Etherington, chief commercial officer of DOOH exchange Place Exchange, said his recently launched company is creating “viewing sheds” around DOOH screens, via third-party data. This lets the advertiser know nearby device IDs, and see if those mobile devices visit a web site that has been promoted in the large screen.
SurveyMonkey ran a DOOH campaign in Times Square, which showed four influential celebrities — publisher Arianna Huffington, basketball player Draymond Green, tennis player Serena Williams and LinkedIn CEOJeff Weiner — inviting opinions from viewers. Passersby could launch a related online survey from their phones after scanning QR codes near the DOOH display.
But all of this is only the beginning of DOOH’s evolution beyond its static billboard heritage. One possibility envisioned by Engage Youth’s Witt is the implementation of augmented reality (AR) — viewed through smartphones and eventually glasses — as a common overlay on digital billboards, especially in retail environments.
DOOH advertising in the U.S. is booming, hitting what the Interactive Advertising Bureau said was a record high in 2018 of $7.4 billion. OUTFRONT Media says that consumers spend 70 percent of their time out of home, and that they are 48 percent more likely to engage with a mobile ad after seeing it on a DOOH sign.
With so many permutations on the form, including an infinite number of inventory locations, screen types and interactive modes, DOOH is positioned to become a huge component in many campaigns — as an extensive continuation into the real world of the messaging efforts that have previously been largely confined to the dimensions inside TV and the web.
Last week I had the chance to chat with Terry, a rideshare driver that is based out of Harrisburg Pennsylvania, but regularly drives in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
“I frequently drive up to New York City, so when I’m on my way up I’ll turn the app on and pick up a few riders and gradually move closer and closer to NYC. Says Terry. “It’s not uncommon for the 3-hour drive to turn into 14 hours, but the drive pays for itself!”
I love this strategy, but what I love even more is hearing about the $150+ in tips that Terry makes every month…
Yep $150+ in tips every month because of a tablet called Play Octopus
I had to know his secrets, so Terry was kind enough to open up and tell me about how he’s using Play Octopus to make more than $150 in tips every month.
What is Play Octopus
The first thing that I had to ask Terry was what in the world Play Octopus is.
Well, it turns out it’s pretty cool. Play Octopus is game tablet built as a way to help rideshare drivers entertain their passengers.
Rideshare drivers simply apply to receive a FREE tablet (yes I said free). After drivers install the tablet in the backseat of their car, passengers can easily hop in and play during their ride!
“Riders see the tablet in the backseat and love it.” says Terry. “People will start to play the free games and generally loosen up and start to engage with me.” Passengers also have the chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card if they achieve the highest score of the day.
The games on the tablet are free, so the passengers will see some ads of course, but Play Octopus also shares some of that revenue with drivers. Terry says Octopus pays him up to $100 per month.
An extra $100 per month for doing almost nothing is great, but the real money comes from the tips.
How is Terry Earning $150+ in Tips Each Month?
Terry has always worked to boost his ratings and tip income, and he says the key is building a relationship with your passenger.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with passengers which means I’ve had a good rating,” says Terry. “That starts with what I do before I ever go pick up a passenger.
You see, step 1 in Terry’s master plan for boosting his tip income is to send each passenger that he picks up a prebuilt text that tells them who he is, what car he is driving, and that tips aren’t required but are appreciated.
This text has three main benefits. One, it lets your passenger know what car to look out for so that there is less time wasted texting back and forth saying “where are you”. Two, it shows your passengers that you are accommodating and care enough to make sure they know what car to look out for. And three, it gently broaches the subject of tips so it’s in the minds of your passengers from the moment they get in the car.
Now that it’s on their mind, drivers just need to earn their tip, and that’s where Play Octopus comes in.
“Passengers almost immediately engage in some way with the tablet.” says Terry “They’ll start playing games, which opens up a conversation that turns into engaging them in a deeper conversation, which turns into passengers liking me as a person. People tip drivers that they like.”
Play Octopus is a relationship builder. It’s an easy way to deliver value to a passenger that takes walls down and allows drivers to engage more with passengers, and that engagement leads to more and more tips.
How much do drivers make with Play Octopus?
Drivers earn money with Play Octopus through tips, cash rewards when passengers play a game, and referral bonuses for sharing Play Octopus with fellow rideshare drivers.
Play Octopus drivers can receive a cash reward of up to $100 per month depending on how much you drive, but the bulk of your payout will come in the form of tips from passengers. Our friend Terry is making $150 more per month in tips with Play Octopus than he was before he installed Play Octopus.
That’s about $250 more per month that Terry is making by simply adding a free tablet to his car and keeping it charged.
How can drivers get started
Getting started with Play Octopus is easy, and best of all, FREE!
All drivers need to do is sign up with the service and within a few days, you’ll receive a tablet in the mail. From there, simply place it in your car and start driving.
There’s no restocking and no maintenance. So it’s a no brainer.
– And one startup is betting companies will spend big bucks to target you there
- 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.”
Al Castillo doesn’t have a traditional job. As a full-time rideshare driver in New York City, his office is his 2017 Honda Pilot.
Castillo, 33, started driving for apps like Uber, Lyft and Juno about four years ago, and he’s been driving professionally for much longer. Before ridesharing took off in New York City, he drove school buses for seven years. He also drove for taxi service companies, which is how many New Yorkers got from point A to point B before Uber arrived in May 2011.
What’s it really like to drive full-time in one of the busiest cities in America? I spent a day on the road with Castillo to find out.
Castillo typically works six days a week, Monday through Saturday. On weekdays, he starts driving between 6 and 7 a.m. and finishes up between 4 and 5 p.m. That’s nine to 11 hours a day. On Saturday, he starts his day a little later, between 8 and 9 a.m.
On this particular morning, a Wednesday, he was “feeling sleepy,” he tells me, and left his home in Brooklyn at 7 a.m. First, though, he grabbed breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts.
The flexibility that comes with being your own boss makes up for the long hours, says Castillo. The father of three schedules his day so that he can be home in time to pick his kids up from school, help with homework and have a family dinner.
On a typical day, Castillo brings home $250. If he works Monday to Saturday, that’s $1,500 per week, which comes out to about $6,000 a month. He earns an additional $100 to $300 per month by using Cargo, which pays him a monthly rate for selling products like snacks and headphones to passengers, and Play Octopus, which pays him to mount a tablet that offers trivia games and plays ads.
That means, theoretically, he’s earning $72,000 a year from rides and between $1,200 and $3,600 a year from Cargo and Play Octopus, for a total of about $75,000 before taxes.
Castillo gets paid per ride and his earnings depend on how long the trip is, how much distance he covers and whether or not there’s “surge pricing,” which is when demand for rides is high and prices for passengers goes up. Surge pricing, or “prime time,” as Lyft calls it, tends to happen during rush hour, bad weather or if there’s a big event going on in the area.
Castillo and I check in on his earnings periodically. A mid-morning, 22-minute UberX trip earns him nearly $10. The app doesn’t show how much the customer paid — it just breaks down Castillo’s take: He earns a base rate (what you’re paid to start the ride) of $1.83, a time rate (what you earn per minute in your region) of $5.49, and a distance rate (what you earn per mile in your region) of $2. Total: $9.32.
Uber and Lyft both collect about 30 percent of all passenger fares, Castillo tells me. Juno takes just 16 percent, but it’s not as popular an app yet, he adds. Sure enough, we don’t get one call from Juno over the course of the day and, instead, flip back and forth between Uber and Lyft.
He has all three because, depending on what neighborhood he’s driving in, one app may be busier than the others. “People in Bed Stuy [Brooklyn] like to use Lyft,” he says. “If you’re in Queens, people like Juno.”
The more rides he completes, the more he gets paid, so “you want to be busy all the time,” he tells me. “Our time is money.”
That’s why Castillo rarely takes breaks throughout the day. We don’t make our first pit stop until 2 p.m., when Castillo runs into his mother-in-law’s apartment to use the bathroom. He does this once or twice a day, he tells me. Besides that, we pull over once more to stretch our legs.
Castillo doesn’t stop for a meal or eat during his entire shift. That’s not entirely normal, though: He usually packs a lunch from home that he’ll eat in his car, but today’s breakfast, he assures me, was filling.
After about nine hours on the road — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Castillo makes $233 across 15 rides. Nine rides and $140 come from Lyft, while six rides and $93 come from Uber.
“That’s a good day,” he tells me, especially considering he took more breaks than usual to accommodate my filming.
On his best day, Castillo took home $540 after nine hours of driving, thanks to surge pricing. One-fifth of that came from a single, lucrative trip to the airport, he says: “It was snowing and it was ugly outside. It was like 5:30 or 6 p.m., peak hours. They paid me like $110.”
While Castillo can earn about $6,000 per month, the expenses that come with the gig add up.
For starters, he needs a car. He drove a Nissan Pathfinder up until a couple of months ago, when he upgraded to a 2017 Honda Pilot. He bought it nearly brand new — it had just 25 miles on it — for about $40,000, he says.
The vehicle was a worthwhile investment, Castillo tells me, because it can fit more passengers, which means he can pick up bigger groups and earn more money. Plus, it comes with features like automatic braking, a back-up camera and a sunroof. “We go everywhere, so your car’s gotta be 100 percent,” he says.
Here’s a breakdown of the other expenses he has to factor in:
TLC driver license: $252 to renew every three years ($84 per year)
TLC vehicle renewal: $625 every other year ($312.50 per year)
Every other year, Castillo has to renew his car and bring it in for a thorough inspection. This costs $625: $550 for the renewal fee and $75 for the inspection fee.
Regular inspections: $37 every four months ($111 per year)
As a rideshare driver in New York state, Castillo also has to do more regular inspections — every four months — at the DMV. These cost $37 each.
NYC commercial motor vehicle tax: $400 per year (to DMV)
Vehicle registration: $456 per year
Insurance: $400 per month ($4,800 per year)
The cost of insurance depends on your driving record and can vary anywhere from $400 to $800 per month, Castillo estimates, though he pays closer to $400 a month.
Gas: $675 per month ($8,100 per year)
Gas also varies per driver and depends on your car model, how much you drive and where you’re driving. Castillo says he fills up his tank every other day for $45. That’s about $675 per month.
Maintenance: About $2,500 per year
This includes oil changes, tire repairs and brake repairs. Castillo has to change his oil every four to five weeks, which costs $70 each time.
His brakes are inspected every three months, which costs about $220 each time. As for tires, they get checked out every three months. It costs about $100 to repair each tire, but not every tire has to be repaired every time, he says.
Drivers are required to do a drug test every year and take courses in things like defensive driving and wheelchair passenger assistance, which they pay for out of pocket. Plus, Castillo buys cleaning products — he wipes down his leather seats every day — and gets the exterior of his car cleaned every few days.
Unexpected costs like traffic and parking tickets can also arise.
In total, that’s about $17,000 of expenses to account for each year. Plus, he owes taxes on his earnings. Like any freelancer, he fills out a 1099 tax form every year to report his income.
The best part of the job
Besides the flexibility that comes with being your own boss, Castillo loves the social aspect of the job.
On this particular day, we complete 15 rides and pick up about 30 passengers from all walks of life: a mother and daughter visiting from North Carolina, a caterer delivering lunch in midtown Manhattan and co-workers from a Brooklyn-based start-up that makes dog food.
Castillo talks to everyone. “I like to meet people,” he tells me. “I like to talk to people of different backgrounds.”
The hardest part of the job
The passengers can also be the toughest part of his job, though — dealing with the ones with attitude, that is.
The best way to handle unhappy passengers is to simply stay calm, he tells me, and to remember that “you only gotta be with them in the car for 10, 20 minutes.” After that, you never have to see them again.
Driving in New York City is no easy task, either, he adds, especially in Manhattan: “You gotta be aware of the yellow cabs, bikes, people. When the light is green, people are crossing the street so we always gotta be looking at our mirror every second. You always gotta be aware.”
What it takes to be a great rideshare driver
If you want to stand out, you need three things, Castillo tells me.
1. A phone charger for passengers. After all, “everybody always need a charger,” he says.
2. Patience. “If you don’t have patience to drive and to meet people and deal with people, don’t do it,” says Castillo. “Because patience is the most important thing. You’re not only driving — you’re dealing with traffic, you’re dealing with bikes, you’re dealing with the customer.”
3. A good vibe. “Vibe is everything,” Castillo tells me, and it’s important to read your passengers, too. If they’re on a phone call, for example, turn the music down.
He’s gone above and beyond to make his car clean and comfortable: It’s outfitted with hand sanitizer, tissues, lotion, water bottles and chargers that are compatible for both iPhones and Androids. He’s even installed a Super Nintendo in the backseat that customers can play on their trip.
A clean car helps, too, Castillo adds: “When they see that your car is clean, they know that you know what you’re doing. When they see that, they just relax.”
Castillo has earned his high rating — he has a nearly perfect five stars across all three apps and was recently recognized as a Rider Preferred driver by Uber — but the number doesn’t mean much to him. “I got a good rating but I don’t really pay mind to that,” says Castillo. “I just like to be a good person, good vibe. I say, if you’re good with somebody, good will come back to you.”
Here’s the pitch: any Lyft or Uber can become a “Cash Cab.” Except in Bethesda-based Play Octopus‘ twist on the Discovery Channel tv show with surprise games en route to a destination, both the passenger and driver can get money.
Ride-hail drivers earn up to $100 per month for putting Octopus tablets in their backseats and letting passengers play games mixed with ads or games that are themselves branded. Passengers can win money playing those games. And advertisers including Disney, National Geographic, Target, Red Bull and Sprint win precious information to help them to develop ever-more targeted marketing and to measure the impact of their current messaging.
Where claiming a coupon, promotion or free product requires a passenger to enter one, firms can even instantly collect a phone number or email address from a ride-hail vehicle they can simultaneously watch on a real-time map. The 10-month-old startup’s roadshow video touts the platform’s capacity to cull 50 data points from a vehicle every two minutes, including location, whether a tablet’s sound was on, the speed the vehicle was traveling, how a passenger engaged with a tablet, who was driving and more.
Octopus calculates the average ride-hail trip at 13 minutes and says that 35 to 50% of passengers will engage with the tablet in some way.
The no-brainer trivia games with prizes that bait passengers into a wordless, data-rich focus group on wheels make Octopus’ spreading tentacles a bit scary. The company is preparing a national expansion, moving from its East Coast origins into Austin and Houston next month, before arriving in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and 10 more unannounced cities launch later this year.
While it appears to be the most intense consumer analysis fishbowl yet, it’s not the first geotargeted ride-hail advertising concept on the road. It follows Vugo in tablet-based “contextual” content, meaning ads relevant to location. Firefly‘s version of geotargeting flashes messages out into the street from a rooftop display, rather than entertain passengers on a tablet inside the vehicle.
Octopus also has competition in Ivee. That startup is creating brand-conscious memories in the backseat with its packaged experiencesdesigned to engage all five senses. This month in Los Angeles, for example, passengers could hail an Uber that is a moving relaxation pod. That pod soothes with calming music, pleasant aromatherapy, flavorful tea and relaxing massage.
All three companies, like Octopus, offer drivers a way to earn a bit more on each ride. This video shows how Octopus appeals to drivers and what comes in the onboarding package:
Will those drivers get excited about Octopus, with all the other ways to side hustle their side hustles? The country’s unofficial ride-hail driver’s consultant Harry Campbell, also known as The Rideshare Guy, said via email, “There’s definitely some tablet fatigue with rideshare drivers these days since so many companies have come and gone.” Campbell is a paid advisor to Vugo.
Octopus says its driver numbers are strong, shipping over 1,000 new tablets every month to drivers in its six current East Coast markets alone. The company determines its next locations by advertising inventory and so is planning a methodical rollout in select cities, but Octopus cofounder and Chief Executive Cherian Thomas reports organic requests from every state. He attributes this to strong word-of-mouth, which accounts for about 50% of new driver registrations.
The other half of Octopus’ signups come from about 25% digital advertising and 25% third-party referrals. All drivers average a 4.7-star rating on their respective transportation network companies’ platforms (TNCs).
New drivers must be well-rated and drive at least 100 rides a month for the tablet investment to make economic sense for Octopus, Thomas said in a phone interview.
The company started with frustration at its now-parent Spotluck. The restaurant app spent on”out-of-home”(OOH) or outdoor mediaadvertising but couldn’t tell where that advertising landed. More ad buys didn’t produce more engagement, which wasn’t effectively measured anyway. Octopus was created to mix user analysis into ad delivery in the OOH space.
Beta testing under the Spotluck brand in Philadelphia in 2017 prepared Thomas and his cofounder Bradford Sayler for hard launch as Octopus in Bethesda in March 2018. Washington D.C., Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and New York followed during the year. A September seed round raised $3 million.
Thomas declined to discuss current profit margin but said that the company is profitable and increasing new driver registrations by more than 35% month-over-month and seeing increases in user engagement by over 40% per month.
Next, the company will focus on its national expansion and continue to grow its new branded games while giving passengers options in their use of the tablet. “Choose your own entertainment,” Thomas said. “We give them an option of what they want to engage with.”