VentureBeat – How the ride-hailing industry is fueling a new breed of startup

By: Paul Sawers, November 8, 2019 – Original Article

Amid concerns about low wages in the ride-hailing industry, a number of venture capital (VC)-backed startups have emerged to help drivers boost their earnings by selling goods, displaying advertising, and even crunching big data to optimize their routes.

But while dissatisfaction in the ride-hailing industry may have played a part in spawning a new category of company designed to help drivers earn more money, that’s only part of the story.

Growth industry

Uber, Lyft, and the countless other ride-hailing companies contributed to a reported $34 billion market in 2018, a figure that could rise to well over $120 billion within five years. The driving force behind this surge are the millions of individuals who have signed up to drive for these big players. Uber alone claims some 900,000 drivers in the U.S., and 3 million globally.

But the ride-hailing industry is facing a serious problem — most drivers don’t earn much once commission, expenses, and taxes are taken into account. A report from the JPMorgan Chase Institute last year indicated that Uber and Lyft drivers earn 53% less than they did four years ago. As the poster child of the industry, Uber in particular has faced fierce criticism for the pay its drivers take home, and countless reports suggest ride-hailing companies don’t pass on the extra fees they charge for surge pricing.

Just this week, news emerged that a group of drivers in New York City were planning to sue Uber for failing to repay taxes they believe they are due. And drivers across the U.S. have gone on strike this year over their dwindling take-home pay. Things could get worse, too.

Uber is struggling to reduce costs and hit profitability (something that could be a long way off), and has previously hinted that it may have to eat further into driver earnings to do so. But in its pre-IPO filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year, the company acknowledged growing driver dissatisfaction. “While we aim to provide an earnings opportunity comparable to that available in retail, wholesale, or restaurant services or other similar work, we continue to experience dissatisfaction with our platform from a significant number of drivers,” the company said. “As we aim to reduce driver incentives to improve our financial performance, we expect driver dissatisfaction will generally increase.”

This situation has created fertile ground for third parties that promise to boost driver profits. One of those is Octopus Interactive, a Bethesda, Maryland-based startup that helps ride-hailing drivers make extra dough by installing interactive, location-based advertising technology on the passenger side of their vehicles.

Whether they work for Uber, Lyft, Via, or Gett, any driver can apply to Octopus for a free tablet, mount, and LTE data. The tablet has a rear-facing screen, where riders can play games and even win cash prizes — interspersed with short ads that allow drivers to earn up to $100 per month.

All the quizzes and games are designed and built in-house, and for the advertisements Octopus works with a number of high-profile clients, including Disney, Red Bull, Sprint, National Geographic, and Bloomberg.

“Drivers have seen a nearly 50% drop in pay over the last few years as Uber / Lyft rates and incentives have fallen, and driver competition has risen,” Octopus cofounder and CEO Cherian Thomas told VentureBeat. “They are essentially running a small business in their vehicle and are smartly taking advantage of complementary monetization channels.”

This week, Octopus announced that it has closed a fresh $10.3 million round of funding, although the news originally leaked via an SEC filing back in September. The financing round was led by Sinclair Digital Group, an affiliate of Sinclair — one of the largest operators of TV stations in the U.S. Marketing- and media-focused VC firm MathCapital also participated in the round.

Second screen

Octopus was founded in 2018 by Thomas and COO Bradford Sayler, formerly of VC-backed Spotluck, which used gamification to help people find local diners to eat at. While at Spotluck, they created an early version of Octopus, which they used as an additional marketing channel to acquire app downloads. After Octopus took off, they decided to shutter Spotluck and refocus their efforts.

“Once Octopus caught on within the driver and advertiser community, we decided to dedicate all of our team’s time to it,” Thomas said. “Although Spotluck was a fun app for consumers and restaurants, Octopus had a superior business model and unit-level economics. As a team, we realized it’s best to pivot and do one thing [really well], and fortunately our board agreed to the shift in business.”

From a driver’s perspective, the promise of earning an extra $100 per month is alluring, but how likely are they to earn that much? According to Thomas, many of its “high-volume” drivers do hit the $100 mark, but those who work a full-time week of roughly 40 hours can expect an average of $75 — though the exact figure will depend on the number of rides given and engagement from riders. However, drivers can earn additional income, including $25 referral fees for each fellow driver they recommend to Octopus, and the company said the positive experience generally leads to more tips.

“The largest payout comes in the form of greater tips,” Thomas said. “The average increase in tips is 30% as reported by our drivers, and this can go well above $100 per month. To date, we’ve paid out over $2 million in direct deposits to our drivers and estimate Octopus tablets have contributed over $7 million in tips.”

On the surface, the system also seems ripe for abuse — how does it know there is a rider in the back seat, for example? And is there anything stopping the driver or their friends from sitting in the back playing the games? Turns out there are mechanisms in place to prevent this, with each device emitting 75 data points every two minutes, including GPS location, vehicle speed, accelerometer, and engagement level. And Octopus periodically reconciles its data with the drivers’ rider logs.

To appease advertisers, Octopus can also confirm there is a person in the back seat by using the Google Tensorflow machine learning platform to deliver verified impressions via passenger detection. This ensures advertisers only pay for riders who actually sit in front of the screen while their ad is playing.

In an age when consumers are typically glued to their smartphones, Octopus promises a more engaging journey, which may be particularly appealing when multiple riders are traveling together. But Octopus says the experience may even transport individual passengers out of their smartphone-browsing routine and into a different world.

“Our tablets receive nearly a million touches on certain days,” Thomas said. “We provide a lean-in game experience that riders typically pay to access in other public settings (arcades, bars, etc.), and they are thrilled to be getting it for free. Also, we offer instant and daily prizes — we’ve paid out over $50,000 to date — to entice riders. We estimate that nearly half of riders touch the tablet during their ride, especially ones that are riding in groups.”

Octopus is far from the first company to adopt an advertising-based approach to helping drivers earn more money. Minnesota-based Vugo offers something similar, and Alphabet’s VC arm GV recently led a $30 million investment in San Francisco- and New York-based Firefly, which promises to help drivers make up to $300 extra each month by mounting electronic, geotargeted ads on their car roof.

New York-based Halo offers something similar to Firefly, while Wrapify allows any driver — even those doing the school run — to monetize their trip by placing advertisements on their vehicle.

Chicago-based Ivee adopts a slightly different approach, partnering with brands to deliver “experiential marketing,” which may include changing the car’s decor or ambiance or even setting up a karaoke experience for passengers. According to Ivee, drivers who use the Ivee kit see twice as many tipping passengers, with an average tip volume increase of 15%.

Driving profits

A number of other companies have taken different approaches to boosting drivers’ take-home pay.

Pittsburgh-based Techstars alum Gridwise claims it can help drivers earn as much as 39% more per hour by harnessing vast swathes of data to tell them where they should be and when. The company offers a mobile app that aggregates data from numerous third-party sources, including traffic services, social media, weather, concerts, and local news, as well as crowdsourced data from its own network of drivers.

Gridwise can also issue predictive alerts so drivers know the best times and days to be on the road. This feature relies on information such as airport congestion, weather forecasts, and other factors likely to increase rider demand.

This is similar to a startup called PredictHQ, which works directly with ride-hailing companies (such as Uber) so they can more accurately forecast surges in demand. But Gridwise puts the power of big data in the hands of drivers themselves.

And then there is New York-based Cargo, which offers an in-car commerce service to help drivers earn extra cash by selling stuff — from earphones to chocolate — in partnership with the brands behind the products. Cargo has raised nearly $30 million in funding since its inception, including a $22.5 million series A round last year that was led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, with participation from notable names such as Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

Drivers display the items in a little transparent case up front, and riders can visit the Cargo Store mobile app to pay for goods, with the driver taking a cut of each sale. Cargo previously told VentureBeat that drivers can earn up to $500 extra per month through commissions, referrals, and bonuses, though in reality the average driver earns closer to $130.

Cargo initially operated as an unofficial provider for ride-hailing drivers, but last year Uber jumped on board as an official partner, leading to the launch of Uber Greenlight Hubs, dedicated pickup points where drivers can collect boxes.

Founder and CEO Jeff Cripe thinks that wherever transformational businesses crop up, “valuable economies of goods and services” tend to orbit around them. Other examples include the launch of the iPhone and Apple’s App Store for developers, and the myriad services that have sprung up around Airbnb’s home-rental marketplace.

“Uber is another globally transformational company,” Cripe told VentureBeat. “In 2016 we founded Cargo as the first company to build on top of the rapidly growing ride-share platform in order to more effectively monetize every trip, and a really valuable emerging commodity: passenger minutes. Like airlines did with food and beverage, entertainment, and Wi-Fi, we believed ride-share would and should lean into value-add services that drive better economics and a better rider experience.”

While it would be easy to point to low wages as the main driver behind all these new services, that’s probably not entirely accurate. The fact of the matter is these services require little buy-in from drivers and involve little risk. In other words, even if ride-hailing drivers did earn more upfront, it’s likely many of them would still want to boost their take-home pay by partnering with companies such as Octopus and Cargo. This is something Cripe firmly belives. “There is little correlation between these two things [low pay and drivers using Cargo],” he said. “We are low-effort supplemental income. If someone told me all I had to do was bring donuts in to work every day to get a 10% raise, I would opt in regardless of how much money I make.”

Additionally, as is evidenced by the increase in tips reported by companies such as Octopus and Ivee, it seems value-add services make good businesses sense from a customer satisfaction standpoint. This can also translate to better ratings.

“We actually hear cross-geography feedback from drivers that one of the main interests in Cargo is providing the best ride experience to their passengers, and the better ratings they get because of it, in addition to the obvious financial benefit,” Cripe said.

Captive audience

So while these various startups do highlight the problem of low pay in the gig economy, that’s really just one of the factors leading drivers to transform their vehicles into ad-infused commerce hubs. A key takeaway here is that cars represent a major opportunity for companies and advertisers eager to target a captive audience while they’re confined to a closed space for up to 30 minutes or longer.

“We knew it would be an ideal captive setting to acquire the … millennial hard-to-reach consumer, but we had no idea that drivers and riders would love our simple product so much,” Thomas continued. “We tracked the ride-share space very closely and noticed that while ride-share usage continued to skyrocket, driver earnings had dropped over 50% over the past five years. We knew that if we could create a product that riders and drivers loved, then we could connect the brands and monetize.”

Sinclair’s investment is also very much a strategic move, as it will enable Octopus to access more relevant local media content, based on where the rider is traveling.

“What we see here is an untapped medium with a truly captive audience that is buckled in and looking to engage,” Sinclair executive chair David Smith added. “We invested in Octopus because the team has successfully created an innovative and differentiated branding opportunity that we can help scale further.”

Adweek – Startup Octopus Raises $10 Million to Bring Backseat Games to Ride-Sharing Services

​How companies are monetizing the backseats of Lyft and Uber

By: Patrick Kulp, November 7, 2019 – Original Article

A startup that adds a dose of Cash Cab to Uber and Lyft is getting a money pot of its own.

Octopus Interactive, a company that offers ride-hail passengers cash prizes for playing games and watching ads through backseat tablets, has raised $10.3 million from investors including the digital venture arm of Sinclair Broadcast Group and MathCapital, an investment firm tied to ad vendor MediaMath.

The cash infusion will aid the company’s plans to create a programmatic offering alongside the geo-targeted interactive ads it sells directly to brands like Disney, Walmart and Marriott…

Read the Full Article Here

TechCrunch – Sinclair leads $10.3M investment in rideshare advertising startup Octopus

Cover image for TechCrunch Article

By: Anthony Ha, November 7, 2019 – Original Article

Octopus Interactive, a startup bringing an interactive TV and ad experience into Uber and Lyft rides, has raised a $10.3 million funding round led by Sinclair Digital Group.

Backseat TVs mixing show snippets and commercials have become a common part of the taxi experience in New York City and elsewhere. Octopus is offering something of a more interactive version of this concept to rideshare drivers, who can use it to keep their passengers entertained and also earn extra money.

Octopus says it provides drivers with tablets that combine games (which can include cash prizes, and can also be sponsored), ride information (like maps and weather) and advertising in a 13-minute loop. Even if the passenger doesn’t win anything, this could help keep them occupied during a long ride, which could lead to higher driver ratings. And if the passenger isn’t interested, they can just mute the screen.

The company says it’s deploying technology to make the advertising smarter, for example with geofences to target ads or increase their frequency in a certain neighborhood, and by offering real-time analytics to advertisers. It also monitors the seat to confirm that there’s actually a passenger sitting there when an ad plays.

After launching in 2018, Octopus says it’s now reaching more than 3 million people each month across 10,000 screens in markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. By working with Sinclair Digital Group — an affiliate of controversial TV giant Sinclair — the startup can bring content from local TV stations onto the platform.

“What we see here is an untapped medium with a truly captive audience that is buckled in and looking to engage,” said Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith in a statement. “We invested in Octopus because the team has successfully created an innovative and differentiated branding opportunity that we can help scale further.”

MathCapital, an investment firm partnered with programmatic advertising company MediaMath, also participated in the funding.

DIGIDAY – A startup is putting ads inside Ubers and Lyfts

Digi Day logo over pink background

By: Kerry Flynn, April 1, 2019 – Original Article

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.

Marketing Land – Digital out-of-home advertising is fracturing into many channels

Marketing Land logo over pink background

By: Barry Levine, March 15, 2019 – Original Article

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.

‘Viewing sheds’

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.

Gridwise – How This Driver Uses a Free Tablet to Make $150 + in Tips Every Month

Gridwise promotion to make $150+ a month in tips
Gridwise promotion to make $150+ a month in tips

2/13/2019 – By Ryan – Original Article

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.

Easy money!

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.

Go grab your free Play Octopus tablet and put up to $300 more per month in your pocket today!


Business Insider – The next major advertising platform could be inside your Uber ride

Passenger engaging with Octopus tablet in car
Passenger engaging with Octopus tablet in car

– 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.”

CNBC – A day in the life of an Uber, Lyft and Juno driver who makes about $6,000 a month in NYC

Play Octopus driver Al Castillo in his car
Play Octopus driver Al Castillo in his car
Source: CNBC Make It

1/31/2019 – By Kathleen Elkins – Original Article

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.

The hours

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.

The earnings

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.”

The expenses

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)

To pick up riders in New York City, Castillo needs a special license called a TLC driver license, which costs $252 to renew every three years.

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.”

I like to meet people. 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.”

Forbes – ‘Cash Cab’ Meets Uber Where Advertisers Gather Viewing Data Via Octopus Tablets

Octopus tablet screen of Trivia

By Julie Walmsley, January 29, 2019 – Original Article

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 DisneyNational GeographicTargetRed 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.

Octopus tablet screen of Trivia

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.”