Just this week, New York became the first city to set a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers. While ride-share companies will now be required to pay drivers $17.22 hourly after expenses, in most cities around the country, the drivers are making closer to $11.90.
Firefly, a new digital ad company, hopes to provide Uber drivers with another way to make money as they drive. The startup has quietly assembled a fleet of close to 1,000 Uber drivers in San Francisco and Los Angeles who have been mounting ad displays to the top of their vehicles. In the last year, they have driven over 110,000 hours around those two cities and executed over 50 ad campaigns.
“We are the largest fleet of mobile displays in the country,” said Kaan Gunay, CEO and co-founder of Firefly, alongside his CTO Onur Kardesler.
But the company is also focused on creating a positive effect for the drivers that use its hardware. Full-time Uber and Lyft drivers can install the monitors for free atop their vehicles at one of Firefly’s offices. It takes around half an hour, and drivers get paid a flat fee of around $300 a month for turning the monitors on whenever they’re driving.
“We have hundreds of cars out there right now,” Gunay said. “The wait list we have is in the thousands.”
Beyond the return on investment for advertisers, Gunay is also trying to offer up the tools Firefly is building to the cities where it operates.
“We are extremely community-oriented,” Gunay said. “Our main goal here is to make sure we are adding value to our cities.”
Firefly reserves 10% of its ad inventory for public service announcements that city agencies can reserve for free, and another 10% for local businesses.
Two weeks ago, when smoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, made its way down to the Bay Area, Firefly launched a campaign to inform people on the streets about air quality.
Even more than that—Firefly’s monitors are built with certain censors meant to be able to collect data and send feedback back to cities where it operates. One thing they measure for: air quality. So, on the days with smoke in the air, Firefly’s systems could collect air quality data on San Francisco on a street-by-street level, data they shared with California’s Coalition for Clean Air.
Of course, the ads are the central money-making part of the platform. Firefly charges on a cost-per-impression basis, Gunay said, and campaigns vary in price depending on the neighborhoods in which they’re executed or the time of day they’re displayed.
Already, Firefly has secured deals with Hotel Tonight and Doordash to display their ads atop Ubers. Advertisers can target their campaigns based on geography, so that the ads only pop up on the display when drivers pass through a certain neighborhood.
The company has already secured $21.5 million in seed funding, led by NfX, but with angel investments from Decent Capital and Jeffrey Housenbold.
“We also geofence off specific locations such as schools, where we don’t serve age-inappropriate content,” such as ads for alcohol, Gunay said.
Since it launched in 2017, Firefly has brought on a staff of 30 people across its offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It will also open an office in New York in early 2019.
“We’re becoming an integral part of the city and making sure we build the technology to make sure it pays off,” Gunay said.
Kate Talerico is a staff writer at Street Fight.