The guy who’ll make your money make money
Every good business gets to a point where it needs to diversify its income streams, which, for new ride-hail drivers, is where Vugo comes in. Started by DTLA-based James Bellefeuille, Vugo hopes to be an advertising platform for mobility media -- think the screens you see in taxicabs, only using location data to target passengers in ride hail cars with custom ads -- and to add cold, hard dollars to new drivers’ pockets.
“People are becoming passengers now more than they ever have before,” Bellefeuille said in an August phone interview from his Downtown LA co-working space, on why he sees a strong future for his company.
Ride hail trends and demographics are on his side. A Pew Research Center study released in May showed that 10% of 18- to 29-year-olds, the generation that determines future technology and services adoption, currently use ride hailing on a daily or weekly basis in urban areas. Nationwide, it’s 7%.
And frequent ride hail users are more likely to use a range of transit options. That is, there will be more and more of this group sitting where they might want to watch something, with little else to do.
Vugo works by running on any tablet that a ride hail driver purchases and installs in the backseat, acting as both a moving billboard and an entertainment center -- perfect for customers stuck spending time in traffic on the 405. Advertisers pay for ads that are “contextual,” meaning displaying products nearby, or that someone making a particular trip is likely to buy, based on where the user is going.
Vugo also has a tip function for Uber drivers -- a longstanding issue for drivers, irked that high-quality service didn’t necessarily boost their earnings. Vugo will have two modes of its technology available to advertisers, one more targeted than the other. Marketers can pay to display ads based on someone’s location, or add on targeting based on how riders interact with the content on the tablet.
For example, approaching the airport, viewers might get ads for Brookstone, Samsonite, travel organizers, vacation packages, and restaurants in the terminal. But the people riding are all of different demographics with different income levels and buying preferences. Companies can pay to have ads calibrated to the tablet’s use as an entertainment center, so that the frat boy with Kimmel skits on loop gets, say, beer and tech gadget ads, while the professor searching YouTube for an urban planning panel discussion gets laptop and enterprise software commercials.
For now, Vugo is in the final stages of testing. But Bellefeuille estimates there are over 60,000 active monthly drivers in the LA metro area that could start running Vugo when it becomes available in October.
As far as the entertainment component, Vugo has met with multi-channel networks (companies that agent for nascent content on YouTube, packaging and marketing it to compete against major media producers) and is targeting powerhouse rights holders like Disney and CBS for popular film and television.
All of this is sort of the ultimate irony: the likelihood that your Uber driver moved to LA to get into entertainment is high -- and now they’ll be making their side-job money from Hollywood too, even if it’s nowhere near the dream they came here with in the first place.
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