Firefly Emerges From Stealth With $21.5M In Funding To Put Billboards On Top Of Uber And Lyft Cars https://www.forbes.com/sites/bizcar...ds-on-top-of-uber-and-lyft-cars/#1328df1f1409 Seeing a triangle-shape advertisement atop a taxi is a pretty typical sight. Now a new startup called Firefly wants to bring digital advertising to the ride-hailing industry by putting billboards on top of Ubers and Lyfts, while sharing a cut of the money with drivers. And these aren’t just your typical taxi toppers: the company has infused them with a chock ton of sensors that measure everything from air pollution to pavement condition to turn each sign into a data collector meant to benefit cities and the environment. “I firmly believe we have a civic duty to make our cities smarter and really add income to our driver partners,” says Firefly CEO and cofounder Kaan Gunay. To bring its billboards to a greater audience, the company recently came out of stealth after a year of testing to announce it has raised a total of $21.5 million in seed funding from NFX, Pelion Ventures, Decent Capital, and Jeffrey Housenbold. The money will be used to help grow the team -- it plans to double from 30 to 60 people in its San Francisco headquarters -- and purchase more hardware to meet demand from drivers. NFX Capital’s James Currier acknowledged that a company that makes both its own hardware while also building its own advertising network isn’t a normal venture capital bet. “Typically your biggest outcomes are a little counter-intuitive or a little counter-stream,” Currier said. “Ad-tech for the last decade has gotten just killed. It feels to me there should be opportunity there if you own the supply.” To start, Firefly’s vision is to turn the ridesharing cars (or any other delivery platform’s drivers) into roving billboards, over 600 so far, with a conscience. The company sells advertising inventory and targets it to certain geo-fenced areas, so an alcohol advertisement doesn’t roll past a school, for example. It also reserves 10% of its inventory for non-profits and public sector PSAs, meaning an Amber Alert could interrupt an ad for a clothing retailer. For any unsold inventory, another 10% is allocated to non-chain small businesses to advertise local coffee shops or boutiques. Outdoor advertising is actually a growing sector with ad spend expected to increase by 3% in 2018, according to Zenith. So Gunay, alongside cofounder Onur Kardesler, wants to help drivers also cash in. It’s free for drivers to sign up for the install, and then they earn a set rate. The company only works with full-time drivers that drive at least 40 hours a week, and Gunay claims drivers on average earn an extra $300 a month. Currently only available in California, the company plans to expand next to New York City in early 2019. Firefly doesn’t currently have any deals with ridesharing companies, and putting a billboard on top of a driver’s car is tolerated (but not necessarily encouraged) by the companies since regulation typically falls under local law. “Drivers should refer to their city and state's regulations when giving rides, as well as keeping in mind the impact they could have on riders,” Lyft said in a statement to Forbes. More explicitly, a help page on Lyft’s website warns that the impact could be a negative one: “Third-party advertisements are often unexpected in Lyft vehicles, making passengers feel uncomfortable or pressured. While the choice is up to you, keep in mind that this may negatively affect your driver rating and likelihood of earning tips.” Uber did not respond to request for comment on its view on Firefly, but it partnered in July with a different kind of in-car advertising company: Cargo. The startup, founded by Forbes 30 under 30 2019 honoree Jeff Cripe, distributes its snack-filled, mini vending machines to drivers and share a cut of the proceeds when riders purchase something. Firefly’s ride-hailing market ambition is just the start. The company is also collecting a lot of data, ranging from air pollution statistics to temperature to using an accelerometer to tell if a driver hit a pothole, and is partnering with cities and organizations to help them understand the environments better. It’s a treasure trove of data that, for now, the company says it has no plans to make money off of, opting to partner with local governments to share the information instead. “I do believe transportation will be free in the future, and it will be subsidized by something else. I think that’s advertising,” he says.