The ride-hail advertising sector has two new market entrants, both companies founded by east coast college students, both concepts slight variations on existing players in the out-of-home (OOH), or outdoor advertising space.
Carvertise’s vehicle wraps and Halo’s rooftop digital displays also share a commitment to no commitment: their drivers need not sign lengthy contracts or maintain set numbers of rides per month. Both companies add and later remove their displays to drivers’ cars, at no cost to the driver and no damage to the vehicle. In other words, they offer two more ways for ride-hail drivers to easily side hustle their side hustles.
Mac Nagaswami and Greg Star first got the idea for their business, to wrap cars with advertisements and offer those drivers a flat payment for each campaign, in August 2012 when both were undergraduates at the University of Delaware. They thought the Red Bull car was a great idea, and started thinking about connecting brands to groups of drivers. At first called Penguin Ads, it was a true student business, starting with printing street flyers at the campus library and chasing clients without a fully developed strategy to deliver those clients’ advertising.
Both cofounders are unfiltered in discussing the fits and starts of creating a company, a bit self-deprecating and very jokey. But as relaxed as they can sound, they’ve made shrewd decisions, and could well be poised to threaten their major competition in the space, San Francisco-based Wrapify.
They started by advertising for community institutions such as schools and hospitals, to ride the wave of cross-promotion and stay top-of-mind during locals’ errands and commutes around Delaware. They developed relationships with local chambers of commerce to access small business owners who might want a visibility boost about town, and pursued gladhanding with the biggest business players in the state by circling the governor’s events, albeit ardently enough to concern his security. After creating a foundation in Wilmington and then Philadelphia, Nagaswami and Star started their national expansion, but did so by region.
The idea came in October 2018, chatting over a meal. Halo's founders noticed how good Facebook ads had gotten, to the degree of nearly predicting a user’s next move. Then the four University of Pennsylvania students - three undergraduates and an MBA candidate - observed advertising around campus. “We would see all these really bad billboards,” cofounder and chief executive Kenan Saleh recalled in a phone interview.
He and the other three cofounders Ryanne Fadel, Nabeel Farooqui, and Faizan Bhatty, decided to create contextual messaging. That is, they thought about crafting marketing relevant to the audience’s location, current activity, and likely demographic.
They already had some background in digital advertising, Bhatty at Google and Fadel at McCann Worldgroup. Saleh had previously developed apps.
Today operating a small fleet in Philadelphia, the company is still testing the concept. Advertisers pay by the hour, roughly in the range of $8 to $20 per hour, depending on the value of the location. Beyond selling display time, Halo acts as an ad agency, consulting with clients to develop campaigns that are visually striking for the digital display. “We co-create the content,” Saleh said. “And we include that in the [ad pricing] packages.”
Halo will be featured in the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Startup Showcase this Friday. The company does not have a hard timeline to scale, and won’t announce fundraising plans. Funding to date has come from University of Pennsylvania and the founders’ own pockets. Saleh declined to specify amounts.
With the Wharton network behind it, the company is likely to secure funding and a knowledgeable network of advisors, but it has to catch up to other companies who are already on the road while all four founders are still in school and balancing their coursework with steering the new venture. Its most direct competition is Firefly, another rooftop digital display that calibrates advertising to location. Vugo’s advertising via tablets and Octopus’ games also generate relevant content, although they offer drivers less money, about $100 to $300 per month. Halo’s drivers make up to $400 per month when driving full-time.