Others take a little more convincing.
Such was the story of the early founding days of WaiveCar, when founder Isaac Deutsch went to his neighbor and eventual business partner, Zoli Honig, with his brilliant idea. Deutsch wanted to give people “Zipcar for free,” Honig explained to Karen Webster in a recent conversation. Instead of charging the driver, Deutsch thought they would put ads on the car and charge advertisers for access to a captive audience.
Honig was not exactly sold. “I believe what I said was, ‘You are out of your mind, that will never work,'” he recalled.
Hong had previous experiences with startups and was pretty convinced that even if, by some miracle, they could make the concept fly, it was just too heavy of a lift.
Deutsch was unpersuaded. “He was like, ‘Nope, we are doing this, and you’re going to help me,'” said Honig.
And from there, WaiveCar was born.
WaiveCar has a very simple premise: Customers are given free access to an all-electric vehicle for two hours of driving time. In return, they agree to drive a car, the exterior of which is essentially a moving billboard, for free. Cars are covered with a vinyl wrap that bears the names of advertisers, and topped with a digital display programmed for dynamic advertising, similar to what you see on some yellow taxis.
Ads are triggered based on the GPS coordinates of the car at the time. If a driver passes a Starbucks, for example, Honig said the display will show a Starbucks ad for the benefit of people walking around the streets in the vicinity of the car.
After the two-hour mark, the car costs $5.99 an hour. Although the exterior is busily advertising to any and all it passes, the inside of the car is largely unmarked, though the driver might be asked to fill out a question at the end of the ride. Also, Honing noted, they may occasionally interact with drivers to make a request in return for more drive time.
“We can incent users to drive to high-traffic areas by offering free driving time,” he said. “If you are driving near a landmark like the Staples center, we might send a message to your map and offer the driver another 45 minutes for free if they will drive once around it to display their ads.”
Drivers are usually happy to do a little extra driving in exchange for getting more time with the car, Honig pointed out. And because all cars come with a map, the messages to drivers appear similar to pop-ups ads on Waze, visible but not distracting or invasive.
One of the more striking things that WaiveCar has noticed in its early days is the diversity of users it has attracted. From college students running errands to busy moms using the service as a second car to older people who have definite but limited uses for cars, the customer base spans all income levels, ages and occupations.
There are some people, Honig told Webster, who will simply never consent to being a moving billboard on the roads; their dignity just prevents it. There are, however, a stunning number of people in the world who are utterly unbothered by the notion of being in a rolling billboard, and as a result WaiveCar’s daily utilization rate is around 90 percent. By comparison, its competitors over at Zipcar and car2go boast daily utilization rates that average about 30 percent for their vehicle fleets.
“People like free,” Honig noted. “Our early days, we put a sign on one of our cars, ‘Do you want to drive this car for free?’ and word got out pretty quickly.”
Zipcars and Ubers get expensive, particularly for someone who has a few stops to make. WaiveCar offers a more efficient alternative, to such a great extent that users routinely take Ubers to get to the WaiveCars.
“I would love to live in a world where there is a WaiveCar on every corner, so that everyone can have one all the time. But the reality is, when you are offering a valuable item for free, that item is going to be getting used a lot.”
And not just a lot – but in new ways to reach consumers.
When we talked to WaiveCar, they were newly into a 12-month deal with Hyundai that essentially saw the car company using their own vehicles as Hyundai’s advertising platform. That means for the next 12 months, the only branding the vinyl wrap will feature will be Hyundai’s, and drivers will be prompted to take a three-question survey about their ride experience at the end of their time.
“This lets Hyundai do a lot of things at once: They can jump into the ridesharing game, and they also get thousands of people into their vehicles,” Honig pointed out. “According to industry data, they spend about $230 per person to get people into a dealership for a test drive – this is doing that for free, and also getting those customers to fill out a survey. This is a no-brainer for them.”
And though it has a very direct application for a car company, Deutsch noted that the way that cars can function as moving billboards also has a unique contextual application. WaiveCar is currently working with a video game company, he noted, to create ads that can “play against each other” when the cars drive past one another on the road.
WaiveCar may have sounded like an outlandish idea on first description – even to one of its co-founders – but it has quickly gotten into gear (pun fully intended) with a successful appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, and a plan to more than double their fleet serving the Los Angeles Metro area to around 175 by the end of Q2.