Interview With Firefly CEO Kaan Gunay: Smart Screens Guarantee That Commercial Messages Hit Target Audiences Directly

What is Firefly and how did you decide on it?

In short, Firefly is a smart city media network. We connect people, governments and businesses to help build intelligent, safe and sustainable cities.

These screens deliver geo-targeted advertising

To do this, we leverage existing networks of rideshare vehicles and install our proprietary media displays atop their cars. These screens deliver geo-targeted advertising based on driver routes and location, delivering the right message at the right time for highly effective campaign-engagement. By partnering directly with drivers we’ve been able to boost their income on average 20 percent.

I have a mechanical engineering degree from Brown and later on, I became a researcher at its school of engineering. While I enjoyed pure research, I knew in my heart that I wanted to have a more immediate impact on the world. That’s why I earned an MBA from Stanford and began working in the world of venture capital – to learn how best to build and scale businesses.

Alongside this, I began working with refugees of the Syrian Civil War and Habitat for Humanity. As much as anything else, this was crucial to forming my belief in the absolute need for purpose-driven companies that sustainably uplift the people and communities they touch. Firefly is the product of that deep belief.

How are you different from other competitors?

For one, the proprietary technology behind our ‘situationally aware’ smart screens guarantees that commercial messages hit target audiences directly, determining campaign direction and ad frequency based on driver routes, area demographics and traffic patterns. While Firefly is a leader in the new wave of marketing, we’ve still preserved the most basic elements of advertising, building a medium that would reinforce brand recognition while bolstering the advertiser’s image and name.  

We work hand in hand with local governments

In addition to our tech, what sets us apart is our community-first commitment. This manifests itself in different ways.  At least 10 percent of our entire advertising inventory at any given time is dedicated to local not-for-profit organizations, public sector PSAs and other non-commercial entities such as charities, advocacy groups, and community organizations.

Outside of advertising, we knew that our unique technology could help reveal other pressing concerns about city life. That’s why we work hand in hand with local governments and share traffic and air quality data to help paint a better picture of what’s really happening in a city.

We’ve figured out a way to use advertising as a force for good

What are your mission and long term goals?

At Firefly, our mission is to connect people, governments and businesses to build smarter, safer and more sustainable cities. In short, we’ve figured out a way to use advertising as a force for good. Firefly is leveraging advertising to subsidize the future of mobility, while working hand in hand with city leaders to provide insights into municipal issues like congestion, and air quality to better inform city planning decisions.

Firefly is empowering the smart city movement

Firefly is empowering the smart city movement. Through dedicated city partnerships, we are offering our platform to help cities generate a variety of smart city data, which ranges from block-by-block air quality to pedestrian movement. Long-term, Firefly will be an integral part of any burgeoning smart city.

How ad subsidized transportation can help people?

To me, transportation is a basic human right. With platforms like Firefly, which can generate revenue while at the same time providing value, there’s potential for the necessity of transit to be covered by ad-generated revenue, rather than out-of-pocket costs by citizens day-to-day.

How does the system work?

Through a combination of machine learning algorithms and GPS-enabled geofencing, Firefly combines the best of both out-of-home (OOH) and digital advertising. The proprietary technology behind our product allows us to deliver the right message at the right time to the correct audience, giving customers the most precise targeted marketing they want and need.

How much can a driver make a month? Are there any minimum-maximum limits?

On average, a driver on Firefly’s network generates an additional $300 per month in free cash flow, effectively adding 20% more profit to their drive time. There is no minimum or maximum — to qualify, you simply have to be a full-time driver, and will earn a flat monthly rate as our partner.

What is your advertising policy in terms of accepting deals?

At Firefly, we work with any advertiser who aligns with our values of community mindfulness.  At least 10 percent of our entire advertising inventory at any given time is dedicated to local not-for-profit organizations, public sector PSAs and other non-commercial entities such as charities, advocacy groups, and community organizations. Not only do we dedicate free media inventory to city PSAs and local nonprofit groups, but we also reserve space for local small businesses, so we’re adding value for those on the ground, living every day in the city — not just catering to the interests of major corporations.

Contracts vary based on client’s needs and campaigns and advertisers can choose the preferred geographical area to target for their advertising message.

Do you have any limitations in terms of legal?

Firefly is fully compliant with the law, and in fact are advocated for by rideshare drivers, taxi companies, and even municipal officials themselves. We work hand-in-hand with cities to ensure our screens’ advertisements resonate with citizens and bolster city initiatives, highlighting public sector campaigns in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

How much funding did you get and what are your future expectations?

We launched in December of 2018 with $21.5 million in seed funding. Already, Firefly is working with over 50 advertisers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, with plans to continue scaling and expand our offering to New York later this year.

Who are the main funders?

Our main investors are NFX, Pelion Venture Partners, Decent Capital (Tencent founders), Stanford’s StartX Fund, Chesterfield Investments, Industry Ventures, Muse Capital, Cross Culture Ventures, and individuals including Lime founders Toby Sun and Brad Bao, Jeffrey Housenbold (SOFTBANK Vision Fund), and Patrick Schwarzenegger.

What are your numbers like right now?

As of December 2018, Firefly has completed a total of 110,000 hours driven across San Francisco and Los Angeles with over 50 successful advertising campaigns at launch with companies like Brex and Hotel Tonight, as well as organizations such as The Coalition for Clean Air. Firefly has seen a 150%+ growth in revenue through Q1 of 2019. In addition, Firefly has partnered with agencies and brands with 10 new multi-market campaigns on the platform.

Do you have any partnerships to accelerate growth?

We partnered with the Coalition for Clean Air for a four- week campaign around California Clean Air Day, garnering 2.9 million impressions and over 1,000 hours of exposure. We also partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Works to enhance awareness around StreetTreeSF, a public service that professionally maintains + cares for 124,000+ street trees in the city. Our campaign received two million impressions and 625 hours of exposure in four weeks.

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Who is Kaan Gunay?

I grew up in Turkey and studied mechanical engineering at Brown University. Years before the conception of Firefly, I was submerged in the world of startup tech after completing my bachelor’s at Brown. To increase my business acumen before entering the corporate world, I received my MBA at Stanford University’s School of Business. Following a two-year role as a researcher at Brown’s School of Engineering, I had the opportunity to work and grow with a handful of well-known venture capitalists, including Sequoia Capital, as well as an array of early genius startups that have now flourished into household names, like Lime.

While those professional opportunities allowed me to grow and expand my breadth of corporate knowledge, I found the greatest reward in my work with Habitat for Humanity. As an advocate for refugees of the Syrian Civil War, I worked firsthand with families and individuals who inspired me to further explore and develop the value of putting community before profit.

These experiences led me to create something innovative that benefited the community. Combining the lessons learned in both fast startup and morality-rooted non-profit, my co-founder and I decided to start a company that struck a balance between both, resulting in the birth of Firefly. Together, we infused community-first values into a product with the primary aim to help support three essential parts of any modern city: drivers (gig economy), small businesses and nonprofits.

I am incredibly proud of the work we have accomplished thus far and look forward to supporting a future that continues to better, smarter, more connected society to the advantage of all its stakeholders.

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Sarah Kaplan is an award-winning journalist with more than 9 years of experience. She is the Editor-in-Chief of TheOofy.com. She has worked for international media companies as a reporter and correspondent. She has been awarded by Article 19. She has worked for  The Guardian Foundation/ P24 Knowledge Right Project. She has participated in See Media Observatory in Macedonia. She was Research Fellow at Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Germany.  She has been writing about technology, the latest trends in business. You can reach out to her via kaplan@theoofy.com. Also, you can connect with her at Linkedin.