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The Egyptian Startup Using IoT and Big Data to Add Entertainment to Ride-Sharing

RoadCast, now running its pilot phase, is setting off to create on-demand content inside ridesharing vehicles, allowing customers to interact with the ads.

The building’s garage resembles a carousel, only instead of colourful miniature cars, a series of grey and dark blue Nissan are lined up. Inside the pristine blue office, just a few meters away from the garage, a whiteboard still carries the hurried doodles of their ambitious goals; and tucked on one of corners, a blue sleeping bag lies on the floor. “We have spent several nights sleeping in the office during the launch. It’s been the most exciting days since we started,” says co-founder and Head of Customer Experience Sherief Hassan, recalling the sleepless nights the team spent just a few weeks ago, as the first cars took to the streets of Cairo with the devices they’d been working on.

These devices are setting off to transform not only the way we commute, but also to disrupt the advertising industry, having found a 30-minute window for advertisers yet untapped. Launched in 2017, RoadCast aims to fill Cairo's vehicles with screens, partnering with Cairo’s most popular ride-sharing companies to offer on-demand content, from games, to web series, to business articles. 

“We came up with the idea in 2011, but had to put it to a halt during the revolution. It was a different business model, and we didn’t have ride sharing services, so it was designed for tourists,” explains co-founder and CEO, Mohamed Rateb. The entrepreneurs revived the idea in 2017, approaching ride sharing companies to add entertainment to their service. “In Egypt, 97 percent of the mobile market is prepaid, and batteries on phones are low-performing, so if you use your phone during the ride, probably you will drain your battery. So we thought of adding a 10 inch screen with free data so that customers get a better service,” Rateb adds.

"We’ve found a window that nobody is capitalising on, which is a 30-minute gap where you can add value to the consumer," says CEO Mohamed Rateb. 

Having secured PepsiCo and Unilever as their first customers, the entrepreneurs are now running their pilot phase, with 85 cars on the road, increasing by the day. “The average trip in Egypt is from 30 to 35 minutes, so we asked ourselves ‘how can we make that trip more enduring?,” says Hassan. In fact, the country of Pharaohs stands as one of the world’s most traffic-ridden countries, with the world’s second largest average commuting time. In countries like South Africa or the US, for example, the average commuting time is 10 o 17 minutes.

The entrepreneurs explain that, as Ridesharing in Egypt is used by all classes across different ages, their IoT platform focuses on data gathering and analysis as a core element of their business, utilising data such as user behaviour, time spent on the device, and what content they consume the most to source content, from books, games, and colouring books for children, to business videos for businessmen. “We got feedback from drivers, and children’s content is one of their main requests,” explains co-founder and Head of Operations, Omar Badran. “We are scrutinising all the data we get from drivers. At the end of the day, we are a tech company, so gathering and analysing data is crucial for us.”

“The idea of putting tablets in cars to provide entertainment is not rocket science,” says Rateb.  “The issue is how to use the data gathered by the devices and analysing to enhance the riding experience and capitalise on the data to monetise,” he says, explaining how the experience changes from customer to customer, capitalising on the connection between the tablets and the user experience. “We are also going to use the cameras on the tablets for personal recognition in order to offer a personal welcome to every passenger and enhance their experience,” Rateb adds.

Capitalising on Big Data, the entrepreneurs offer advertisers a way to interact with passengers in innovative ways. 

The business model involves providing screens to drivers for free, while getting revenue from advertisement and paying a monthly compensation to drivers themselves. “We have talked to lots of drivers, which are affected by the increase in the price of fuel and rising costs, so they need another source of revenue,” explains Badran. “On top of the revenue, we are helping them get higher ratings, while helping companies retain their drivers. What matters for us is that drivers get a fair share of revenue for taking care and maintaining our screens.”

To source the screens, the trio purchases both from Chinese providers, as well as from Egyptian up and coming company SICO. “Their tablet is performing better than the Chinese provider,” Rateb points out, explaining that the software is made by Bright Creations, an Egyptian company as well.  

Capitalising on digital screens, the entrepreneurs offer advertisers a way to interact with passengers in innovative ways, rather than passively consuming content. “We are adding a niche to the media industry,” says Hassan, as he shows us one of the screens just as it is being set up inside the car. “We’ve been saying ‘digital is coming for years,’ but digital is already here. We’ve found a window that nobody is capitalising on, which is a 30-minute gap where you can add value to the consumer. Once we install the facial recognition camera, you can try filters,” Rateb explains, unveiling their plans to add e-commerce features.

Facing a very segmented audience and a changing media landscape, the entrepreneurs utilise their market research and experience in the media industry to contact digital media creators to include programmes, cooking videos, games, and ‘snakable content’. “Surprisingly, games are our biggest hit,” Sherief says. “We don’t want to rely on standard ads, but enter a post-media world where customers can interact with advertisements,” he concludes.

Photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.

*The contents of this article have been sponsored.

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