In-ride entertainment

'Cash cab' rideshare tech company expands services to Houston and Austin

Houston and Austin rideshare riders might soon walk away with some earnings — or at least some entertainment. Photo via playoctopus.com

Your next Lyft or Uber ride might win you some money. An interactive advertising and entertainment platform that works in rideshares has announced it will expand to the Houston and Austin markets — just in time for SXSW.

Maryland-based Play Octopus has already received thousands of applications from rideshare drivers wanting the device in their vehicles, according to a press release. And expanding to Houston was an obvious move.

"As the leading rideshare advertising company in the country, expanding into Texas' ride-sharing scene is a necessary first step as we expand outside of the Northeast. Austin and Houston are both tech-driven cities that rely on rideshare for convenient transportation," says Cherian Thomas, the co-founder and CEO of Play Octopus. "Digital video consumption and rideshare are both at all-time highs, and for brands, Octopus provides the ability to reach millions of rideshare passengers on a monthly basis."

The company has recently seen success from partnerships with the likes of Disney, Red Bull, Tiffany & Co., Sprint, National Geographic, and Weight Watchers in major Northeastern cities. Houston and Austin are just the start of Octopus' 2019 growth plans.

The way it works is the company provides free tablets to qualified drivers. Tablets come with a monthly data plan, a mount, the cables required, and up to $100 a month — not to mention the perks — like tips and ratings — that come with providing riders a new option for ride entertainment. On the other side of the table, advertisers have access to millions of monthly riders and can use branding and geo-targeting ads.

The company launched the platform on the East Coast about a year ago and is already in over 7,000 vehicles generating almost 10 million engagements a month. Currently, Octopus is in New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; and Richmond, Virginia.

"Our national expansion is being fueled by our brand and agency partners, and further solidifies the Octopus platform as a key component to media plans," says Dillon Tedesco, the chief revenue officer of Play Octopus. "As we surpass the 10,000,000 monthly engagement milestone and introduce exciting new ways to interact with our tablets, we're looking forward to providing our clients with a deeper impact in more cities across the country."

Houston was home to more than 117,000 skilled freelancers in 2018. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

It's no wonder coworking is taking off in Houston. A new study shows the community of skilled freelance workers in Houston ranks as one of the biggest in Texas — and the United States.

The study, commissioned by freelance marketplace Fiverr and conducted by market research firm Rockbridge Associates, indicates Houston was home to an estimated 117,260 skilled freelancers who generated more than $4.1 billion in revenue in 2018, just slightly less than the financial haul in 2017.

Houston ranked second statewide and 11th in the U.S. among major metro areas for the size of the skilled-freelancer workforce and for the amount of revenue produced, according to the study. Between 2017 and 2018, Houston's pool of skilled freelancers grew 2.5 percent.

From 2011 to 2016, according to the study, Houston's community of skilled freelancers increased 7.7 percent, while revenue declined slightly by 7.8 percent. The Fiverr study places skilled freelancers in three buckets: creative, technical, and professional. These freelancers include attorneys, graphic designers, musicians, software engineers, accountants, and consultants. Any self-employed person whose work requires "specific skills and abilities" was counted in the study; excluded were folks like Uber and Lyft drivers.

"Highly skilled freelancers are an understudied and often overlooked segment of the workforce," Brent Messenger, Fiverr's vice president of public policy and community, says in a release. "By analyzing the data around these … workers, we're able to get a clear picture of the types of jobs they're doing, the amount of revenue they're generating, and the cities in which they're having the most impact."

DFW ranked first in Texas and seventh nationally in the study. In 2018, DFW was home to an estimated 154,617 skilled freelancers who generated nearly $6.38 billion in revenue in 2018, up 5.4 percent from the previous year.

While DFW dominates Texas in terms of freelance population and revenue, Austin boasts the fastest-growing freelance scene.

In 2018, the estimated 67,044 skilled freelancers in the Austin metro area produced nearly $2.7 billion in revenue, up 7.5 percent from 2017, the study says. During the one-year period, Austin's pool of skilled freelancers grew 7.4 percent. The study pegged Austin at No. 18 nationally for the size of the population and revenue of skilled freelancers.

From 2011 to 2016, according to the study, Austin's community of skilled freelancers shot up by 26 percent, with revenue climbing 31 percent. The study identified Austin and Nashville as the country's two fastest-growing hubs for skilled freelancers.

A recent study by commercial real estate website CommercialCafé found that Austin, Dallas, and Houston ranked among the most affordable U.S. cities for freelancers. Meanwhile, personal finance website NerdWallet in 2016 ranked Austin as the best place in the U.S. for freelancers, with Dallas at No. 3, Fort Worth at No. 8, and Houston at No. 15.

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A version of this story originally appeared on CultureMap.com.