Infotainment Startup Surf Rolls Out Touch Screen Entertainment for Ride-Sharing Passengers

Riding in the back of an Uber or Lyft compels many passengers to remain fixed on their phone, doing their best to avoid conversation. One Scottsdale-based tech startup is looking to change that passenger experience with its innovative in-car entertainment system.

Currently there are ride-sharing drivers who offer in-car entertainment by providing tablets for passengers to save their own data and make a once-awkward driving experience now friendlier and easier to pass the time. Surf, co-founded by CEO Eli Chmouni, just nabbed $250,000 in seed funding with hopes of nearly tripling the amount of tablets in ride-sharing vehicles.

Chmouni wants to bring the tablet entertainment option to more than 1,000 Uber and Lyft cars in the Phoenix area by year’s end before expanding to Austin.

“I had to travel back and forth weekly between my Silicon Valley job and my ASU faculty job. While on the plane, I would enjoy some in-flight entertainment to pass the time, but when sitting in an Uber for 20 minutes, I was faced with the awkward silence with the driver,” says Chmouni. “All I wanted was in-flight entertainment but in the car, where I can control my ride experience. Thus I started Surf from that principle.”

Surf, which started up in March of this year, focuses on allowing passengers in Uber and Lyft cars to watch videos, play games and listen to music using a mobile device mounted to the back of the passenger headrest. The company started out with 200 drivers using the entertainment option in Phoenix before heading west to Los Angeles where 100 drivers came aboard.

Chmouni and his associates will also use the seed money to bring on more employees to their Scottsdale office, offering up opportunities in sales, app development and web development. Altogether there were three investors who put their hands in the funding picture in the last week of September. John Mckernan, founder of Chape Hats, and Aaron Dragushan, founder of Giftcard Zen, are early investors. The latter sold his company to RetailMeNot Inc. in 2016 for a whopping $22 million and the former’s son is Landon Mckernan, a fellow Arizona State Sun Devil who went to school with Chmouni. Mckernan started out as an intern and is now the company’s director of driver partners.

Uber and Lyft drivers can install the entertainment package in their cars for free and tack on about $50 a month, on average, in extra earnings when passengers use the systems. At 50 cents per use, drivers who encourage the use of the tablets, and who drive considerably more, have potential to make even more than $50.

Currently, Surf has a client list that includes Arizona State University and the city of Scottsdale, who pay the company advertising fees. This is Chmouni’s fourth startup and he initially funded Surf with $50,000 of his own funds.

The rideshare and the transportation industry are experiencing an exponential growth. As more and more people decide to live in city centers, the concept of owning a car is no longer a priority,” says Chmouni. “Surf is working with many industry leaders in the rideshare space and we continue to develop technologies to supplement that growth.”

Photo courtesy of Surf

Nick Esquer

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