Chicago is a city bustling with innovation where a new startup is born every day. And while technology in Illinois continues to grow, plenty of startups leave the state as Illinois sends some of the largest quantities of tech talent to Silicon Valley.
But it’s rare that a tech startup has to leave the city because it’s technically operating illegally.
Viewswagen, a startup that provides interior advertising in ridesharing vehicles via tablets, had every intention of launching in Chicago, founder James Bellefeuille said, until he discovered that the city’s ridesharing ordinance specifically outlawed the existence of his company.
The Transportation Network Provider Ordinance was passed by the city in May of last year and provided a range of regulations for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar vehicles. The ordinance required things like making sure ridesharing drivers had a chauffeur’s license, received background checks, and vehicle inspections.
But tucked in the ordinance was a short but devastating detail for Bellefeuille: Commercial advertisements shall not be displayed on the exterior or in the interior of a transportation network vehicle.
“Chicago made my business illegal before we even started,” said Bellefeuille, who moved to Chicago two years ago. “In my opinion, there’s absolutely no reason for interior vehicle advertising to be illegal in Chicago, especially considering they fully promote in-cab advertising, which is the same thing.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office did not respond to an email for comment.
Bellefeuille came up with the idea for Viewswagen while working as an Uber driver in Chicago. Tourists were constantly asking him for dining recommendations, and he eventually started carrying menus of his favorite restaurants to hand to passengers. Bellefeuille, who has a background in digital marketing, knew there was an opportunity for advertising inside ridesharing cars, and the foundation for Viewswagen was born.
The company incorporated in Minnesota, and is planning a May 1 launch in Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York and LA.
Here’s how Viewswagen works: Rideshare drivers sign up to work with Viewswagen and must provide their own tablets (Viewswagen recommends an Android version that runs roughly $100). The driver then downloads the Viewswagen app, and ads are played on the screen. Drivers can earn up to $3/hr using the service, Bellefeuille said.
Viewswagen does however plan to offer the service to Chicago Uber and Lyft drivers, but will warn them in advace about Chicago’s laws.
“If (drivers want to) proceed, feel free to do so,” he said. “Because the opportunity is often greater than the penalties.”
Bellefeuille believes Viewswagen will do roughy $260 million in revenue during its first year of business. He said eventually he expects to move his company to San Francisco, a place he says “actually encourages innovation and doesn’t write laws that protect entrenched companies.”
“I would love to stay in the Midwest. We started out small just like every other startup, and we ran into the Chicago machine. We ran into bureaucracy. We ran into legislation and regulations that restricted us.”
(Image via Viewswagen)