CINCINNATI — A three-month pilot program with Uber in San Diego could be just what a local technology company needs to unlock long-term success.
Uber is using Cincinnati-based Viaggi to power free Wi-Fi to its San Diego customers who use the company's upscale UberBLACK and UberSUV ride-sharing services. Uber described the service in an email to more than 300,000 people in the San Diego area:
"Riders who request UberBLACK or UberSUV can experience complimentary Wi-Fi to stay productive on the go, powered by Viaggi. Connect to more than just luxury — from a conference call to managing your travel plans — we'll help you maximize your efficiency."
The pilot program comes on the heels of another big win for Viaggi — piloting Wi-Fi services for some FedEx Ground drivers, said Nathan Ellis, founder and CEO of Chrysalis, LLC, the parent company of Viaggi. Chrysalis, which launched in 2012, aims to change the way people connect to and access the Internet while they're traveling.
That makes pilot projects with companies such as Uber and FedEx Ground critically important.
"We're hoping to learn how consumers and riders interact with the service," said Ellis, a Cincinnati native. "Those mobile interactions will give us a huge insight on not only the demand, but how folks are really using it. We'll look at that at the end of the test and every day in between and hopefully after that our goal is to expand and bring it to some more riders."
The pilot started Dec. 18 and will continue through March 20.
Still, inking an agreement with a company as big and well known as Uber is no easy feat. It took Ellis nine months to make the deal, he said.
"Uber is one of the most in-demand companies on the planet right now," he said. "They don't partner with a ton of brands. They definitely wanted to ensure that it was a good fit."
Ellis had to be persistent, and that persistence paid off, said Justin Thompson, a principal with CincyTech, the seed stage investment fund that aims to stimulate the growth of local IT and bioscience companies.
CincyTech awarded a grant to Chrysalis to help the company get started and also invested in the company in early 2015.
"Nathan — he's a grinder. He's the personality that is very direct, but he gets stuff done," Thompson said. "He's a determined soul, and we really like that."
From Withrow High to Uber deal
Having the patience to keep talking with Uber, despite the fact that an answer wasn't coming as quickly as he hoped, was the most difficult part of the whole thing for Ellis, he said.
"With entrepreneurs, you want to do everything today, today, today — right now," Ellis said. "The difficult part is the patience piece."
It's one of the many challenges of starting a business, he said.
Ellis, 30, started Chrysalis, he said, as a way to connect people.
It won't be long before ride-share services, transit systems and rental car companies want to provide a way for all of their customers to connect to the Internet, he said, and Chrysalis and Viaggi want to make that happen.
Before launching his company, Ellis worked in the financial services industry. He's a graduate of Withrow International High School and Franklin University in Columbus where he studied business administration, management and operations and business forensics.
In addition to getting support from CincyTech, Chrysalis is a member of Cintrifuse, which helps connect local startup companies to advice, employees, funding and customers.
Chrysalis has eight employees, and Ellis said he is doing his best to take advantage of all the support that Cincinnati's business community has to offer.
Those supports are available for people of all backgrounds, said Ellis, who is one of a growing number of black technology entrepreneurs in Cincinnati.
"For any business, whether it's minority-owned or not, it's all about connecting to the local startup community as a whole," he said. "Ten years ago, that support system didn't exist. We're happy that a lot of those resources are here."
The success that Ellis has had with Uber so far shows how strong Cincinnati's "startup ecosystem" has become, Thompson said.
"It reinforces that there are really good businesses that exist in Cincinnati," he said. "It just speaks to the quality of entrepreneurs in Cincinnati. These guys have done this on a tight budget and performed. They've done everything you want an entrepreneur to do."
By the end of the pilot project with Uber, Ellis said he expects to have a better idea of how all that effort will pay off in the long run.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 17 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.