Did you know that 55 percent of America’s billion dollar startups were founded by immigrants? The United States remains the land of opportunity and many of the world’s best and brightest entrepreneurs continue to flock to America to create cutting edge companies. That’s certainly true for Kaan Gunay, who was born in Germany, raised in Turkey, and now living the dream in America.
Now, Gunay is well on his way to building his own unicorn startup, having already raised over $21.5 million in capital. Firefly’s primary product right now is on-car mobile smart screens that are helping rideshare drivers earn extra income. The early results have been tremendous, but Gunay has set his sights higher, aiming to use his mobile smart screens to gather data that could soon be used to empower smart cities.
America Continues to Attract the Best and Brightest
For hundreds of years America has existed as an ideal: the land of opportunity. Immigrants, first from Europe, later from everywhere else, have been making their way to America with hopes of starting a new life long before the United States even existed as a nation. Of course, this simplistic recount glosses over a complicated and at times dark history, but few will doubt America’s place as a land of opportunity.
Many of the world’s cutting edge technology behemoths are headquartered in the United States. Globally, America still attracts the lion share of venture capital investments. In terms of market capitalization, the New York Stock Exchange is multiple times greater than any non-American exchange.
It should come as no surprise then that entrepreneur Kaan Gunay decided to make his way to America with dreams of changing the world and making some money along the way. Like many of the United States’ leading entrepreneurs, Gunay wasn’t born in America but instead immigrated by way of Turkey.
From Turkey, To Ivy, to Silicon Valley
As is often the case, Gunay’s journey started with an education, in this case an Ivy League one at Brown University. Like many bright, up-and-coming Ivy League graduates, Gunay started his career in finance but was gradually pulled towards humanitarian working, including volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and in Syrian Refugee Camps. Gunay’s desire to make a difference in the world led him to Stanford, where he studied social entrepreneurship.
Yet, even with all that education under his belt, Gunay couldn’t help but reflect on his parents, both successful entrepreneurs who had set up profitable businesses in Turkey. Both mom and dad made a huge difference, not only for Gunay himself, but also in the local community. Businesses themselves can generate an immense amount of social good.
During business school at Stanford, Gunay got to thinking with his childhood friend Onur Kardesler, about the gig economy and rideshare drivers in particular. These drivers had become the backbone of the transportation industry. Uber and Lyft had both helped address the United States dearth of public transportation as well. And yet, many rideshare drivers were struggling to make ends meet.
Gunay started to wonder how he could help them. He realized that these cars were zipping around town, making their way past countless eyes and that that time on the road could be monetized with advertising. While radio waves are chalked full of advertisements and many roadsides are overcrowded with billboards, the vehicles right in front of our eyes rarely advertise much more than car brands.
Why not change that will mobile smart screens, providing rideshare drivers with another source of income along the way? And since drivers make more money, they have even more incentive to drive. It was an obvious win-win, and a concept that gave birth to Firefly.
Marketing Today, Smart Cities Tomorrow
Why stop there? World-changing entrepreneurs don’t stop the moment they find a viable, profitable concept. They continue to hone that idea, finding more ways to generate revenues, and perhaps more importantly, to make a positive impact.
We live in an era of dumb cities. Most of our roads are pretty “dumb”, as are our traffic lights, never minding drivers themselves. Yet, many leaders have been pushing towards smarter cities. Only problem is, in order to make a city smart, you need lots and lots of data. Without that data, even the brightest leaders are left with cities that are still quite “dumb.”
That’s why Gunay realized he could turn his roving mobile smart screen into data collection tools. Think about how much time rideshare drivers spend on the road in any given day. Think about how many streets they drive down, traffic lights they cross, pedestrians they yield to, and all the like.
Each instance is a data point, and one that Gunay can gather and compile. This data, in turn, can be used to bring smart cities to life. That’s when Gunay realized he had a winning idea. He wasn’t going to be “just” the smart young-buck immigrant making a new life in America. He wasn’t “just” going to found a multi-million dollar startup. And he wasn’t even “just” going to help rideshare drivers increase their income. He was going to help make smart cities a reality.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.