Jonathan Zimmerman

The daily drive to work used to fall somewhere between status meeting and bathroom break on the productivity scale. Sure you could pop on a podcast, make a quick phone call, but lets face it: For those of us without public transit or a chauffer, those are lost hours.

Not so for the four finalists at ad:tech’s mobile commerce startup spotlight, who are studying the way you interact with the world around you to learn how to serve you, and market you, better.


Let’s start with the drive itself. Waze is an Israeli start up company that wants to guide you to and from work every day. As any Southern California driver could attest to, the drive to work can feel like a choose-your-own-adventure story, with all the choices seemingly ending in cataclysmic doom. But Waze will make that choice easier for you by telling you exactly what’s happening up ahead: Traffic, road closers, police stops, etc.

It can do all this because you, the user, are providing automated real-time feedback for everyone else on the road. Without you doing a thing, the app can analyze your driving patterns and tell what kind of traffic you are in. Or you can add more details, even filling in and correcting maping data in-app or home on the computer, for goodies like virtual cupcakes.

Of course, a crowdsourced service like Waze is only as good as the crowd sourcing it, and at 20 million and counting, and a huge shout out from none other than Apple CEO Tim Cook last month, Waze has already grown into a huge force.


Since you’re making such great time, you decide to stop off at the store for a Red Bull and a pouch of Big League Chew. But when you step inside, you discover to your horror that you left your wallet at home.

In the past, this would have put the kibosh on your breakfast aims. Not anymore, because you and your proprietor have embraced mobile payment through LevelUp. LevelUp is the first mobile payment company to use both QR codes and NFC technology, making it virtually ubiquitous for all smartphone users. Better yet, the system tracks your purchasing to offer you freebies like first time visit deals and frequent buyer discounts.

Chances are your local convenience store isn’t wired in just yet, but it may be before long. After introducing a 0% service fee this past summer, the start up has picked up steam and positioned itself as a potential giant killer in the coveted mobile payment market.

Urban Airship

As you finally approach the counter, your phone flashes once again to remind you that you have an unused coupon to this establishment. Lucky coincidence? Hardly.

Urban Airship is a start up add-on service for app developers that aims to change the way your apps communicate with you. While many apps use location data to communicate with you, the service can be spotty and awkward. After acquiring locations experts SimpleGeo in 2011, Urban Airship has dedicated itself to redefining apps’ push notifications.

Instead of blitzing you with unwanted reminders and unheeded requests, apps will be able to read your location, history and even in-app behaviors to tailor their messages specifically for the time and place you need them. And by relaying your responsiveness back to the developers, Urban Airship will continue to make your smart phone that much smarter.


Finally you’re back on the road, making great time. While Waze is already putting your location info to good use, another start-up, Placed, wants to examine your drive to work for a whole slew of other reasons.

Placed combines information about what you do with your phone—like what apps you use—with where you do it to give app makers a ton of important information they could never have dreamed of knowing before. Anonymously and intelligently gathering data about your location—the businesses in the area, the popularity of those businesses, what is open—Placed can learn about what you were doing and maybe even thinking when you opened a specific app.

The ways developers could benefit from this information is limited only by their imaginations. Using an example from above, mobile payment services like LevelUp could learn where customers were coming from and going before they hit the store, then potentially use the information to convince more businesses to adapt the service.

Collecting metadata, analyzing it intelligently and tailoring services for the consumer; all in the scope of morning commute. Imagine what they can do when you finally get to work?

This article is part of Allvoices’ series on ad:tech, the largest digital marketing and technology conferences and expositions. Check out for more of Allvoices’ ad:tech New York event coverage. This series is supported by ad:tech.