The Best and Worst of Startup Billboards

These started popping up in April.

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The narrative around most, if not all, tech startups centers around disruption – they’re doing business in a way that upends all the conventional wisdom. But when it comes to finding new users or clients, sometimes the old way is the best – billboards.

The billboards have become so inescapable, in fact, that HBO’s Silicon Valley began parodying the phenomenon earlier this year, with a series of billboards declaring, “I am Pied Piper”.

The trend really took off in 2011, when then-unknown search engine DuckDuckGo paid $7,000 for a billboard in San Francisco that declared, “Google tracks you. We don’t.” Within a month, their user base had doubled.

duckduckgo billboard

Ride sharing platform Gett also took on an 800-pound gorilla (specifically, Uber) head on in their recent Surge Sucks campaign, featured on billboards and buses throughout New York City. And Lyft has begun targeting gridlocked drivers with their This Is a Bad Sign. billboards.

lyft billboard

Genius launched the startup’s annotations platform last year with this cryptic billboard in downtown Manhattan.

genius billboard

Job-search site Dice.com courted controversy with their Find the hottest tech talent billboards, featuring underwear-clad men who are presumably developers.

Thankfully it isn’t all bro culture. In September 2015, #ILookLikeAnEngineer raised more than $47,000 on Indiegogo to put up billboards “showing, celebrating, supporting, and encouraging the diversity [in tech]”. (They reached nearly 300% of their funding goal on the first day).

ilooklikeanengineer billboard

Sometimes those billboards move. Post-Brexit, Germany’s Free Democratic Party advertised on the side of van that cruised around London, blaring the message “Dear start-ups, Keep calm and move to Berlin.”

berlin billboard

Of course it’s not all rosy – inevitably there are the failed, controversial attempts at being risqué. Most recently, car-on-demand mobile app Skurt raised eyebrows in Los Angeles with their less-than-subtle phallic imagery.


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