Tech companies these days are likening themselves to popular ridesharing app Uber in the hopes of generating buzz about their services.

“Uber has a very cool brand image,” especially among young people, said Ira Kalb, clinical marketing professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business in a recent interview about West Hollywood’s Saucey, the self-proclaimed “Uber for alcohol.”

Venice’s Cargomatic, which pitches itself as the “Uber for local trucking,” launched this week after raising $2.6 million in early stage funding. Morado Ventures, SV Angel and Sherpa Ventures led the combined seed and bridge round, along with local billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, Winklevoss Capital, Acequia Capital, Structure Capital and other investors.

Cargomatic’s app links shippers directly to drivers with underutilized truck capacity.

“We’ve democratized this technology,” said Chief Executive Jonathan Kessler. “Now the small guy can do business with the large guy.”

The Venice company has been in beta stage since January and said it had already fulfilled thousands of cargo orders across the region. There are already plans for expansion into the East Coast, which Kessler said is set to happen in the next quarter.

“We’re scaling the company and replicating it all over the world, taking what we have in L.A. and continuing to see its growth,” he said.

License to Drive

Despite the cachet associated with Uber’s brand, one new company is trying to win market share in the crowded ridesharing sector by distinguishing itself from the San Francisco company.

Hawthorne’s Opoli, founded by Prime Time Shuttle Chief Executive Rattan Joea, allows customers to enter how much they’d like to pay for a trip after receiving a suggested fare. Member drivers can then either accept the rate or make a counteroffer.

The service, which launched last week, offers rides provided only by drivers with commercial licenses. Uber drivers are not required to hold a commercial driver’s license.

Also worth noting is the company’s revenue model. Opoli does not take a cut of each transaction, instead generating revenue by charging drivers a monthly fee in exchange for access to its marketplace for rides. Joea said the company has yet to determine what that fee will be since it’s currently offering drivers free membership for their first three months.

“Our goal is to give them the opportunity to compete,” Joea said, adding that the service will be available throughout Los Angeles. Nearly 100 drivers have signed up so far, some of whom also work for Uber.

“We allow them to use their phone however they want,” Joea said.

Opoli’s plan is to expand the marketplace by opening the bid-for-service model into plumbing, pet grooming and auto repair categories, among others.

It is not Joea’s first foray into tech. Earlier this year, he launched a service that allows Prime Time Shuttle users to track their vans in real time via the Web.

Tech Meets Charity

Todd Wagner, chief executive of 2929 Entertainment, is combining his Internet business background with philanthropy.

Wagner co-founded Broadcast.com with Mark Cuban in 1995 and sold it to Yahoo five years later for $5 billion. The pair formed 2929 in 2000, the same year Wagner founded a non-profit foundation that offers after-school programs to at-risk youth.

Four months ago, Wagner launched Chideo in Los Angeles, an online entertainment network that donates a portion of its revenue to celebrity-endorsed charities. The company debuted a mobile app last week.

Chideo’s viewers watch original videos featuring celebrities such as Bradley Cooper, Halle Berry and Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul, to name a few. Videos have ranged from comedy sketches to behind-the-scenes material that offers a glimpse into celebrities’ lives. The vast majority of videos are free to watch and supported by ads, but some carry a small fee – 80 percent of which goes to the celebrity’s designated charity.

For the free content, the amount of ad money the charity gets depends on how many people watch it, although the 80-20 split remains the same.

“We’re trying to entertain you, but we are trying to raise money,” Wagner said.

New Hires

Pasadena’s Metacloud, a cloud service company for businesses that raised $15 million in May, has named Scott Sanchez vice president of strategy and Niki Acosta director of evangelism. … City National Bank in Los Angeles has hired technology and venture capital banker Billy O’Grady. … Culver City viral video aggregator Jukin Media made a trio of hires this month. The company named Jerry Boonstra chief technology officer, Theresa Tran head of product and Jessica Samet to lead its TV production division.

Staff reporter Omar Shamout can be reached at oshamout@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 263.

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