Pittsburgh entrepreneur starts first Pokemon ride-hailing application
Photo by Billy Ludt
VIPGo creator Tom Larkin
When local Tom Larkin posted on Facebook early Monday saying he would drive people around so they could play Pokemon Go, he didn’t think anybody would take him up on the offer.
“I was more or less joking,” says Larkin. “I didn’t think anyone would hit me up, but they did.”
After his inbox was flooded with messages for rides, he said he had two options: flourish or flounder. In the past several days, Larkin’s Facebook post has turned from an idea into a functioning Pokemon Go ride-hailing service called VIPGo.
The service is part of a Pittsburgh-based ride-hailing application called RideVIP. Clients can open the RideVIP application and queue up a driver for a Pokemon Go outing.
Larkin's Internet virality skyrocketed when news aggregator NowThis posted a video about Larkin’s ride-hailing idea. It garnered more than 6 million views in a matter of three days on Facebook.
“Now everyone knows who I am,” says Larkin. “I get called the ‘Pokemon Guy’ at the gas station.”
Pokemon Go is Nintendo’s second first-party title to appear on a mobile platform in the last year. The game uses a smartphone’s GPS with predesignated, real-world locations known as “Pokestops” or gyms. Players are required to physically visit these places to catch Pokemon, progress and grow levels.
Thursday evening, Larkin and his team set off from RideVIP’s headquarters in the North Hills to Mount Washington to pick up Jess, Lucci and Antania Hawkins. Antania Hawkins suffers from Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that subjects her to daily seizures, leaving her wheelchair-bound. Larkin took the family around Mount Washington to catch some Pokemon, free of charge.
“The thought came from the fact that this game is so awesome, and there’s people that can’t play it and that sucks,” says Larkin. “I wanted to solve that, and that’s just kind of how my mind works. When I see a problem, I try to think of the most inventive solution for it. With this — there was a story that just came out today saying that Pokemon Go sections off mobility-challenged people, or people that are unable to get out of the house. I just want to prove that it’s not. We offer an alternative or a way to get out and play the game.”
“The first time I did this, I thought my inbox went crazy,” Larkin continues. But now he’s receiving higher volumes of messages from mobility-challenged people hoping to ride with VIPGo to play some Pokemon.
He says he'll continue to offer the opportunity to play Pokemon Go to individuals with varying abilities.
Since everything is moving so quickly, logistics are still being ironed out on VIPGo’s end. But Larkin has experience working with startups and says he has assisted in starting over 60 companies. VIPGo has received $27,000 in investments in under a week.
VIPGo drivers will be given an itinerary listing “hot spots” where players have reported a high volume of Pokemon, as well as Pokestops and gym locations. They are required to be versed in the game, and for VIPGo driving trainee Matt Vaughan, that won’t be a problem.
“I was immediately texting Tom to see if and when this was going to start,” says Vaughan. “It’s a very intriguing situation that they’ve put themselves in. As a friend of theirs and as an Uber driver, I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to support this and try my best to keep things moving.’”
Larkin says he aims to make VIPGo available nationwide eventually.
“I have to stick with this for a while,” says Larkin. “I’m the face of this.”