After Hurricane Sandy swept through New York, the hundreds of thousands of people who lost power in downtown Manhattan were eager to get their phones charged in order to communicate with loved ones.
And the people at Bright Box realized just how desperate New Yorkers were when they set up a charging unit the day after Sandy and it was full within five minutes of being accessible to the public.For the hurricane’s aftermath, the company is offering free services outside Stumptown Coffee on 29th street and Broadway in Manhattan.
Saved from Social Death
"It's sort of the least we could do," co-founder Adam Johnson told us. "[The hurricane] makes you appreciate the value of staying connected. In this day in age, a dead phone is a social death sentence. It's no longer an inconvenience."
When the company launched in September, it targeted restaurants, hotels, gyms and convention centers, but since the hurricane, the target venues have now expanded to hospitals and shelters, Billy Gridley, the company's CEO, said.
"We never really imagined that we could be part of disaster response. We now see that we can have a place in natural disasters."To use the service, consumers simply swipe their credit cards to unlock one of the chamber's doors, choose a charging cord, plug in their phones and close the door to securely lock it. Whenever they're ready to retrieve their phones, they simply swipe the same card, which acts as a key and unlocks the chamber holding the phone. The service typically costs $2 to $3 per transaction.
A Bartender's Dream
Nearly two years ago, the idea came Johnson, the company's CMO, when he was bartending in Manhattan's Meatpacking district and asked "ten times a day to charge up someone's phone." He convinced another bartender friend, Peter Harrison, to join the company before recruiting Jack Phelps, the current COO of the company, who brought on Gridley.
Last May, a group of angel investors financed the company's first 100 units and "it has been a slow organic rollout" all throughout the tri-state area ever since, Johnson told us.
But anyone can make a charging station for their business. Why should they consider allowing Bright Box into their venue?
Security and Style"We don't really have any competitors," he said. "No one does security like we do — we never even know the full credit card number of the user. We send it to a processor in an encrypted mode...we take the privacy and security needs of our users very seriously."
Aside from security, Johnson told us it all comes down to the way the units look.
"It needs to look like a piece of furniture, not a piece of hardware," he said.
And it solves a problem for the venues because now they can charge their customers' electronics without using their own devices or being liable for misplaced phones. Johnson told us it also encourages people to stay longer while their phones are charging, which potentially brings in more business.
Right now, Bright Box's charging stations are in well-known venues such as Manhattan's Irving Plaza and Pianos and Union Pool in Brooklyn, and the company plans on setting up stations in malls and sport stadiums soon.
However, Hurricane Sandy has encouraged Bright Box to look beyond their initial target audience and Johnson told us the company plans on going nationwide "very soon."
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Photo: Bright Box