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A quick ride in an elevator was all Michael DiFranza needed to get his creative juices flowing. Three years later, DiFranza, 38, is president and CEO of Captivate Network Inc., the first media company to bring the Internet to the elevator. Sound a little over the top? Ten of the nation's largest real estate companies didn't think so. This April, they signed Captivate Network as their exclusive provider of Internet programming in nearly 500 high-rise office towers. With $40 million invested and a 10-plus-year agreement, Captivate will install screens and provide customized media feeds in all major U.S. cities.
With corporate offices in Westford, Massachusetts, DiFranza and partners Todd Newville and Ray Pineau had no idea their little start-up would get off the ground, much less succeed. DiFranza admits that because this was such a new technology, he faced a lot of uncertainty. He and his partners didn't take paychecks for the first eight months of their company's existence, instead pouring all their income into working capital and research.
The idea came to DiFranza in October 1997 as he was riding the elevator in his office building. He noticed that as more passengers got on, the tension level rose. "They looked at their shoes, at their watches, at the [floor] numbers and then back down at their shoes," he says. "It was very awkward." It dawned on him that, with an audience of businesspeople guaranteed to be there every day, offering Internet services in the elevator just might work.
With average elevator rides lasting 30 to 60 seconds, Captivate will run silent, 10-second feeds on 10- to 12-inch flat-panel screens. Media feeds will include traffic, sports and weather from such sources as The New York Times and CitySearch.com.
"If we do a good job, people will focus on the screen," DiFranza says. "If we don't, they'll continue to look at their shoes, and shame on us."
- Captivate Network Inc., (888) 383-3737, www.captivatenetwork.com