Ten or fifteen years ago most people knew me through Submedia, the company I co-founded to market I technology I conceived of in 1996.
The technology was a display we’d install on subway tunnel walls that looked to riders between stations like a movie screen outside the subway car windows. From a business perspective, we were a billboard company: we installed the displays at our cost, sold media to advertisers who wanted large audiences, and shared revenue with our landlords—transit agencies.
From a technological perspective we created a new medium that reached people where no one had before, in places with a lot of people.
I wrote the patent and we filed it in 1998.
The company I co-founded
We got our first funding in 1999.
Our first contract with a transit authority—Atlanta’s MARTA—came in 2000.
Our debut advertiser was Coca-Cola, who advertised their Dasani water brand.
It looked like this when we launched:
We planned to launch in 2001.
We picked a launch day to maximize media coverage of our launch. Coca-Cola and MARTA were enthusiastic. The media were there to cover the launch.
September 11, 2001
Tragically, we picked September 11, 2001. We canceled our launch after the World Trade Center attacks.
After regrouping, we launched in a modest event in October. I believe it was Coca-Cola’s first new advertising after September 11th.
By then, the advertising markets plunged, as did sources of investment. Security concerns made installing new displays difficult for years.
Still, we expanded to New York City, Philadelphia, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Athens, Budapest, Mexico City, Chicago, and more.
In a lonely and painful period for me, the investors squeezed me out of the company.
I got a job to pay the mortgage and eat. Eventually I went to business school and returned to the company, part-time as I was building other companies.
Rebirth and moving on
In 2011 I spent a year in Shanghai to help develop the next generation of displays, which were digital. We installed the first three second-generation displays in Nanjing, which worked flawlessly.
Since business school I’ve moved into public speaking and teaching and coaching leadership, entrepreneurship, sales, and other skills through active, experiential learning. Sometimes I work on the medium. For example, the Executive Director of a New York City museum recently visited to talk about installing a display.
Here are videos of Submedia’s displays, mostly from our 2002 New York City launch. You get to see me 15 years younger and less experienced. I half enjoy and half cringe watching them.
Read my weekly newsletter
Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.