For most smartphone  users obsessed with having round-the-clock access to text messages, apps, and email, running out of battery juice has become almost as painful as a lost wallet. But a new solution from one New York-based startup hopes to solve your smartphone energy woes--while potentially creating new sources of revenue and engagement for merchants and advertisers.
The Juicebox is a simple, elegant mobile phone charging station that lets users juice up their iPhones, Androids, or BlackBerries in public venues. The wall-mounted device is starting to pop up at restaurants and bars around New York City--most recently at Central Bar and Agave in the East and West Village, respectively. For a flat fee, typically of $1 or $2 depending on the venue, users gain access to one of seven color-coded lockers that glow pink when charging and green when charged. All it takes is a quick swipe of a credit card for a panel door to snap open, satisfyingly; when the door is closed, it remains securely locked until you again swipe your card, which essentially serves as a key, enabling users to leave their devices safely charging inside for however long they please.
"It seemed so stupid that such a thing didn't exist," says cofounder and CEO Adam Johnson, who sees potential for the Juicebox in venues ranging from gyms and sports arenas to casinos and movie theaters. "The obvious question was how you blend it in with a venue's aesthetics--how you make it sexy and not just some piece of shit box that's plastered with ads and has ports hanging out of the bottom. Venue hosts want a piece of furniture--not an appliance."
Other solutions do exist, Johnson acknowledges, but most are poorly designed or overly utilitarian. Some locker systems require actual keys or keypad codes to open; others are even coin operated. GoCharge, for example, offers tiered pricing, and devices that have wires limply dangling below like tentacles.
The Juicebox's beauty derives from its simplicity and design. The startup learned from prototype tests that it was too complicated to offer metered pricing. "It was confusing," Johnson says. "People would immediately think of it like a long distance phone call. They think they're going to get drunk and leave it in there and have a $50 bill [in the morning]. We established a flat fee--that was our first eureka moment." The team also noticed users were compulsively taking their phones out to check text messages, so they added a way for the system to recognize and remember a phone's unique device ID, enabling users to re-deposit their gadgets without paying a new transaction fee.
According to COO Jack Phelps, some of the Juiceboxes are now topping $30 on Friday and Saturday evenings, despite having no promotion. Though company cofounders declined to give the specific cost of each unit, they conservatively estimate the device offers an ROI for the startup within just months of installation. "After that, you're literally printing money," Johnson says. For venue hosts, the device will cost nothing to install: Fee-sharing is customized for each location.
But even more so than new revenue streams, venue hosts are excited about new incentives for driving foot traffic. Anecdotally, the startup has learned from customers that they're returning to venues featuring the Juicebox in order to charge their phones. "That's very intriguing to venues," Johnson says. "We hear, 'I came back because I knew I could charge my phone,' or 'I stayed here longer and bought another drink because I was charging my phone.'" To this end, the startup imagines it could work with services such as Foursquare to offer free charges for check-ins.
Next up, Juicebox plans to roll out several more units to venues in New York as it looks to raise its first round of funding. The startup is also exploring potential advertising opportunities--say, at high-end venues, Grey Goose could offer to juice up your phone for free--though cofounders are wary of impeding on the device's aesthetic.
And the company has an app in the works for locating Juicebox-carrying venues. "Of course, we want the app to use up battery [on your phone]," Johnson says, laughing.
He's only (slightly) joking.