While I carry two cellphones, I'm rarely afflicted with "battery anxiety."
That's the uncomfortable feeling some people get when the battery-life monitor on their smartphone turns from green to red.
It was that kind of anxiety that spurred Doug Baldasare to start ChargeItSpot L.L.C., a Philadelphia company that has been putting charging kiosks in various retail locations this spring, including the Tir Na Nog bar at 16th and Arch Streets and a Whole Foods Market in Jenkintown.
A kiosk, emblazoned with the company's logo and the phrase free and secure, was installed May 17 in the Reading Terminal Market near the pig sculpture. The machine has six locker bays. Inside each compartment are four cords with different connectors able to charge most cellphones.
The model I saw was the first-generation ChargeItSpot station. Version 2.0, which recently arrived at the firm's Philadelphia office, substitutes the analog lock and key for a touchscreen/passcode system.
Baldasare, who received an M.B.A. from Wharton in 2012, hopes to place 76 kiosks in the region by year's end - enough to ensure that people are never more than two blocks from a free power source.
So how does a company make money if it allows consumers to charge phones for free? Retailers pay $295 per month to host ChargeItSpot kiosks. Baldasare said he's hoping to demonstrate that those waiting for their batteries to juice up will linger longer in the stores, restaurants, and other areas where he has kiosks.
New York City has seen Brightbox and GoCharge install similar charging stations, but generally, the anxiety-ridden are required to pay $1 to $3 for that privilege. Other competitors include ChargeAll, of Newport Beach, Calif.; InCharged L.L.C., of Roselle, N.J.; and NV3Technologies, of Baltimore.
Baldasare said he decided to pursue the free model because he did not want to upset retail customers by charging a fee. "The consumer is happier with a free model," he said, "and so is the retailer."
Patrick FitzGerald, an adjunct professor who teaches entrepreneurship at Wharton, was so impressed by his former student that he agreed about three months ago to join ChargeItSpot as its chief operating officer.
"Patrick saw our business grow from inception, and it's a huge vote of confidence that he would jump into this full time," Baldasare said.
One of the founders of RecycleBank, which offers financial rewards to households that recycle, FitzGerald said it was clear Baldasare wasn't merely developing ChargeItSpot as an academic exercise. "He has the gift-slash-curse," FitzGerald said of his 29-year-old boss' entrepreneurial bent.
The bug apparently runs in the family. Patrick Baldasare, Doug's father, started the Response Center, a market-research firm, which was part of the roll-up initial public offering of TeleSpectrum Worldwide Inc. in 1996. The elder Baldasare remained with the company he had started when TeleSpectrum sold the business to the debt-collection giant NCO Group Inc. in 1998, but then left to start another business.
Early usage patterns for the kiosk at the Reading Terminal Market show that about 100 phones per day are being charged there, FitzGerald said.
ChargeItSpot plans to release a mobile-phone app that will tell the battery-life-challenged where to find the nearest open charging station in its network. For now, you'll have to settle for a list of kiosks on the company's website.