July 30, 2018
If you’ve spent any time in public or commercial spaces in New York City, you’ve likely encountered the handiwork of Zero-In without realizing it. From the digital menus at Shake Shack to the interactive directory screens in a myriad of office buildings, the free guest wi-fi that has become standard in so many hotels and retail establishments, and even the directories in the Kew Lobbies—Zero-In has taken a leading role over the past decade in changing the way companies communicate digitally and the way consumers interact with their messages. The Zero-In client list ranges from international brands like Chase, Equinox and Macy’s all the way to the local concept eatery down the street. In many respects, Zero-In is a neighborhood company with a global reach—and as you’ll soon see, it’s a company harboring a deep affinity for NYC in general and NoMad in particular.
We spoke recently with company founder Mitchell Goss about Zero-In’s beginnings, the company’s emergence into the technology sector, and the various ways his business has set its roots deeply into the NoMad community.
Could you begin by telling us a little about Zero-In itself—what you do and what your company is about?
We’re a creative digital agency that focuses on the creation of digital experiences for the real world—basically what people experience when they’re inside retail or public spaces. That includes anything you see, what you hear, and even connected devices. Most of us here in New York are familiar with Times Square or the little displays you’ve seen inside the elevators, or the TV screens inside taxi cabs. We work within that industry—digital displays, interactive screens, iPads, the music you hear in retail spaces, the guest wi-fi that you connect to once you’re inside a store, transit system, or shopping center. It brings together technology from all different perspectives. I work with our clients’ marketing departments to build the experiences that people see and hear, but we’re also an IT services management company as well as an audio-visual house.
You probably have plenty of opportunity to create interactive experiences in this space.
Yes. For example, here at Kew, when you walk inside the Kew Building, one of the first things you see is an interactive directory. It’s a touch screen that you see where you can search for the tenant that you’re looking for. You can type Z-E-R-O, and Zero-In pops up, and you can see what floor we’re on. Very highly functional. Gets you the information you need right away.
But then we also do interactive wayfinding maps for clients like Brookfield Place downtown, where you walk up to a large screen, and if you’re trying to find Paul Smith, for example, it shows where the Paul Smith store is, it draws out the route on the map showing how to get there, and it may pop up promotions or offers. It takes a lot of hardware, software, and engineering and design to centrally manage the content across these types of complex systems
Where does the content come from for these displays? Do you help create the content, do you contract with third parties, or do your clients provide the information?
It’s all of the above. We have an in-house design team that helps our clients create the graphic content — the images, video and motion graphics and imagery that you see on the screens. Our clients can also create their own content and schedule it themselves, or they can send it to us to schedule for them. Typically, it’s a hybrid solution where we’re creating some of the content and scheduling it, and we give our clients the ability to make their own changes.
So what initially got you started in this industry? How did it begin for you?
In the early to mid-2000s when we started, we really went into business to be a media company. The first thing we did was install digital displays in New York City tourist locations. So the first version of the company—you could almost call it Zero-In 1.0—was a media company that installed displays in public places like the Empire State Building, South Street Seaport and ferry terminals. Where the tourists would be standing in line, we put in TVs and ran around selling advertising to all the hotels, Broadway shows, restaurants, museums, and all the other attractions around the city. We called it NYC Tourist TV, and that’s how we got into the business. Then about a decade ago, we got out of selling advertising as a business and really focused on being a technology provider. Now, we provide services to the ad industry, but we don’t sell the advertising ourselves.
What prompted that change for you?
I think, as a younger company, your focus changes sometimes. I think in the later 2000s, we realized that there was a very big opportunity when everything turned into cloud-based software, and everything was managed services. There was a huge demand for entities looking for these types of systems for their own in-house communication with their customers, members, or guests. So we kept getting requests by different verticals and organizations for this type of technology, and we realized that there was a really big opportunity for us to be a leading provider of these services from an agency and consulting perspective rather than just being in the advertising business.
Among your current clients or projects, do you have anything you’re particularly proud of?
We’re fortunate to operate throughout North America, pretty much all 50 states, many Canadian provinces—we have clients from Hawaii to Maine, Alaska and Florida—and now we are working more globally than ever before. But as you know, we’re in the Kew Building, we’re in the Flatiron Building, we’re part of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, we’re part of the NoMad Experience. We’re really proud to be New Yorkers and be part of the community and especially of NoMad and Madison Square Park. We love the fact that we can service New York City clients, and one of the really nice things about being where we are is that it’s almost like a showcase for our work.
So for example, we work with Equinox globally, but their headquarters is right down the street. Crunch gyms is a client that we work a lot with in their gyms throughout North America with interactive screens, and they’re right down the street. We have Shake Shack—as you know, the original Shake Shack is in the park right here, and we do their digital menu boards. We have other clients that are right here on Broadway, like Little Beet and Melt Shop. We’re about to launch a new project with End Pizza — they’re a growing popular brand with customized pizzas. We’re launching a project with Cava Grill in Bryant Park; we work with Raymour and Flannigan uptown; we do a substantial amount of work with Macy’s. The list goes on and on with just New York City-based organizations, and we’re proud to work with all of them.
It feels like you have been able to establish yourself sort of as a neighborhood business as well as an international company.
You know, I truly believe that there’s no place I’d rather have my business in the world than in New York City, and no place in New York City I’d rather be than NoMad.
How long have you been in NoMad?
Five or six years. And it just gets more fun and more exciting all the time. It’s vibrant, you have fantastic restaurants, you have a great network and community of like-minded individuals. I think it depends on the type of business you have, but if you’re media- and tech- related, this is a really fantastic place to be.
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