Laurance Rassin believes he has created a sandwich board for the new millennium.
The 33-year-old founder of Adwheels has outfitted small armies of in-line skaters with flat-screen computers that hang around their necks and display advertising from companies such as America Online and Disney.
Rassin founded the company in 1994, after reading about a similar skater concept in Variety. Originally, his bladers simply wore ad-covered T-shirts. But four months ago, he decided to use his film school training and techie skills to create a more technologically sophisticated advertising company to profit from the scads of Internet companies trying to create brand identity using a medium that is not as cluttered as say, television or the tops of taxis.
The computer screens, which weigh seven pounds and measure 15 inches diagonally, "show dot-coms in their natural habitat," Rassin said recently during an interview at a local coffee shop as curious customers gazed at the mini-camcorders, battery pack and computer screen spread across a table.
Rassin has several offices, including one in Bethesda and one over an Adams-Morgan bar at which he often performs with the band he fronts, the Truth Groove. Besides AOL and Disney, his company will be doing a job for Oldsmobile. Its most steady client is New York advertising agency KSL Media.
Rassin, who has black, unruly curls and dances around -- battery pack strapped to his back -- to demonstrate the screen's high-quality picture, started his company with about $10,000 in seed money he raised from area business people, some of the same folks he had met while searching for funding to produce a short film several years ago about "movie magic gone awry."
From the beginning, Rassin realized that he would need someone to balance his frenetic nature. So he tapped a fraternity brother from his American University days to become his operations man. Robert Finfer, 34, serves as chief operating officer and the settled-down, "married with two children" balance to Rassin. "Not that Laurance isn't settled," Finfer is quick to say.
The two hope to take Adwheels public within a year. Although the company has been profitable since its inception, revenue is just starting to take off, and Finfer expects the company to have $2 million in sales next year. In the past two months the company has pulled in almost $200,000, and it is now involved in a second round of financing.
The flat-screen systems, which Rassin designed and for which he has applied for a patent, cost about $10,000 each. Clients can pay Adwheels anywhere from $10 to $100,000 for its services.
The in-line skaters, whom Rassin recruits by networking with skating clubs and the like, earn $30 to $40 an hour, depending on the day of the week and the time of day the individual "skatertizer" works.
Rassin is in the process of developing what he calls a "total motion media network," an outdoor network of skaters who can work regularly, like moving billboards, promoting various clients on one screen.
He is also setting up outposts in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago and has done jobs in cities across the country.
Rassin dismisses the notion that the novelty of the contraptions might wear off, rendering them ineffective.
"How long have they been handing out fliers?" he asked, and answered, "Since the beginning of time."
Although Rassin does want to transform the world of advertising, he hopes his company will help him achieve a more selfish goal: selling his movie ideas when he gets back to making films.
"This was a way for me to meet a bunch of people in Hollywood," he said.
A LOOK AT . . . Adwheels
Founder and CEO: Laurance Rassin -- "This was a way for me to meet a bunch of people in Hollywood."
Chief Operating Officer: Robert Finfer
Employees: Six full time, with a network of in-line skater contract workers.
Offices: Opening in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago.
Seed money invested: $10,000
Expected 2000 sales: $2 million