Baltimore's Rand finds success with CD-ROMs

Its big name clients use CDs for marketing, training employees

August 26, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Rand Interactive Corp. has transformed from a one-room operation with four people each staking out a corner into a growing interactive design firm with seven employees, not counting the two founders, new offices and a growing list of awards and clients.

The nearly 2-year-old Mount Vernon firm designs interactive CD-ROMs to help companies market themselves more effectively. Some organizations also use the CDs for personnel training.

A human resources CD developed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, shows animated characters in various workplace situations, each followed by a colorful screen that asks, "Is this sexual harassment? Yes or No?" The program can be designed so users cannot advance to the next situation unless they correctly answer each question.

The company's other clients include DAP Products Inc., Northrop Grumman and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

John Snow, co-founder and creative director, was recently named one of the country's "Top 100 Producers" by AV Video Multimedia Producer, a trade publication.

Snow's father and three brothers are all dentists who live within a mile of each other in New Castle, Pa. He said his family has no concept of what he does for a living.

"After I won the award, I told my mom, `You still might not be able to explain to people what I do, but now you can tell them I'm one of the top 100 people in the country who do it,' " he said.

Rand also won a silver -- second place -- award from New Media Magazine in December, and in March the company won an ADDY award from the Advertising Association of Baltimore. Last month Rand was chosen to design touch-screen kiosks in a permanent Amazon display at the National Aquarium that will be unveiled in March.

Martha Regester, visitor programs manager at the aquarium, said Rand was chosen out of pool of seven companies from across the country and Australia. She said it had the latest bells and whistles and was priced competitively.

"They had a good hold on navigating through a program slowly so people can intuitively say, `Oh, if I press this I'll go here,' " she said. "They were very cooperative about listening to what our needs are and were eager to collaborate and cooperate rather than being territorial about their own design, which was important to us because we have a definite look."

Sales, which were $300,000 last year, are expected to reach $900,000 this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, said Todd Burgess, president and co-founder. Sales are expected to more than double again next year.

Rand has no one dedicated to marketing -- Burgess takes on that role along with several others -- and often the toughest part of the sale is getting in the door.

"People have no idea what we do," Snow said, "but after five minutes [of watching an interactive CD] they say, `Can we do all our training like this? Can we use it to explain office policies and health care benefits?' "

While the focus is on CDs, the applications can be transferred to the Internet once the general computer-using population connects to the Web through fiber-optic wires instead of traditional phone lines, which carry information too slowly to make audio and video presentations feasible. Rand and an Internet service provider are in talks about partnering on certain projects.

Snow and Burgess said they would like to take the firm public, but don't expect that to happen for at least two or three years. Investors, they say, want to see the company grow and have enough experienced staff members that it could survive and thrive even if Snow or Burgess left.

"When we started we had grandiose views of what was happening in the industry," Burgess said, "and it's very gratifying to find out we were right."

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