San Diego — No one said depositions are fun, but is it too much to ask the videographer to stay awake during the proceedings?
The camera person taping a witness last year as part of a lawsuit involving Kenneth Kalb fell asleep “not once, not twice, but three times,” the San Diego businessman said.
Kalb remembers the experience as funny — even a good thing, in that it underscored his idea for a business that automates video depositions, thereby carving a chunk out of the litigation services market he estimates at $10 billion per year.
The company he co-founded in late 2013, StoryCloud Inc., encrypts and stores audio and video testimony on the internet. A little more than a dozen local and Los Angeles law firms have signed on since the service was rolled out in January, and he hopes to expand the service as far north as Washington state by the end of the first quarter.
A key element of StoryCloud is that it makes video footage available to lawyers almost instantly, not days or weeks later, as can happen with traditional deposition videos.
To Kalb, this is the equivalent of driverless cars and pilotless planes. Software running the camera zooms, focuses, adjusts lighting and frames shots automatically. It also fixes sound recording levels while a company employee monitors the process remotely or on site.
What’s more, the service is relatively affordable. Conventional videography services can easily run upward of $1,000 for eight hours of depositions, including copies and distribution services. StoryCloud charges $400 for an all-day civil deposition that uses a relatively small camera and microphone instead of large and unruly equipment that has been known to intimidate witnesses.
“We’ve democratized that deposition (process), making it pretty much available to anyone,” said Kalb, a five-time founder of telecomm and internet companies who now serves as StoryCloud’s CEO.
Merging technology and legal services wasn’t always Kalb’s thing. But he insists it’s not all that different from his original calling: showbiz.
After studying film school as a graduate student at New York University, he became involved in theater, movies and producing television. One day he woke up and decided he didn’t want to do that anymore.
“The people in show biz I found weren’t telling the truth as often as I needed them to tell the truth,” he said.
Apparently the tech world was more forthcoming. As founding CEO of San Diego-based telecom company Continuous Computing Corp., Kalb helped raise $52 million and completed two off-balance-sheet acquisitions. The company sold in 2011 to Hillsboro, Ore.-based Radisys Corp. for about $120 million.
Among other ventures, including an internet search optimization company, he co-founded Analog Analytics in 2007. The Solana Beach social couponing company sold to an arm of the British banking firm Barclays for an undisclosed sum that Kalb says returned a double-digit multiple to shareholders.
If this all sounds a bit far-removed from his start in showbiz, Kalb disagrees. It requires the same skill sets, he said: Raise money, hire talent and achieve success through product refinement.
“I found that the process of creating a tech company is almost identical to producing a play,” he said.
The similarities between theater and legal services are clearer still.
Depositions aren’t always videotaped, but when they are, the recordings can end up being very important. Judges may allow jurors to view them as evidence of credibility in cases where the visual record shows a panicked or evasive response, with darting eyes or apparent coaching from lawyers.
That’s one reason local attorney Myra Chack Fleischer uses the service.
“There’s all kinds of body language things that you can’t see on a written transcript,” said Fleischer, a family law specialist with the Carlsbad firm Fleischer & Ravreby.
About a dozen employees now work for StoryCloud in San Diego. Many are young videographers with experience making content for YouTube, Vine and Snapchat. Kalb said his company certifies them and trains them on depositions and the company’s equipment.
He said StoryCloud has been financed to date through a handful of outside investors, including Ernest Pomerantz, managing director of StoneWater Capital LLC in New York (Kalb said Pomerantz invested as an individual). Kalb estimated StoryCloud’s total investment so far amounts to $6.5 million, with part of that money coming from his own past ventures.
At this point, as StoryCloud markets its services to local attorneys and government agencies, he sees no need to raise more money. But after the company expands northward and begins an eastward push in the second quarter, he said, the time may be right for another capital infusion — “probably by midyear.”
Fleischer sees lawyers embracing the service for several reasons. Not only is it relatively inexpensive, it’s also simple.
“This is the wave of the world,” said Fleischer, one of StoryCloud’s first customers. “The world is getting smaller and closer together, so I think it was important that I got on this bandwagon early.”
CEO: Kenneth Kalb
No. of local employees: 12
Investors: New York-based investor Ernest Pomerantz and a handful of others
Headquarters: San Diego
Year founded: December 2013
What makes company innovative: It helps attorneys sharply reduce their video deposition costs by integrating video technology with cloud computing.