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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, August 18, 2014, 6:50 am

Is a photo worth a 1,000 words? SpeakingPhoto thinks so

Two Marin County entrepreneurs launch app for putting words with photos

By Loralee Stevens, Special to the Business Journal

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    Diana Iles Parker and Dawn Davis founded SpeakingPhoto in Mill Valley in 2013.

    Diana Iles Parker and Dawn Davis founded SpeakingPhoto in Mill Valley in 2013.

    MILL VALLEY — Two Marin County entrepreneurs have come up with an application that turns photos into storytellers.

    The SpeakingPhoto app, which runs on iOS and Android devices, is designed to simplify adding voice comments to photos and sharing them. (credit: SpeakingPhoto)

    Available for free download from the Apple iTunes or Google Android stores, the SpeakingPhoto app seems like a throwback to a time before video cameras were at everybody’s fingertips, but the concept is taking off among teachers, businesses and non-profits.

    “Making a professional or even a good, watchable video isn’t easy,” said SpeakingPhoto partner Diana Iles Parker, an advocacy filmmaker. “But adding narrative to a photo is so simple and natural that a shy child can do it.”

    Examples of SpeakingPhoto recordings

    After winning an Emmy for Video Journalist, NBC reporter Garvin Thomas celebrates with his daughter:

    Myotonic Dystrophy’s 500 Voices campaign aimed at influencing Congress to re-authorize the MD-CARE Act (speakingphoto.com/1611).

    Blogger Bash’s Robin Raskin posted this on the Blogger Bash Gallery in July (speakingphoto.com/1668).

    Sweet Suite 14 was a big Toy Insider event in New York City in early July. SpeakingPhoto will be live-posting from the event to report on the brands and media (speakingphoto.com/1742).

    In fact children were the impetus behind the company and its application. SpeakingPhoto co-founder Dawn Davis created an interactive art project for their children’s kindergarten. Each child’s artwork was photographed and they were recorded talking about the pictures and themselves.

    Compiled into a collage the completed project made for compelling viewing.

    “When we saw the look on their parents faces as they watched and listened we knew we were onto something,” said Ms. Davis, who most recently headed up merchandising and international business development for Ralph Lauren.

    “I did a lot of documentation while I was on the road. I’d take notes and countless pictures of factories and store locations and products and then come back and have to correlate them, a daunting task. I saw the value of this application across business,” said Ms. Davis.

    The partners originally developed the application for Apple devices, but brought out an Android version in June, significantly broadening their market. They’re planning an October launch of a paid tool for businesses to leverage customer testimonials and otherwise add value to photographic material.

    Meanwhile SpeakingPhoto is gathering users through word-of-mouth and social media. There is a gallery on the website where speaking photos can be displayed; it’s also easy to share them electronically. The partners have offered local non-profits the opportunity to pilot the application.

    “We’re also in talks with, and piloting a program with two large real estate companies that we cannot name at this point,” said Ms. Parker.

    Mari Allen is business programs manager at Kiddo, a fundraising organization for the Mill Valley elementary and middle school district. She thinks SpeakingPhoto would be a great tool for teachers.

    “Besides getting the parents involved, our experience with it shows that children who are otherwise unable to perform in front of groups of people are perfectly able to interact with a photo, bringing their thoughts to an audience and gaining confidence in the process. Also, the anonymity of a voice protects the children in a way that a video cannot,” said Ms. Allen.

    According to Haley Kennard of the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation in San Francisco, SpeakingPhoto is giving the community a voice in Washington, DC.

    “We’re going back there as part of our 500 Letters campaign to advocate for research for the disease,” she said. “SpeakingPhoto has amplified our efforts, by allowing the letter writers to add pictures of themselves and a short vocal message. We believe 500 Voices will be very effective.”

    SpeakingPhoto (speakingphoto.com) has been largely bootstrapped to date, with a round of $500,000 from friends and family to fund the Android launch. The partners intend to seek a round of angel funding once the business application is up and running, they said.

    “This is a niche that needed filling,” said Ms. Davis. “Videos are so now, so of the moment, and then the moment is over. But a photograph can speak of the past as well as the present, and as the children in our project do, it can speak of one’s hopes for the future as well.”

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