VIEVU is one of these companies. It has created a body-worn camera developed for the professional workforce like law enforcement, to help officers keep their integrity and protect themselves from liabilities.
TechZulu had a talk with Steve Ward, CEO and founder of VIEVU, who shares about his passion, work, and startup life.
Where is VIEVU based?
Steve Ward: We’re in Seattle; in the shadow of the Space Needle up in Amazon and Microsoft-land.
What got you designing a product for law enforcement in the first place?
SW: I was a Seattle police officer for 15 years. When I was a cop, I had an “ah ha” moment and came up with an idea to take the dash cam and put it on the officer. The technology wasn’t available then. I ended up leaving police work and started at another company. I ended up going to a trade show much like this one where I found that the technology to make a small camera existed. I literally went in the next day, resigned from my job, and started VIEVU.
SW: I started the company in August ’07 and I brought samples of our first product to CES in January ’08.
What’s it like going to all these trade shows?
SW: I get jazzed every day about what we do. We make cameras for people who need to record their daily activities, their work, and their livelihoods. When I get stories back on how our cameras saved them and/or protected them, we get very ecstatic.
Business has been going great. We are the market leader in the law enforcement space. We hit 80% market share and are now branching out into what you call the “prosumer space” – professionals with liabilities in their lives. Professionals like private security, security guards, school bus drivers, teachers, reporters… the list goes on. It’s amazing how much liability people have in their jobs nowadays.
In what other sectors do you see your camera being used?
SW: We don’t really see ourselves as a sports cam. That’s not necessarily our market. We admire GoPro for taking the lead there and doing great things. What they’ve done with the sports market is incredible. But that’s not us.
We’re more about the professional world and recording daily work lives, daily dairies or meetings. I’m sure there will be some people who venture out into extreme sports, but our cameras are specially made for military and police. They’re all aluminum, small, one-piece, waterproof, and you can run over them with a tank.
There will be some outdoor adventure people that want to buy them – and hey, by all means please do – but that’s not our primary focus. We’re looking for the people that want to go home with peace of mind they have recorded proof of their daily activities.
What about privacy concerns?
SW: Right! Everyone’s concerned about privacy and so are we. VIEVU is not a surveillance camera company. We’re much like any other camera company like Canon or Sony; we make a specific camera for a specific purpose. Our cameras aren’t something you turn on and hide. We’ll never get into that. Our cameras are meant to record interactions between people that need to be available for later use.
SW: It’s probably been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. But with great challenges comes big rewards. It’s been so much fun. We’ve been growing exponentially year after year since we started.
To see the results of what we’re doing is just fantastic. VIEVU cameras have recorded millions of hours of video in the police world this past year. It’s amazing talking to cops when they come back to us and say, “Hey listen, this is what happened to me and I got this complaint and I pulled out the video, showed that they were lying and protected my professional career.” Those stories are just great.
What constitutes the good times?
SW: The team that you build around you. The fun you have – look at us, we’re all wearing baseball jerseys! We have so much fun together. It’s a great, great experience.
How’s the startup scene in Seattle?
SW: Being a younger, bootstrapped company, you run into others that have done it. Although, over the past few years I’ve run into less people who are taking the risk of working for themselves or building a company from scratch.
Why is that?
SW: I think it’s an economic situation. Seattle is still a hotbed for innovation and startups.
My particular industry – wearable tech – is huge. From smart watches to cameras, and Google Glass (which I’m excited for) the market is really hot right now.
What are your next steps?
SW: We put a lot of time and effort into making sure the feature set of our products meet the market needs and the police market is the best example. You can’t just make a wearable camera and give it to the cops. You’ve got to make one that fits all their needs and considers the way they work. We’re always striving to improve our products. And of course we’re a tech company; we always have something up our sleeve!
SW: We have two primary products. Our law enforcement product is called the LE3. In fact, we just recently launched the first HD body-worn camera for law enforcement, which records in 720p and is a fantastic product. The predecessor to this camera, the LE2, is in over 3,000 police agencies in 16 countries.
We have a software platform that is basically a database program that keeps all the video files safe and secure so they can be used later in court. We make it impossible for an officer to edit, delete, alter, copy, or upload any video.
We do have a cloud system right now, but it’s done with the software. The camera has a flash drive. You take the video, connect it to a computer and our software takes over from there. It will take the videos off, delete them from the camera, and store them securely in your database, whether it’s in the cloud or on your local system. The MSRP for the LE3 is $899.
We also have our new “prosumer” or civilian camera, VIEVU2. This is a body-worn camera for the rest of us. It’s a peripheral for a smartphone. You simply turn it on and pair it with your smartphone – using our one-switch design – and it streams real-time in HD.
We did it this way because everyone already knows how to upload a video from a smartphone. You don’t need a computer with this camera. Once it’s on your phone, you can edit it directly there or send it to your computer via Wi-Fi.
What advice would you give to other startups?
SW: If you truly believe in what you are doing…keep going. Just keep going. There will be days when you don’t want to, and that is key. You have to truly believe.
For example, we make body-worn cameras. There are other cameras out there. It’s not necessarily the camera itself; it’s why we make the camera that’s important for us. We believe that most people; cops, security guards, school bus drivers, and teachers are doing the right thing, day in and day out. It’s the outlier that causes trouble.
We want to empower these people to protect themselves and say, “Wait a minute…no, I was at that meeting.” or ‘That wasn’t said!’ That’s what jazzes us. It’s why we do it. We’re providing a tool for people to prove their own truth and that’s what it’s all about for us. It’s not just the hardware. We believe in that so strongly, we’ll keep going.
Thanks Steve for your time.