Thu09182014

Spiritual Life

Entrepreneur melds Silicon Valley, Hollywood and faith

We will soon see what happens when the Silicon Valley startup culture and biblical principles are brought together in the entertainment industry. Ben Chelf, Silicon Valley technologist and entrepreneur, recently co-founded The Story Locker, a company designed to produce high-quality films with entertaining stories.

Personal and faith background

Chelf was born in Terre Haute, Ind. Raised in a Christian home, he read the Bible as a youth but said he “simply adopted the faith of my parents.” In his late teens, his faith waned.

“It didn’t seem relevant at the time,” Chelf said.

But at the age of 20, he re-engaged with church and his faith was reinvigorated. He says he even considered attending seminary but instead chose to pursue a career in computer science.

First startup

Chelf came to the Bay Area to attend Stanford University in 1996, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science. While studying to earn his doctorate, he and some colleagues invented a fundamentally different way to test complex software to speed up the software development process and to create higher-quality software. They left Stanford to start Coverity to commercialize their research. It caught on.

Coverity grew from two to 150 employees during Chelf’s tenure at the company from 2003 to 2009. During that period, Chelf worked first as the company’s chief operating officer, then as chief technology officer.

In the process of working at his first company, Chelf learned an important lesson about himself. He had always believed that his value and strengths were in software development and engineering. But as he also had responsibilities in sales, marketing and leading teams, he came to realize that he possessed skills in business leadership.

“I found that I enjoy and am good at casting vision, inspiring action, building teams and executing a plan to accomplish more than anyone thought possible,” he said.

The Story Locker

Chelf said his new vision is “to bring a Silicon Valley approach to the Hollywood storytelling business.”

As a youth, Chelf loved reading science fiction. He believes that science fiction is “one of our best platforms for philosophical discourse and can have a major impact on culture.” One book he read particularly stands out – “The Rise of Endymion” (Bantam, 1997) by Dan Simmons.

“I soaked in every last minute with these characters, practically feeling like I was living with them as their story came to a close,” Chelf said. “Already having inclinations toward the power in the art of storytelling, this experience made me truly realize the influence that stories can have over our emotions and thoughts. In hindsight, it was one of the experiences that led me to start my current venture, The Story Locker.”

Chelf said he believes that Silicon Valley and Hollywood are on a crash course and he wants to be in the middle of it. He recognizes that streaming technology is changing the way people consume entertainment, which has significant ramifications for the business models that have sustained the entertainment industry for decades. He intends The Story Locker to be at the forefront of content development as the industry changes.

The concept behind The Story Locker is unique. Chelf is working to bring talented writers and artists together in an incubator setting to collectively create high-quality stories. He noted that the highest-quality films all start with a great story and generally attract substantially larger audiences and make more money. Chelf plans to have The Story Locker change the existing paradigm through its story development process, drawing from principles of the top visual storytellers from the past century.

Building on biblical principles

Chelf and his business partner, Ben Patterson, a fellow committed follower of Christ, are building The Story Locker on biblical principles.

“As Christians, we’re supposed to treat people well,” Chelf said. “We are supposed to love everybody. We are supposed to invest in people. And we are supposed to make the lives of people better. We try to do that at The Story Locker.”

In contrast to the traditional model for story development in Hollywood, The Story Locker has full-time creative employees and gives them an equity interest in the content created as well as in the company itself. This practice seems obvious in Silicon Valley but is atypical in the entertainment industry. Chelf believes that is not only the right thing to do, but also good business practice.

The Story Locker creates stories that Chelf describes as “approachable by most families” but not faith-based. Currently, the company’s stories would have ratings from G to PG-13.

The Story Locker has been operating since January 2012, and Chelf plans to launch the company in the press in 2014.

Skip Vaccarello is a longtime Los Altos resident. For more information, visit findinggodinsiliconvalley.com. Vaccarello plans to publish interviews from the site in an upcoming book.

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