Business & Real Estate

Memories in the making: Technology inspires new levels of scrapbooking

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier YesVideo CEO Sai-Wai Fu shares 1950s family footage filmed on 16mm that his software converts to digital format. The thumbnail photos on the left identify the DVD's chapters.

It took a while to get there, but Los Altos Hills resident Sai-Wai Fu takes pride in the journey and the success story he created from scratch – YesVideo – and the motto that says it all, “preserving memories, enjoying memories, reliving memories.”

YesVideo can convert all those VHS videos, 8mm, Super 8 and 16mm films, slides and photos of the family to one disk in digital format.

It’s been a decade since Fu established the then startup now based in Santa Clara, and the company CEO enjoys enumerating its successes. YesVideo has processed more than 4 million orders. Its services are available in 10 national chains at more than 30,000 locations coast-to-coast and YesVideo has added an East Coast processing center in Atlanta.

Fu reflected on his decision to start the business in the late 1990s.

His background in video-digital technology and experience as vice president of CQ Microsystems made it natural for Fu to focus on video media.

And there was another motive.

“I’m a family man, and I have a lot of home videos,” he said. “Obviously, I’m not the only family man. There are lots of home videos out there.”

He calculated that everyone would clamor to convert to digital, and the business would boom.

At least, that was the business plan.

It took a year to produce the product, Fu said, and then another year to develop a marketing strategy for the digital-conversion service. With the Internet expanding exponentially, Fu decided the Web was key to sales.

“That was the Internet in pre-Google years,” he said. “It (was) very expensive to find a customer online.”

The marketing-via-Internet plan didn’t pan out, nor did partnerships with local camera shops. But persistence did.

“The first year – zero,” Fu said of his customer base. “This year – 1.5 million.”

Fu’s big break came when the company signed an agreement with Walgreens to offer YesVideo’s conversion services through its photo centers. Next came Costco. Customers drop off VHS tapes, film reels and slides – just as they would a roll of film – and pick up the DVD. The process takes approximately three weeks, Fu said.

Then pull out the popcorn. Instead of tediously fast-forwarding to a favorite scene, the digitized version can skip to any one of the disk’s 54 segmented chapters, thumbnailed with photos. Customers select the titles and accompanying music that effectively indexes the contents.

“It allows you to jump to a (scene) like you would watching a Hollywood movie,” Fu said.

Software embedded in the DVD allows customers to edit movies, create individual photo scrapbooks and clip a still photo, among several tools. The conversions to DVD include a free three-month subscription to YesVideo’s newest service, Memory Safe, an online storage system for the digitized conversions.

“The next big thing is sharing online,” Fu said. “How to share, how to make it fun – those will be our next features.”

Customers will be able to access their online accounts to share clips with others online and convert to iPhone, iPad, iTouch and Blu-ray formats for conversion as the technology becomes available, according to Amy Pang, marketing communications manager.

The safety factor attracts consumers to the service, Pang said. With online storage, there is no danger of losing irreplaceable family albums. All items sent to the Santa Clara facility are locked in bins until retrieved for conversion. YesVideo cleans and color-corrects films and slides – gratis – Pang said.

Fu believes in his product and stores his own video album in the clouds at Memory Safe. What excites Fu currently, he said, is the changing technology that enables YesVideo to offer new services.

After 10 years, marketing remains Fu’s greatest challenge. Despite favorable articles in Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal in 2002 and 2004, respectively, YesVideo is a wholesaler that relies on retailers to display advertisements prominently, but they aren’t always effective in catching customers’ eyes.

“If you are not in the mindset for the service, you are not going to see it if you don’t know about it,” he said.

YesVideo doesn’t control what retailers charge customers for digital conversions, but Fu said one VHS tape conversion costs between $20 and $30.

“It’s a timeless kind of thing,” Pang said. “It’s a one-time investment.”

But time is wasting away for procrastinators, as prints yellow with age.

“Photos are going bad every day,” he said. “Eventually, nobody can help you.”

For more information, call (408) 907-9611 or visit www.yesvideo.com.

Contact Mary Beth Hislop at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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