By GREGORY ZELLER //
John Richardson knows startups. He launched two in his early teens, and therein learned a primary entrepreneurial lesson: business-development growing pains strike nearly all early-stagers, in virtually every industry.
So even Richardson, who was “literally incorporated at age 14” and did surprisingly well with those Doogie Howser-esque enterprises, is surprised by the rapid development of Quick-Cast, his latest endeavor.
Focused on society’s evolving (or de-evolving) fascination with short video segments, the Amityville-based startup brings the close-up to the customer with a “mobile video-production studio” built into a 40-foot, custom-retrofitted RV.
Dubbed the “QCC Reliant” (the founder fancies himself more of an “admiral” than a CEO), the truck packs a dazzling assortment of professional video recording and editing hardware and software, plus two separate shooting studios – one for seated talk-show talent, one for standing presentations – complete with green-screened backdrops.
The idea is to do anything a full-on video-production studio can do – but do it on wheels, providing an ultimate convenience for suburban customers who can ride the video wave right from their parking lot, while appearing to be anywhere in the world.
It all harkens back to the entrepreneurial adventures of Richardson’s youth. Growing up in the late 1980s in a single-parent household, the teen had to chip in financially, “and McDonald’s money wasn’t going to cut it.” A technophile from an early age, he decided to give computers a try.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I can be a tech guy and fake it until I make it,’” Richardson recalled. “Turned out, I was pretty good at it.”
Good enough, at age 14, to launch two Garden City-based startups, both of which did fairly well. GAD Systems made a name networking computers and integrating systems at small and medium-sized businesses, but it was Richardson’s software company, Neurologix, that really cashed in.
Neurologix marketed a program called Session Notes to the mental health industry. Designed to organize therapists’ thoughts after counseling sessions, the application caught fire – and caught the attention of a software competitor, who made the young businessman an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The early successes set up Richardson nicely, and before he even graduated high school the entrepreneur faced his first tough choice.
“I knew if I didn’t go to college right then, I’d never go back,” he told Innovate LI. “I was already making good money in the business world, and once you have enough experience, college can seem kind of stupid.”
So enroll Richardson did, ultimately earning a master’s degree in marketing from SUNY-Old Westbury. Still relatively comfortable from his first forays, he enjoyed a sort of post-graduation quasi-retirement, rotating through technology-director jobs at various Long Island school districts and doing some freelance networking for select GAD Systems holdovers.
A longtime amateur video editor, Richardson also freelanced the occasional video segment. It was interesting and fun work, he noted, but also a “pain in the neck.”
“I’d have to go to the customer’s business, tape up the windows, move the furniture, blow the fuses nine times and disrupt their entire office,” he said. “Eight hours to film a 30-second promo.”
It was obvious, however, that the quick-hit video-production industry had legs, so the entrepreneur put on his thinking cap. His mission was to reduce setup time on remote shoots; his ultimate goal was to “just unzip a bag and have a studio ready to go.”
Richardson never bagged the studio, but he did put it on wheels. Assembling the dream machine, however, was a daunting technological challenge. The QCC Reliant packs a Best Buy’s worth of high-end computers, all rigged to “a very high-speed network with a unique way of having Internet coverage wherever we go,” Richardson noted.
“I developed it on my own,” he added. “A lot of secret sauce went into Quick-Cast.”
Also aboard: frontline Canon video cameras, professional lighting arrays, DVD-burning drives, an aerial drone (with virtual-reality piloting headgear), “10 or 20 miles of Ethernet cable” and a 40-foot “inflatable pavilion,” which Richardson describes as a plastic dome with zippered doors.
Quick-Cast officially launched in October, but only after the flagship underwent several shakedown cruises to “work out the kinks,” according to the admiral.
“You’re in a truck,” Richardson noted. “So there are space and weight issues. There’s hot and cold. And there are all kinds of generators and backup power supplies. What happens if a generator fails? The show must go on.
“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
Harder, the innovator added, but worth it. Not only can the flagship reliably record commercials and live-stream video segments on You Tube and Facebook, it can host live call-in shows – it boasts its own dedicated phone lines and can even take Skype calls – and can burn hundreds of DVDs on site.
And of course, it can project truck-based talent into virtually any setting with those state-of-the-art green screens.
“We can make it look like you’re anywhere,” Richardson noted. “It can look like the set of ‘Entertainment Tonight,’ if you want.”
Although the QCC Reliant has only been cruising Long Island’s virtual waters for a month, Quick-Cast is catching on fast. Based out of a rented storage facility in Amityville, Richardson had planned to limit service to Nassau and Suffolk, but already he’s finding enough interest “just along Route 110” to keep the flagship rolling.
On Monday, the Quick-Cast crew – including two “captains” (part techies, part cameramen, part truckers) and two video editors – toiled until 4 a.m. on a deadline assignment. On Wednesday, clients included Felicia Fleitman’s Westbury-based recruiting consultancy Savvy Hires and a weekly podcast covering Long Island high school wrestling.
Richardson noted interest from several private corporations, school districts and political circles; Quick-Cast even been hired to work an enormous baht mitzvah at Grumman Studios, and while he doesn’t want to become “a kid’s party company,” Richardson admits he’s “shocked by the various uses customers have already come up with.”
“I’m either brilliant or lucky,” he said. “I’ve started other businesses. It’s usually a year or two where you eke out one customer at a time. We’re just blowing up with this.”
One vertical where Richardson exercises caution is the dissemination of “fake news.” Although his flagship can conjure up a convincing “news studio” for any client, the entrepreneur is no fan of the faux “breaking news” bulletins – many featuring high-end graphics and a realistic network-news feel – that overran social media during the presidential campaign, and according to some even swayed the election results.
Clients sign releases excusing Quick-Cast from all responsibility for content, including accuracy and various legalities – using copyrighted music without permission, for instance. But even with that clean slate, there are some places Richardson won’t go.
“I’m really against what’s happening with bogus news,” he said. “If I don’t like what you’re doing, you get off my truck. I’m not going to shoot for the KKK.”
Considering the early response, Richardson has “real concerns” about being able to increase the Quick-Cast fleet fast enough. It “takes forever to convert the trucks,” he noted, including a second vehicle already under construction.
And once the retrofit is complete, there’s the not-insignificant challenge of recruiting worthy captains.
“You have to be mechanical,” Richardson noted. “You have to have the technical knowledge to create the product. And you have to have the guts to drive a truck like this.”
While challenging, it’s the proverbial good problem to have for the innovator, who “wanted to stay close to home” with his new creation.
“Long Island is actually the perfect place for this,” Richardson noted. “In Manhattan, you can hop on a train and be at a dozen world-class production studios in minutes.
“And I’m sure not doing this in rural Pennsylvania.”
What’s It? Mobile video-production studio
Brought To You By: Lifelong industrialist John Richardson
All In: “Several hundred thousand dollars,” self-invested, mostly poured into the flagship mobile studio
Status: Ready for your close-up