In front of a packed house, Jeff Glasse grasped a mike at the Village Lantern down on Bleecker. “My brother’s in the army and he’s always sending me pictures of himself—pictures of him and his cub pack, whatever you call the other guys he’s with,” the standup comedian said. “In every picture he sends me he’s wearing camouflage. I don’t really have the heart to tell him that I can see him, in these pictures.”
There was peal of laughter from a woman in the crowd.
Stand-up is a sideline for Mr. Glasse, whose website home page features two portraits of him. On the left Mr. Glasse is dressed in all black, a microphone in one hand, his other hand out in a “What’s the deal with…” shrug reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld. On the right Mr. Glasse is standing in front of a white board, wearing glasses, holding an iPhone with a strange looking video camera attached. “I’m a comedian. I’m also the CEO of a tiny new company,” reads the website’s banner. “Which one makes me more pathetic?”
That self-deprecation is Mr. Glasse’s own form of camouflage. A student of 17th-century literature at Princeton, he worked in video production for ESPN and the United Nations before founding, DIGIT, a company that helped pioneer the field of interactive exhibits for museums. These days Mr. Glasse is is the co-founder and CEO of Kogeto, a small New York startup trying to revolutionize the way people shoot and watch video by producing the world’s first affordable, handheld, panoramic video camera.
“Jeff has an overactive brain,” says Mark Atkinson, founder of TeachScape, an enterprise software company focused on the educational market, where Mr. Glasse worked for a decade before founding Kogeto. “It’s like the stand-up comedy, he does that because he likes the challenge. It exercises a certain part of his mind.”
In 2009 TeachScape saw the opportunity to win a massive research project being funded by the Gates Foundation. It required the winning bidder to shoot 25,000 hours of classroom video over two years for a longitudinal study. “We needed our best problem solver, so I put Jeff on the job,” Mr. Atkinson said.
Having shot a lot of video in his day, Mr. Glasse knew that a standard setup, with multiple people shooting footage from different angles, would never work. “You would spook the kids, and even with a couple guys, you wouldn’t catch every detail.”
He looked into panoramic cameras, like the ones mounted on Google’s street view cars, but found they were expensive and bulky. So, despite having no experience in engineering, manufacturing or optics, he decided to just build his own.
The result, dubbed Lucy, cut the price of the cheapest, non-professional panoramic camera from about $150,000 to $1,500. On the software side, it had once taken 40 hours to process a single hour of panoramic video. With Lucy the ratio was one-to- one. Teachers loved the small, unobtrusive unit, which could capture 360 degrees of activity without needing to be monitored or adjusted. “It was like we gave them a mirror they could turn on their own teaching, to understand what the students were responding to and when they were losing their attention,” Mr. Atkinson said. The Gates Foundation chose Lucy for its study.