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LoveStory: Startup Hits Bullseye with Cupid’s Arrow

Feb 13, 2024

John Ehrhard, founder and CEO of Orson, talks with EisnerAmper's TechTalk host Fritz Spencer about the power of sharing our personal and professional stories as a tool to deepen our human connections. In this episode, John discusses how his B2B2X startup is using its first generative AI platform to surpass the obstacle of directing video storytelling at scale, offering a very personalized experience across several use cases. A fan favorite: The LoveStory product for engaged couples! 


Fritz Spencer:

Hello and welcome to Tech Talk. We'll, you hear the latest in technology and investment trends directly from the trendsetters. I'm your host, Fritz Spencer, member of EisnerAmper's Technology and Life Sciences Group. And with me today is friend of EisnerAmper and serial entrepreneur, John Erhardt, founder and CEO of Orson, a startup in the technology and media industry that's leveraging generative AI to enhance human connections. John has a successful track record of developing and launching tech startups and brands from eSports to faith-based ventures. John, thanks so much for joining me today.

John Erhardt:

Well, thanks for having me


And how great it is that we get to have this conversation with Valentine's Day right upon us. One of my colleagues was just raving about the storytelling aspect of your product and how it particularly pertains to capturing love stories between couples. So what I'd like to know is in two to three sentences, if you could explain Orson for our audience.


Sure. Orson is a unscripted video storytelling platform and what that really means is we help direct and extract story out of people and then assemble that into compelling videos for a myriad of different purposes.


Awesome. I love it. So last year you reached a major milestone for Orson in successfully raising $3 million from experienced investors. Congratulations on that. And I'd like to touch a little bit more on what your investors and customers are looking for. What is the problem that Orson is solving?


Sure. So the easiest way of explaining this is one of the basic human needs other than food and water is the need for human connection, right? Humans need connection to one another as bad as they need food and water and how do we get connection? We get connection by communicating and really getting to know people. Two problems with that, people suck at communicating in general and you get to know somebody by them getting to know your story in life and the journey you've been on and the obstacles you've overcome and the things that inspire you. And people are not innately, we aren't necessarily the best communicators, but we are generally bad storytellers. And so in story's the best way of delivering that information to connect to people. And I think everybody can relate to that. So my background's in television and so I spent 25 years since the time I was 15 years old and tv, the bulk of it was in unscripted.

And so I was able to interview and spend time with documenting lives from plumbers to celebrities to serial killers, to everything in between for virtually every network under the sun. Somebody asked me how many hours I think I stopped counting at like 50,000 hours of people's lives we've documented over the last 20 years. And so I had an interesting background of knowing how to extract story out of people from all walks in different psychological profiles and backgrounds and different things. And so we sat out on a journey two years ago to automate that process, to create some technology that we could basically put a director in everyone's pocket to create really powerful content, whether it was from capturing the life story of your grandparent, so you had it forever to creating a love story for Valentine's Day or for your wedding to dating to all these different platforms, but basically create technology that could plug in and create this really cool powerful content for the purpose of connecting people.


Wow, I can only imagine the possibilities and capturing that moment. I love where you touched on automating the director. It seemed like a big piece of it and that seems like the technology piece of it. So I'd love to know more about that and kind of what you're building, how it's helping you accelerate your solution to this communication problem that we have more on the backend


For sure. So a lot of questions in there, so I'm going to try to unpack all of 'em and if I missed one, please tell me, but


We'll come back. Don't worry.


What I would say is one sort of layer of the problem that I think is super important, so the answer will make more sense, is somehow, and I have theories and there's lots of theories on this, the generation today is the most connected generation that's ever been to technology wise. They're also statistically the most disconnected generations that have ever lived. We are emotionally more disconnected to one another, yet we are the most connected. And I think social media has a huge impact on that. Zoom remote work environments, all of these things play into it. So technically technology has allowed us to put filters over our life on social media to get likes and feed the beast of what we think people want to know, yet we're not necessarily being the most authentic. And it also has removed a lot of the in-person interaction that used to happen when you got to work with people more regularly in everyday life in an office environment.

And so now people can just be more isolated. So there's that component of it. The key piece about the directing is absolutely the secret sauce of what makes this different. If you took a question and said, Hey, I want to make a video for a dating profile and say, what's some good questions? And you Googled and you just try to make a video of yourself, it would be better than a picture for sure. You'd get something more than just an image and some text you wrote down. The key thing that directing does, and what I've experienced my whole life is that people a don't typically, most people don't like being on camera. Most people don't think they have a story to tell. Everybody has a great story to tell. I can make a TV show about anybody, and you have to make people feel comfortable.

So part of directing people is a lot of psychology, of just being able to connect with people, making them feel a certain way for the purpose of the content. So if I was trying to get somebody to get a little more introspective, doing a mini doc for about somebody documenting their life and we're going to go deep on some stuff and I'm trying to push them in the way I talk and I pull, I'm going to be vulnerable, I'm going to share some stories about myself and to get them primed of where I'm trying to take them and I'm going to start talking to them a specific way and bring my voice down and lean into it, and then they mirror that back and it helps them actually get really good content. Vice versa, if we're doing something and I'm trying to get something fun out of them because we're doing an icebreaker video for a team and a work environment to get to know each other, I'm going to be like, alright, listen.

And so I bring energy to it and I also give some examples and it puts 'em in a different context so that the energy that they put forth is just a better. So it helps sort of bring the best version of people out. It helps 'em feel comfortable to be really authentic and share their stories. And that is something you absolutely have to have a director for the piece. Hopefully. I'm getting to the last part of your question, and I think I covered it all. Is that that sounds great, except for when you're trying to automate that at scale, that's where the big, big huge obstacle is because currently when we started off, we built out the technology just algorithmically. We said, okay, how do we take the common human experiences that everybody deals with? Everybody has obstacles they've overcome, and how can we direct people at scale algorithmically?

And we figured that out and that created an amazing output. And then ai, the advancements of ai, which we had always had on a roadmap, but we were blessed and very lucky with how quick it came along has changed the game and how AI can now impact the directing experience. So what we're building right now is an AI director, which is a very personalized experience. So instead of being locked to the algorithm of walking people through a preset sort of structure of how to get the story out for whatever the intended purpose is, the AI director's listening and validates the responses and can do follow-ups and takes them on a journey. So the stories are so much more personalized and that is mind blowing to see this AI director come to life where it's asking follow-ups better than I would ask or not. When I say better, I'm not trying to pat myself in the back.

I'm saying it's coming up with something, I'm like, I would've thought that's a great follow up. That's a great way of picking up on it. And the last piece of this is that the blessing and the curse of this is part of directing is being able to read somebody. So it's not just about the text based aspect of what they're saying, right? If you were to ask chat GPT to interview, you say interview me by my life story, depending how bad the hallucination is, and I'm a huge GPT bar fan, we use it in our products or in our product.

It can't pick up on the emotion and the sentiment of where the story is. And so part of what the AI director does, it's constantly reading facial emotions and we're training it to say like, oh, they technically answered the question. If you were to just look at the text, technically they answered the whole question, but if you saw the look in their eye and you could tell the emotion there was a huge deep story that this had a huge impact on their life, and there's a lot more we got to dig down. And so it can go, okay, great. Let me push in and I'm going to drill into that. But it also has the context to know what the purpose is. Let's say we were doing a video for the purpose of a work video and we tripped on a story, it wouldn't be appropriate to push deeper because this is an icebreaker for a new work team. The AI director would know not to push deeper, but if this is a life story or a dating one or a relationship one, it would know, okay, no, the purpose is to get super deep and vulnerable in that. So it's this constant balance that we're training the AI director, understanding the context, reading the emotion, all the stuff we did in directing and film and TV for all these years in training it to sort of replicate that so people can have basically an AI director in their pocket and help tell their story for different things.


Wow, that is incredible. That is a lot to unpack and each aspect with it just built another level of complexity and complexity, and I can only imagine the amount of hours and time you guys have spent building that model to dig deeper into. I know they answered the question, but like you said, their face told more stories than their words. It sounds like you had a very pivotal moment when Chad GPT came out in advancing your technology, and I noticed in a lot of startups there are a plethora of pivotal moments, but is there any pivotal moment like the advancement of chat GPT that really kind of catapulted you into either a new product line or a change that you made?


Man, there is so many pivotal moments. This journey, I'll probably narrow it down to two. I think the first one was we originally set out thinking we were just going to tell life stories, document life stories was the original actual product we thought. And as we built it and we started using it internally for our company, we realize that this power of story, it's so powerful in all these use cases that this is actually a kind of technology that needs to be brought into. It could be applicable everywhere. And instead of bringing this direct to market as a single product where we'd have to pick a vertical and take a long time to build that vertical out, it would be better to do this as story as a service where we can build an underlying technology that we could bolt into existing platforms, whether that be Facebook or Ancestry or dating apps or Hallmark or whatever, and add this is going to help get this technology into people's hands faster.

And we felt like humanity needs this kind of connection better and we can use the technology to counter it. So that would be one pivotal where we went from thinking we were going to be sort of a direct to consumer product to being a B two B2C company. The second aspect of that was we looked at all of the life stories. We had to develop a test market, a beachhead to launch in and of all the life events that happen over the course of someone's life, weddings actually jumped out and was sort of the market that was pulling us fastest because it's the life event that people spend the most money on, most time on most effort on. It's the one you document the most. And what was missing was the story, the love story of the couple, which is very poignant because tomorrow is Valentine's Day and it was this amazing thing of going, wow, there is a large amount of money being spent.

It'd be like going to see when Harry met Sally or any romcom and they didn't let you in the theater to the last five minutes and you didn't know any of the story that led up to it, but you got to see the end of it. How good would the movie be? And that's what most weddings are, right? Unless you're in the bridal party or the sister or brother of the people getting married, you're not really connected like everybody else is. And so we built out Love story, which is a really cool story strip that tells the love story of a couple. And people, couples are starting the show it at their wedding receptions and having these moments, and now we're doing Father-daughter dances and parent kid dances and different things that are sort of developing that. So that's been our first beachhead that we just launched last month or two months ago. And so that's been interesting. So that's our first's, sort of the second pivotal moment in this journey that we're on.


Wow. Two great points too, and I want to hit on both of them, especially when you mentioned even partnering up with Ancestry myself, I had two grandparents who were born in the twenties who have passed, but to have had their story fighting in World War ii, both of them, both, and I know all the stories from my parents, but to have them be able to tell it in a way that would be archived sounds so powerful. Like the greatest Christmas gift I could give to my mom and dad ever. And I was just at a wedding and I still don't know how they met. I know how he asked because the father of the bride made him spill his guts. But I don't know the real story, and this is one of my good friends of many years that I went to college with so much application here that I could see, and it sounds so impactful.


Just to clarify too, we're not partnered with Ancestry yet that is on the roadmap of primary target, but that actually ties in during Covid when this idea came up for this, and I realized, I'm like, man, I'm the carpenter who fixes everybody else's house, but I haven't applied my story ability to my own family. I got four kids, I don't have any story of their life. I've got a 96-year-old grandmother at the time who was still alive then and this amazing story, and I'm like, I got to do a little documentary on her. And my father-in-Law. So I started using that, and then when I started doing this manually and I started seeing the impact of the family and the friends, can you do this? That was sort of the impetus of this, of how powerful that exact feeling that you had. I'm like, alright, we got to figure a way of automating this because it's too much work time and money for most people to do this on their own.

And the other thing that really got me on that was, if you think about it, our stories only really last at best two generations. So our grandparents' stories will die with us. Our kids aren't really going to remember that, right? And it has a huge impact. When you go to or you go to any of these platforms, it's so cool to see, but at best you can see their name if you're lucky, a picture when they came over on the boat or wherever their journey was. And so it's cool, but you don't know anything about their story, you got to dig in. So the idea of being able to archive these stories and hear it in their words and the nuances of that and their journey in life and how they overcame this stuff is great. And there's been some really cool companies out there StoryWorth in these companies that are doing it in book form and kudos to them.

I think it's fantastic. This is really the next iteration of that where instead of just having the text or book form, you get a mini documentary and it's in video and you see them talk. And I think that is the most powerful because you can start seeing yourself and your personality and your ancestors and stuff like that. And then the last thing, sorry, just to add to what you said about the wedding piece, of all the things I get to do in tv, my most favorite thing to do is interview couples because it was so powerful, and especially couples who were married for a long time, it was the best because the way the brain works is a great study. I need to remember this to quote it directly, but the second somebody or your brain thinks you know them, like, oh yeah, I've got them figured out.

You stop learning about them and you file them off. This could be your spouse. It's not like a random person yet. We as humans are constantly evolving, constantly in how we think about things and whenever. And so it was so much fun to interview a couple, and you ask them questions and they think they know each other so well. Like, oh, we're doing this interview for some show. And within two questions, it's like I'd ask them questions like, you think what? I didn't know that. Oh, you're kidding. And it's like they rediscover each other, and that is just how humanity works, right? You need to be prompted. You need these tools to help the conversation keep going and to keep uncovering the stories. And it'll make relationships in general better. It'll make friends, better friends, relationships better, love better, all these things. So anyway, so it's a fun journey. I feel very lucky and blessed as a founder to actually be working on technology. I think a lot of founders, you always try to find the why and the purpose, like you're helping humanity. And a lot of companies are building software that helps customer service better and they help payments better, and they help all these things. And those are all things impact. But we are really truly lucky and blessed that we're working on technology that can help humanities, the relationships and the human connection improve, which is super fun.


Yeah, exactly What I was going to say, you touched on it, the human connection, which is so vital. It's something we literally need, and using technology to grasp it and memorialize it is what I've really taken away from this and thinking, wow, there's so much application. And I just want to thank you again for taking the time. I know we went a little over on time, but this has been a great conversation. We touched on so many good points. And John, it's been really great talking to you.


Yeah, likewise. And for all those listening, Valentine's Day, on your Valentine's Day dinner, ask a bunch of questions, treat it like your first date, get to know your partners again. It'll be a lot of fun.


And again, to our listeners, I want to thank you for tuning into Tech Talk, those entrepreneurs and innovators who turn towards EisnerAmper for audit, tax advisory, and outsourcing solutions to help propel their business forward. Don't forget to subscribe to EisnerAmper's podcast to listen to more tech talk episodes, and visit for more tech news that you can use.

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Fritz Spencer

Fritz Spencer is a Audit Senior with audit and accounting experience serving both public and private entities.

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