Bob Leavitt wasn't sure if he got the point.
Sitting at a wedding with his Omaha neighbor, Jim Simon, Leavitt was getting an earful about Simon's latest business venture.
Simon, whose family founded Omaha Steaks and who has spent much of his career in technology marketing, explained that he was starting a company called PeggyBank.com that could take Leavitt's old family film reels and turn them into digital files.
“I thought, why are you doing that? Everyone is doing that,” Leavitt said.
It's true, restoring and digitizing old media — putting it in a form so it can be processed by computer — isn't a new idea. Nor is storing digitized images online for safekeeping in case of a disaster like a house fire or flood.
There are countless companies around the globe that can convert film into DVDs and scan old photos and burn the images to CDs for a price, often a big price. And numerous online storage systems charge annual or monthly fees that can add up.
But PeggyBank.com combines the services: digitizing, and then, for free, storing the converted files on a server, forever. In addition, customers can access them anytime.
When Simon explained to Leavitt that, by using cloud-based storage, picture and video files could be saved, downloaded, edited and shared with family and friends through social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. — from any computer or mobile device, it clicked.
“That made so much more sense,” Leavitt said. So he sent Simon 50 reels of family film from the 1970s that he'd never actually watched before.
“I was an obsessive movie-taker. I would shoot at least 20 minutes of film for five minutes of usable stuff,” Leavitt said recently at a launch event for PeggyBank, a name spin on “piggy bank” and digital video and image files called JPEGs and MPEGS.
After his family films were digitized by PeggyBank, Leavitt edited them into more coherent, entertaining clips. When finished, he and his family spent hours at night watching the old family videos that they had never seen before.
“It was so much fun,” Leavitt said. “I felt like Jim really did me a favor.”
For Simon and two other co-founders, Adam Zweiback and Marcia Kapustin, a video production specialist, they want all customers to have the same feeling as Leavitt. And at the same time, they want to make a neat profit restoring and preserving people's priceless memories.
“Think of the people with photos or old videotapes, slides, negatives, just sitting there,” Simon said. “People are saving them, and their intentions are good, but we are a solution for that person. We want to take this media and make it relevant again.”
Simon, 42, who helped bring the Omaha Steaks business to the Internet in the early 1990s, has spent much of his career in technology, marketing and e-commerce. The companies have included America Online and a partnership of Herman Nut Co. and Pear's Gourmet, where he was chief marketing officer. He also made an unsuccessful run for Senate in 2002.
Kapustin, who handles day-to-day operations, has worked in video production for Warner Bros., professional football teams and musicians like Paul McCartney and Metallica. Zweiback, an Omaha native now living in Arizona, attended Omaha Westside High School with Simon and has a diverse background in education, founding A to Z Educational Consulting, which prepares students for standardized tests. He also co-founded a multimedia firm that records and publishes music for schools, universities and churches.
Simon said he conceived the idea for PeggyBank after the unexpected death of his father, Stephen Simon, an Omaha Steaks executive and fourth-generation owner.
Jim inherited boxes of scrapbooks, family videos and photos and took it upon himself to digitize them after he couldn't find a company to do it the way he wanted.
“Once I got into the project I realized there's a real business need for this kind of service,” Simon said. “Any consumer that has these materials is potentially a customer of ours. That's a pretty significant portion of the population.”
For some local companies, like Rockbrook Camera and Hamilton Color Lab, restoring and digitizing old pictures is a niche offering.
“I would say it's a pretty small part of our business,” said Rockbrook co-owner Joe Fortina.
Dave Hamilton of Hamilton Color lab said his company does a lot of photo-scanning and restoration, but he doesn't think he will lose business to PeggyBank because his company doesn't digitize and store video and audio. The only competition is in scanning and digitizing photos, but most of the work Hamilton does is for reproduction purposes.
Simon said PeggyBank isn't in direct competition with those operations. “That's out of their core business a little bit, plus they're very localized,” he said.
Simon believes that allowing customers to share their pictures and movies online will do most of the company's marketing. Over time, Simon expects the business to draw customers from across the country and will add more employees to handle the labor- and time-intensive conversion work, he said.
The company intends to keep all operations in Omaha.
If the company were to fold, customers wouldn't lose their files, Simon said, because they could download their videos, images and audio and save it on their own computer and backup drives.
At a recent launch event in downtown Omaha, photographer David Burnett, a longtime family friend of Simon's, said he sent a “huge box” of 8 mm videotapes for PeggyBank to digitize. He was impressed with the quality of the files and said seeing his 30-year-old videos invoked a lot of emotion.
“I think this thing could really take off,” Burnett said. “You don't realize how precious these things are until you actually see it.”
Contact the writer: