The idea came to Curtis Ceballos in a dream.
Don’t laugh. Dreams were at the origin of more than a few revolutionary creations, including one of the Beatles’ greatest songs, Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry and St. Augustine’s conversion.
That’s what Ceballos, a Palm Coast resident and entrepreneur, thinks TALKiT will be: it will revolutionize the way we communicate.
Just as the Internet, texting, Snapchatting and tweeting have revolutionized mostly text- and image-based communications, TALKiT, Ceballos says, “is going to revolutionize social media the way it is now.”
Simply put, TALKiT is the voice equivalent of a text message. It’s a two-sentence, three to five-second snippet that users can send out on a network where recipients will see the TALKiT in a news feed, just as they might the latest status updates on Facebook or the latest tweets. The can choose to listen and reply or choose not to. Users can target their TALKiT to all their followers or target it to a group or an individual. The TALKiT will be there for six hours, then vanish. It’ll be usable on any mobile device. It eliminates the need to use fingers or worry about texting and driving. It could have numerous beneficial applications for, say, the disabled, or for large organizations, including schools, where quick messages must be shared rapidly, without need of keyboards or computer terminals.
“I TALKiT. Do You TALKiT?” Ceballos says, voicing what he imagines to be a workable company tag-line.
“People have gotten away from talking. Everyone is depending on texting and being on Facebook and things like that,” Ceballos says. TALKiT gives voice to the voice, and adds emotion, something neither texts nor emoticons can convey nearly as accurately as one’s voice.
Ceballos, a Palm Coast resident who twice ran for a county commission seat last decade, has for years been involved in computers and telecommunications. He’s also taught, coached and ran restaurants. He hadn’t been working intensely on any particular idea when it struck him. “I don’t even understand why I had that dream,” he says. But he had it. That’s how he conceptualized TALKiT, writing everything down after the dream, trade-marking it and then, with his son Ryan and daughter Gabrielle, getting to work to develop the idea, capitalizing it and hiring a firm in Texas to develop it—Rocksauce Studios. (Ryan, 24, is a kids group counselor at Hammock Beach Resort, Gabrielle, 20, who’s in charge of marketing and financing, studies at Albright College.)
TALKiT goes live on Memorial Day.
“We’re projecting approximately 500,000 users within the first six months and 1.5 million users within the first three years,” Ceballos says. People in the industry have told him that he could reach those goals in less than a month., He prefers to be more conservative. The business plan is based on 1.5 million users. Once that milestone is within reach, the plan includes hiring 20 local employees, with a campus-style office complex visualized for Hargrove Grade in Palm Coast.
“We just obtained a sizable investor that’s looking to invest in the company right now,” Ceballos says, “and once the app releases, be able to invest even more in the company. But of course we want to maintain a security level of ownership and controlling level within the family.”
The venture is catching attention.
“It’s a wonderful, creative product, it’s something we’re told doesn’t exist in today’s market and the hope is it goes viral for them they’ve got some creative applications they hope will be productive,” says Helga van Eckert, Flagler County’s economic development director, who met with the Ceballos team twice. “A key thing from the county’s perspective, is it’s further showing the creativity and the business acumen that’s in the area.”
The county is not in a position to assist the venture financially: the county’s economic development department is not into venture capitalism. Incentives kick in for well-established companies that have track records of job creation. But it can assist in linking the venture to organizations that help new businesses such as Score and Grow Florida. And TALKiT could eventually be a part of the county’s soon-to-rollout business retention and expansion initiative.
“They’ve invested a good deal of time energy and money in getting themselves set up to do their initial alpha testing, so they should know pretty quickly whether the concept will take off or not,” van Eckert said.
That, of course, is the burning question, as with any new business. It could be a spectacular success. It could also be a quiet failure—quiet, because if TALKiT doesn’t catch on, it means it will literally not have caught the ear of users in a very crowded social media world. Ryan and Curtis Ceballos know that the creation runs against the grain of a social media world where texting is king. But they see that very dominance as their entry into a world where they think there is a craving for rediscovering voice power voice without having to go to the extent of full-blown phone conversations. To them, TALKiT is unexplored country.
The new company signed a one-year contract with Chip Hoch, the Port Orange golfer who just turned pro and who has some 2.3 million followers on Vine, the Twitter-owned video-sharing site, which should help spread the visibility of TALKiT. “He’s really excited about it,” Ryan Ceballos says, “he’ll be promoting TALKiT to all of his followers, so even if we get a percentage of that, it’ll be big.”
The company has a website (“You have embarked on a new journey, not only of space and time, but of mind and SOUND”) though for now it’s intended only to spread the word and create a little buzz. The app itself will be available starting on Memorial Day. It’ll be free to users willing to see ads, or $4.99 for a three-month subscription. Curtis Ceballos expects the app to be mostly ad-supported. The company has been soliciting advertisers and contracting with another Palm Coast-based company, Cindy Dalecki’s Marketing2Go, to explore that route.
“Some people might think ‘oh gosh, another social network’, but I think there is room for TalkIt,” Dalecki said. “It’s different, it’s niche, and with it being voice driven, it promotes no texting and driving. To me, it’s a combination of old school communication – talking, and new technology.”
It can all be a bit overwhelming. “I’ll sit sometimes and I’ll ponder, they’ve seen me,” Curtis says, pointing to his son and referring to his daughter. “We all do actually, and you start thinking of the possibilities and it starts getting away from you.” Then it’s back to focusing on the next task, a day at a time. “The wheels are in motion. Now to me there’s no turning back. I’m very excited about it.” With a lot at stake: “I’ve bet everything I have and everything we are and what we are about.”