Wahi Media is revolutioninzing online communication–and conversations

For 10 years, Glenn Hallam dreamed of creating the interactive technology he calls “wahi,” short for “Web automated human interaction.” But it took certain advances in technology, namely broadband access and faster, more powerful computers, before the Tallahassee entrepreneur could turn his dream into reality.

Revolutionary Conversation Technology company Wahi Media offers its clients a new concept in two-way online communication By John Van Gieson Originally published in the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of 850 Magazine

For 10 years, Glenn Hallam dreamed of creating the interactive technology he calls “wahi,” short for “Web automated human interaction.” But it took certain advances in technology, namely broadband access and faster, more powerful computers, before the Tallahassee entrepreneur could turn his dream into reality.

Hallam decided the time was right after he moved to Tallahassee about six years ago. Fortified by ambition and confidence in his concept, he sold his existing business, devoted himself to developing his wahi concept and launched the company he calls Wahi Media in the fall of 2006. Hallam may have had plenty of ambition and confidence when he started the business, but he had no clients. Not one.

“I had dreamed that it would take off right away, to be honest with you,” he said. “It really took us two years for it to begin to catch on.”

What exactly is a wahi? The firm’s website, wahimedia.com, describes it this way: “A wahi is an online, video-based platform that allows you to communicate your message to the masses by simulating human conversation. As the wahi interacts with and learns about the viewer, it begins to tailor its message so that the viewer gets a truly personal experience. At the same time, the wahi is collecting and storing all of the viewer’s responses in real time, so you can get a feel for your audience and understand what they’re saying in response to your message.”

Hallam, 48, said the wahi concept first occurred to him when he was sitting in a coffee shop in Los Angeles reflecting on his life.

“I had some success, but I didn’t feel like I was contributing in any meaningful way,” he said. “I thought, ‘I just can’t focus on making money.’

“I always had this sense that there was a better way to learn about people. I just had the sense that there was a better way to engage people, to dive into what they need and who they are. That’s where this comes from, looking for a better way to learn about people and a better way to engage them.

“In this day and age, people multi-task all the time,” Hallam said. “We feel like what we’re doing is forcing you to pay attention. It’s technology, but with a very, very engaging personal aspect to it — and that is our goal.”

Wahis typically offer several parallel tracks, each interacting with a different segment of the audience the client wants to reach. In a gang awareness and prevention wahi Hallam’s business created for the Tallahassee Police Department, the targeted audiences are young people, parents, community members and teachers. Each has a different narrator, with Carmen Cummings, a former Tallahassee TV news personality and former aide to U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, addressing parents. Doc Bailey, a former gang member from Dallas who works in a gang prevention program in Tallahassee, addresses youth.

While the Tallahassee gang video is no longer posted on the Wahi Media website, visitors can view several others there, including a gang-prevention wahi produced for the Tampa Police Department. One of the narrators in the Tampa gang wahi is Florida State University football great Warrick Dunn, who starred at running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons.

Hallam and his family were living in Colorado when they decided to move to Tallahassee. (He earned a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Minnesota.) His wife, the former Gina Rhodes, is a native of Tallahassee and a Florida State graduate. The Hallams wanted their children — they now have three — to grow up close to their grandparents.

When Hallam started Wahi Media, he had worked in a previous job on executive development for a number of big companies, including financial-services company Citigroup. He thought at the time that big companies would form his client base.

Shortly after starting Wahi Media in the fall of 2006, Hallam hired Jonathan Conrad, who graduated from Florida State with a degree in business management in 2002, as director of client relations. He gave Conrad the responsibility of recruiting clients for the fledgling business, focusing initially on big businesses. Conrad said Nike and Coca-Cola, among others, showed some interest in the concept but stopped short of engaging the company.

“We’ve talked to hundreds of big companies and have been in the door of a dozen,” Hallam said. “That was how we passed the first year or two. We realized we were overreaching at that point and decided to come on home.”

That’s when Conrad heard Investigator Derek Friend of the Tallahassee Police Department discussing the city’s gang problem on the radio and decided to pitch him on a wahi presenting the issue to gang members and gang-member wannabes, as well as parents, teachers and the community at large. Friend liked the concept, was impressed by the samples he saw, and pitched the idea of engaging Wahi Media to do a gang prevention wahi to his supervisors.

The police department became Wahi Media’s first client, with the company donating its services for the first year to develop a sample product it could use to recruit paying clients.

Friend said the gang wahi worked very well and provided the Tallahassee Police Department with the information it was seeking about gangs and potential members.

“We had about 2,000 responses,” he said. “Several hundred identified themselves as gang members or people who were interested in joining.”

Friend said TPD learned from the wahi responses that while there were signs Tallahassee gangs were becoming more sophisticated, local gangs were essentially neighborhood gangs, “separate and unique unto themselves,” and not affiliated with national gangs.

Hallam writes the scripts for and produces the wahis, which typically take about three months from concept to final product. His talent for writing and producing comes naturally — he was born in Hollywood, Calif., and his brother is a film producer.

Gina Hallam keeps the books and casts the wahis. The other full-time employees are Conrad and Mike Copeland, director of photography. Hallam said they depend heavily on the services of a number of community providers, including FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts.

“You have to have actors who are compelling and engaging,” Hallam said, adding that Wahi Media finds many of the actors it uses in the Tallahassee community.

“We’re lean and mean,” he said. “To other business owners, I would say you need to know what you can outsource and what you must keep in-house. You need to keep costs low.”

Friend said it was a pleasure to work with the Wahi Media team.

“Anything I thought of, anything I wanted to add, they said, ‘Yeah, we can put that in,’ ” he explained. “They were very good to work with.”

Wahi Media’s clients so far include police departments in Tallahassee, Tampa and Atlanta and state agencies in Florida, Virginia and Nebraska. The company has produced wahis for teens with sexually transmitted diseases for the Florida Department of Health and on emergency preparedness for the Florida Department of Education. It is discussing proposals with agencies in several other states and, Conrad said, has received inquiries from organizations in countries as far away as Guatemala, Kenya and South Africa.

Hallam said Wahi Media charges $2,000 a minute to produce wahis for its clients, noting that the public agencies it has served so far typically use grants to pay for them. He said the wahis typically run 80 to 90 minutes, but the typical user completes his or her interaction in eight to 10 minutes.

If money is an object, Hallam said, he shortens the overall product to 15 to 30 minutes.

“We tell people, ‘Based on your budget, we’ll make it as short or as long as you would like it to be,’ ” he said.

Hallam and Conrad said their business model is based on what they call “The 4 R’s” — reach, retention, relevance and rapport. Reach refers to engaging viewers over the Internet. Retention is capturing and holding their attention. Relevance means giving the viewers options that interest them and target who they are.

Rapport means “trying to talk to people normally as you do in human conversation. We engage you and learn about your interests and treat you with respect,” Hallam said.

Hallam has trademarked the word “wahi” and applied for patents on the technology. He said he isn’t afraid of competition and assumes that others will attempt to produce products similar to his.

“Our attitude is that competition is good,” he said. “It will make us better, but it will take them time to get to where we are.”

While Hallam said he’s pleased with Wahi Media’s growth, there are business challenges he still needs to overcome. He still wants to market his product to big businesses — and feels that day is coming.

“I think the baby’s up and running, and we look forward to seeing that child grow,” he said.



The word wahi started out as an acronym, but quickly took on a life of its own. In case you’re curious, wahi stands for Web Automated Human Interaction, but we think wahi rolls off the tongue better.

Wahi Media pioneered the wahi — an online, video-based platform that lets you communicate your message to the masses by simulating human conversation. The wahi interacts with and learns about the viewer, so it can tailor its message to give the viewer a truly personal experience. At the same time, the wahi collects and stores all of the viewer’s responses in real time. So, you can hear and understand how your audience responds to the message.

View sample wahis