In the Room with Cristóbal Valenzuela, CEO & Co-Founder of Runway
To kick off the eighth season of The Room, Claudia and I had the pleasure to sit down with Cris Valenzuela, CEO and co-founder of Runway, the company spearheading the next- generation of content creation. Runway provides a suite of over 30 AI tools to help edit and generate videos.
Cris did not always think he would be a founder. Instead, his path to founding a startup was the result of his natural curiosity and desire to be a builder. Cris grew up in Santiago, Chile where he studied economics and business. Later, he moved to the United States where he simultaneously worked at a consulting firm, studied design, and pursued art.
It was really Cris’ time at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) that sparked the idea for Runway. ITP allowed Cris to explore his curiosity from both a technical and artistic perspective, and he realized there could be a way to build something at the intersection of his interests in art, design, and software. During his time at ITP, he also met Alejandro Matamala-Ortiz and Anastasis Germanidis, his now co-founders. The three of them shared a vision to build a disruptive technology that could be used by artists. This was the idea that launched Runway.
Today, Runway is valued at over $500 million dollars by top tier VC’s such as Amplify, Madrona, and Lux. They are at the forefront of advancements in generative AI and creative AI with customers including CBS, New Balance, and Harbor Picture Company using their suite of products. Runway recently raised their Series C round to continue to broaden their robust suite of tools, with a focus on audiovisual applications.
In today’s episode, we explore three key themes:the intersection of art and science in storytelling, the magic of word of mouth, and the future of large language models like Runway’s GEN1 Model.
Let’s open the door.
Key Theme 1: The Intersection of Art and Science in Storytelling
Cris discusses how his background in art and science proves to be very useful in the creation of Runway. He explains that “thinking about very expressive tools requires you to really connect the science world and the business world with the arts. They need to speak the language. You are building core research on generative models, on AI for image and video generation. If you want to apply that in filmmaking, in storytelling, in art making, you really need to understand how artists work and how filmmakers actually make movies.” The intersection between art and science in storytelling was strange to Cris 10 years ago. Now, Cris emphasizes that his ability to understand the intersection of design and technology has been a defining characteristic of Runway’s success. While it can feel like education puts our skill sets into boxes, Cris defies these norms and highlights how creativity can further grow through mathematical innovation, as demonstrated by large language models.
Key Theme 2: The Magic of Word of Mouth
Cris and the Runway team have impressively never run a marketing campaign or paid for an advertisement. For the last three and a half years, their GTM strategy has always been focused on the product. They found that a great product was capable of driving organic growth within different companies and organizations through a word of mouth approach.
Cris shares the story of how incredible TV networks like CBS have adopted Runway through the momentum of word of mouth. One of the editors of The Late Show came across Runway in a YouTube video. The YouTube video was an organic video of someone talking about their positive experience with Runway. An editor from CBS came across this video and decided to try out the product for himself. He used it for one video and was able to cut down the estimated editing time from 6 hours to 5 minutes. This was remarkable, and he shared the tool with the rest of his team. Before long, the entire CBS team had subscribed to Runway.
Runway’s magic editing tools demonstrate how products can have viral tendencies. If you are a founder developing your go to market strategy, consider how your product can embrace the magic of word of mouth.
Key Theme 3: The future of large language models like Runway’s GEN1 Model
Cris elaborates on how Runway’s GEN1 Model represents a big step forward for generative AI. Video generation is relatively new in the space, and Cris explains that it can be very challenging to think of video generation as a one-off solution, considering how many details go into crafting an idea and turning it into a video. With this insight, Cris and his team realized that focusing on the story could be a new way to drive generative processes. Runway’s GEN1 model encompasses this new approach and creates content driven by other videos.
Cris walks us through an example of how this works. Imagine a person has a vision for a video to show the view of a helicopter moving across a city. With this story in mind, a person could film a simple video using what they have around them, like a glass set on a table. Then, the person could tell the GEN1 model “I want that glass to be a building, and my idea is that I want a camera that is going to be moving across a city”. GEN1 “takes your prompt, applies the prompt to your source video, and transfers the structural elements of the video you just recorded to this new video”. This novel approach to generating content is driven by Cris and his team’s insights on the processes behind film making and story creation. The GEN1 model’s unique approach to generating content could be the future of large language models.
More generally, Cris hypothesizes that large language models will progressively get better and faster at transforming ideas into reality. Perhaps, we will start to see generative movies or music. While much is still unclear as we are early in the journey of large language models, we’re excited to see Runway revolutionize the content creation process.