Product - Take the 1st Step
Career - If You’re Laid Off
Exclusive: Runway’s Founding
Paid: The Runway Deep Dive
Runway is the most captivating company in AI no one has written a deep dive about.
If you’ve been keeping up with the AI news, they are the leading AI video tech at the moment.
Certainly, Nvidia, Meta, and Google have shown some research demos. But Runway has a product out there that artists are using to create mesmerizing videos.
So, who is the team behind it? What do they do? I scoured the web for a comprehensive story, and I couldn’t find it.
Thus, I embarked on an in-depth investigation over the last few weeks. The result - The Runway Deep Dive.
Join me as we journey through:
Chapter 1: Beginnings at NYU
Chapter 2: Finding Product-Market Fit
Chapter 3: Betting on User Experience
Chapter 4: Going All In On Models
Chapter 5: Pioneering the AI Video Revolution
Along the way, we’ll uncover the key lessons. Then, we’ll wrap up with Runway’s competitive position, strengths and weaknesses, and what it needs to do to succeed.
Chapter 1: Beginnings at NYU
The story of Runway begins in the mid-2010s. Gene Kogan unveiled several of his experiments with style transfer, gifting the world the first generative AI viral GIF.
A hemisphere away, Cristobal Valenzuela, in Chile, was captivated by this work. So much so, that he applied to NYU, where Kogan taught part-time.
Cristobal got in. And just like many before him, he moved across the world to the land of big dreams, the Big Apple.
At NYU, Cristobal met a community of creatives pushing the boundaries with technology - from machine learning (ML) to virtual reality (VR).
He engaged in various pursuits, even collaborating on ml5js, which leverages your web browser and GPU to perform ML tasks.
He also connected with fellow immigrants Alejandro Matamala-Ortiz and Anastasis Germanidis, who were building tools for designers.
None of them had dreams of building the next AI unicorn at that time. They were simply conducting research in an academic setting.
Cristobal began working on his thesis, focusing on a tool called Runway that provided designers with access to open-source models like ImageNet and Char-rnn.
As he assessed the feedback from people in industries like VFX, film, art, and design, he realized it was too powerful to ignore.
Hey, I’m interested in this.
I want to use this.
Can I have this?
Every day, he heard similar requests. He shared his experience with Alejandro and Anastasis, who were encountering comparable demand for their tools.
The trio decided to start a company.
→ Lesson 1: Start by solving a problem with insatiable demand
Like the origin stories of many great companies, Runway's founding was driven by the insatiable demand from potential customers.
However, an obstacle nearly diverted them from the Unicorn opportunity.
After graduation, they received job offers from big, prestigious companies.
Cristobal, for instance, was offered a position on Adobe's AI team.
I was two years into New York as an immigrant, with the perfect dream company offering you the dream job with a visa and the perfect salary – it is just the dream
Cristobal's mother urged him to accept it. But his intuition and supportive co-founders led him to choose Runway instead.
The trio posted a Tweet to gauge interest in beta access to their software, and hundreds responded enthusiastically.
Realizing the opportunity was too significant to accept stable 9-5 jobs, they opted for a research-in-residence position offered by the school.
The adventure had officially begun.
Hooked on the story of Runway? The rest is for paid subscribers only.
I listened to every podcast the founders have given. I watched their YouTube videos. I read their tweets. And scoured every product release note. Believe me, it’s worth it.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Product Growth to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.