Feb 8, 2023

By Maria Gilfoyle and Jeremy Tryba

Launchable: The Runway story

Cristóbal Valenzuela

On January 27, CEO and co-founder of Runway Cristóbal Valenzuela spoke at Launchable: Foundation Models about the mission of Runway and what helped the company become a modern “paint tube” for artists.

Valenzuela was born in Chile before moving to New York to study and research at NYU. At NYU he spent time researching the intersections of AI and ML and content creation, which led him to co-found Runway. 

During the four years since Runway’s launch, the team has been tackling the user experience and foundation model research needed to create innovative video editing and creativity tools.

Valenzuela started by building tools that he wanted to use. His vision widened as it became clear that what he was building was valuable for a much bigger audience. At that point, he decided that the most effective way to serve all artists was to build a company. 

Valenzuela urged builders to follow their curiosity, since the capabilities of new AI technologies are still being discovered. He considers Runway to be the product of curiosity driven development, which is a philosophy that explores different avenues to explore the full space of possibilities.

He also advocated for a prototyping mindset, where teams are constantly learning. Builders need to focus on stepping stones, and understand how they will lead to a goal rather than always planning far ahead. He said the best thing to do is be as quick as possible with each stepping stone and learn as much as possible at each point.

The Runway team has built an impressive product, leveraging foundation models, that help make video easier to edit, but ultimately Valenzuela is motivated by the new forms of storytelling and self expression that artists are able to create. 

Throughout this event, Valenzuela used an extended metaphor about art to help communicate Runway’s mission. He explained that pigments were the primary tools to tell stories 200 years ago. At that time, creating pigments for drawing was a complex process that required years of training and a deep understanding of the mechanisms necessary to combine color. For a long time, painting was a difficult task, inaccessible, and was restricted to those with resources and time. However, with the creation of the paint tube, there was a significant change in storytelling in society. Artists were able to take their ideas out of studios and could see the world in different ways.

Valenzuela believes that we are seeing this transition from pigment to paint tubes with advancements in AI assisted creativity. Just as then, new tools are helping people see the world in a new way.

He touched on the rise of generative AI in the future, saying that it is important to focus more on the rate of progress rather than specific moments in time. The tools that are being used are changing all the time, and the best thing to do is experiment as much as possible on both the builder’s end and the user’s end. 

“One thing I would strongly recommend is never build in isolation,” Valenzuela said. “Never build with too many assumptions in mind. It's always good to just ship really fast and learn as much as possible from users, right? Go outside, take your paint tube, paint as much as you can. Go back, get feedback on your painting as fast as you can. Try as many different avenues as you can, and you'll see that there are a lot of things that you are not even aware of that will help you really understand from customers how to best approach them.”

He also recommended that those who are interested in building their own company should find people that they like working with and are eager to learn. He said to be pragmatic and principle driven, and to not obsess over one tech trend or foundation model in particular as it will become obsolete in the following months. The main thing should be focusing on the core of what your users or customers want.

“Paint tubes are waiting for people to come and grab them,” Valenzuela said.

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