By Mike Fridgen • Apr 18, 2023

Storia AI co-founder Julia Turc on lessons learned transitioning from the research world to the building world

Julia Turc, co-founder and co-CEO of Storia AI, spoke with Madrona Venture Labs (MVL) to discuss the company and her journey from NLP researcher on LLMs at Google to early-stage CEO. Storia AI was the winner of Launchable: Foundation Models, a competitive pitch competition, and received funding from MVL as a result. The company was recently featured on dot.LA in an article titled Storia is Betting Big on Hollywood’s Desire for AI Video Production and it published this post on Supercharging Storyboarding with Generative AI

Storia AI, defined

Storia AI is a creative assistant for video production, starting from the previsualization process. In particular, Storia AI helps filmmakers go from a story, script, or a vague vision to an initial visual representation. 

Turc’s personal journey to this point and inspiration to create Storia AI

Turc’s background is in computer science and machine learning, but she was always interested in the bridge between computer science and creative inclinations. When she finished her Master’s degree in natural language processing, she chose to enter the industry at Google, where she spent eight years working on a wide variety of teams, such as ads ranking and others that were operating like startups. At the same time, the people that she would later work with had just published BERT, one of the big large language models that started the LLM revolution. A year ago she chose to quit her job at Google and transition into the builder community.

“I wanted to switch from being part of the research community to being part of the builder community because it felt like that's where the low hanging fruit is today,” Turc said.

Turc and her co-founder chose the film industry due to their mutual creative inclinations. She finds the parallels between startups and the creative process interesting, for example how both industries have to start with an idea and then continue to iterate.

Turc’s proudest founder moment so far

Turc described a big change from the research world, where people follow intellectual curiosity, to the startup world, where founders have to go into interviews and listen without pushing a particular agenda. She is most proud of her work with Storia AI’s design partners, and the user interviews that the team has conducted so far.

Where the Launchable event and MVL have been helpful 

Turc said that the fact that there was a demo day included in the Launchable event was helpful because it required the team to not only implement a prototype, but also to go one step further and build a story around it and think about where they can go as a business.

After winning the competition, Turc said that she appreciates that Storia AI has a partnership with MVL that they can trust.

“We have such a trusted partner that whenever we are in doubt, especially as first time founders, we have somebody that we can ask questions to and have full trust that the answer will be in our interest,” Turc said.

She also spoke about how MVL has facilitated incredible connections with design partners, and how she appreciates how the nature of the relationship is very close and feels productive.

Turc’s advice for other founders

In lieu of giving advice, Turc shared two things that she’s learned on her journey with Storia AI. The first thing: done is better than perfect. The second thing: being un-opinionated, such as in the research world, doesn’t serve you well in the startup world. She said it’s better to be very wrong than completely un-opinionated, because putting a hypothesis on the table during user interviews allows a conversation to get going and then learning to happen from there. 

“It’s better to be very wrong than completely un-opinionated.”

“For me personally, this was a huge leap going from always trying to say the absolute correct thing to giving myself the liberty to have opinions, and envisioning a future, even if it doesn't come true,” Turc said.

Compelling developments across the landscape of generative AI

Turc sees a lot of potential in mental health chatbots becoming more effective. Although there is a risk when talking about peoples’ health, she said that with medical professionals’ expertise and generative AI that can make people feel heard, these chatbots have the ability to take therapy to a whole new level.

The one founder Turc would meet with and why

Turc said that the startup world is so similar to the creative world, so she would like to meet one of her favorite directors, Charlie Kaufman. She would ask him how he builds something from nothing, along with how he decides how his stories end. 

Thank you to Juila for sharing more about her professional journey and transition to co-founding co-CEO of Storia AI. If you’re interested in learning more about the company, visit Storia.AI. Thanks for reading, and look forward to having you back for the next Founder Spotlight.

Founder Spotlight is a series dedicated to bringing you insights into the founder journey, lessons learned from startup leaders, and a behind the scenes look at some of the most compelling tech companies in our community.

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