Welcome, Runway!
perspectives / Portfolio

Welcome, Runway!

Today, we are thrilled to announce our investment in Runway, a pioneer in democratizing AI tools for a new generation of storytelling and content creation.

Paul Drews and Emily Zhao
June 29, 2023
  • Founder: Cristóbal Valenzuela, Anastasis Germanidis, Alejandro Matamala-Ortiz
  • Sector: Artificial Intelligence
  • Location: New York, NY

The Opportunity

When we first met Cris Valenzuela, the co-founder and CEO of Runway, we were immediately captivated by his vision to build a new kind of creative suite. Cris described Runway’s technology in a way that was similar to a new camera, something that could enable a new way of storytelling and creating digital content. We are proud and excited to be investing in a company developing foundational technology that has the potential for new category creation.

Runway was founded in 2018 by Cris, Anastasis, and Alejandro. The initial idea came out of Cris’ thesis project at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, where he met his co-founders while researching applications of machine learning models for image and video use in the creative domains. Informed by their own experiences as artists, the Runway co-founders set out to answer the question of how a well-built digital tool could simplify the approachability of complex ML models and circumvent the need for deep technical background to give better access to state of the art machine intelligence to artists and designers. The mission of Runway was to democratize access to machine learning so more people can start thinking of new and creative ways to use those models.

The Solution

Runway was first launched in 2019 as a model directory that enabled others to deploy and run open-source machine learning models for a variety of use cases. As the model directory and its user base grew, the team started seeing a usage pattern emerge that led Runway to commit to building more deeply around ML-enabled video editing tools. And staying true to the mission, Runway created tools that require no training to use, unlike many other professional tools in the video editing and visual effects space. Today, Runway is not only a developer of AI-powered editing tools but also text-to-image, video-to-video and text-to-video generation products powered by a set of proprietary state of the art generative models. It provides a full-stack platform from model research to end-user facing applications, which is one of our core theses in partnering with the Runway team.

Since 2020, Runway has invested heavily in foundational research that helps power these tools. Runway Research has co-published, together with LMU Munich, the foundational paper and model “High-Resolution Image Synthesis with Latent Diffusion Models” that gave birth to Latent Diffusion in December 2021 and Stable Diffusion in August 2022. The latest breakthrough by the Runway Research team are two video generation models, “Structure and Content-Guided Video Synthesis with Diffusion Models” also known as Gen-1 (video-to-video, released in March 2023) and Gen-2 (text-/image-/video-to-video, released in early June 2023) that builds on top of Gen-1. Gen-2 is the only commercially available multi-modal AI system that has text-to-video capability today: users can type in text prompts and generate synthesized videos in any style. Users can also use reference or input images and videos to tune the outputs. The videos are not of final production quality yet – as Cris would put it, this is equivalent to when cameras were still in the era of creating black and white photography – but the technology holds significant potential as it moves toward higher fidelity. Runway is continuously training these models in that direction as well. Overall, including these generative tools, Runway has 30+ “AI Magic Tools” that serve different aspects of the creative process.

As we talked with Runway customers, it became clear that Runway, and its users, are continuously innovating in the ways the platform can be used to solve business problems. The most immediate use case is around video editing and visual effects for the creative industries (e.g., film, animation, digital marketing) and marketing functions horizontally. For instance, visual effect editors for the award-winning movie Everything Everywhere All at Once and graphics designers for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert have used Runway to create and edit scenes and videos. Runway has done a great job of organically acquiring users at an incredible speed and converting them into paying customers, which speaks to the potential of its products. 

Why we’re backing Runway

As we look to invest across modalities at the model layer of the AI stack outside of text generation, Runway has the rare combination of a team and products that can completely reinvent the category in which they’re operating in. We have been big fans of Runway’s vision since day one and are impressed by their speed of innovation and shipping new products. Over the course of our meetings, it became clear that Cris, Anastasis and Alejandro are the right leaders to catalyze Runway into a generational company. 

Runway’s products create tangible outputs that demonstrate the creativity and ingenuity of the technology underlying them, which is the foremost reason for our investment. While the AI-powered editing tools can apply the necessary editorial steps in the matter of a couple clicks, the true piece of revolutionary technology is its video generation capability and Runway is likely the leading company in the world today in building this capability. Its Gen-1 and Gen-2 models can support high-quality artistic and stylized text-, image-, and video-to-video generation that can replace manual creative work. The company is also actively and quickly innovating to make the models more powerful and to move toward higher fidelity videos that can be more photorealistic or follow a certain style better if needed. As we saw with ChatGPT, a powerful and easy-to-use product can go viral quickly. We think Runway’s products are showing signs of that kind of virality. The speed of innovation and shipping products is also a key part of their success, which we are seeing with the cadence of product and research releases in recent months.

Runway has an amazing founding team that is product obsessed and understands the need to innovate and build quickly. Cris is highly focused on building great products. His vision is to continuously build better and better products that will sell themselves. Anastasis (co-founder and CTO) complements Cris’ product acumen with his technical background. He was a computer vision researcher at IBM Research and is one of the co-authors behind Gen-1 and Gen-2. Lastly, Alejandro (co-founder and Chief Design Officer) completes the founding team with his experience in design. He was previously a research resident at NYU and co-founded Material, a graphic design studio, and Ediciones DAGA, an independent art book publishing house. The team understands the need for speed and building on existing research to push the boundaries of what Runway’s products can do to really capture this market. They have already built so much with a relatively small team that is just getting to ~50 people today. Cris and his team have also referenced incredibly well among investors and other leading entrepreneurs within the Salesforce Ventures portfolio. 

Runway also services a large addressable market that will only expand as Runway’s products get better. Given the nascency of this new category of content creation and the breadth of use cases Runway touches and has the potential to address, the company’s addressable market is evolving. But we know that directionally and intuitively, the market is big. Runway sits at the intersection of content editing and visual effects, both of which are multi-billion dollar software markets. Given the large percentage of individual creators, the company has mostly attracted “prosumers” so far, but we are beginning to see enterprise traction and that is an area we are super excited about. 

What’s ahead?

The realm of human creativity is continuously evolving and adapting to new technology. When photography was invented, it gave voice to artists who didn’t have the upbringing to enroll in art schools. Similarly, video art in the 1960s allowed more female artists to become vanguards of artistic expression in America. In today’s world, the format of video is drastically becoming one of the most popular forms of digital content being consumed globally, and everyone can be a creator. As other modalities are seeing generative capabilities of artificial intelligence seeping through, video is due for an upgrade as well. Runway’s approach to make AI available in the hands of all creators is a very exciting mission, and one we are proud to support.

Welcome to Salesforce Ventures, Runway!