I recently sat down with Vidya Narayanan, co-founder and CEO of Rizzle, a short form video platform, which allows creators to create and share episodic content. Rizzle’s AI-based creation experiences and new media formats make it easy for millions of creators to make quality content daily and brings creation, distribution, and monetization in one place. Celesta Capital recently invested in Rizzle.
What is your background?
I most recently came from Google where I led engineering teams working on user behavior and context at Android. Before that, I was at Qualcomm and Motorola -essentially, I’ve been working on mobile all along. I have a Masters’s in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University. I currently live in the Silicon Valley area with my family.
Why did you found Rizzle?
My motivation to get on this journey came from the desire to experience what it is like to get those first 100 users, the first 1000, and so on. Launching products at Google meant we put features in the hands of hundreds of millions of users overnight. While that has its own fun and challenges, I really wanted to experience the other side. That’s what drove me to entrepreneurship in the consumer space.
The specific idea of Rizzle was born from the observation that video platforms have historically been a broadcast medium, not a truly interactive experience at scale. We set out to scale video discussions to hundreds of thousands of people -- that was the fundamental premise. We launched Rizzle with video responses and prompts that allowed hundreds and thousands of people to debate and discuss topics over video. It was a one-of-a-kind platform that led to tight-knit video communities where creators cherished these discussions and became friends. Our earliest creators are still on the platform to this day due to this community experience.
Today, Rizzle is a large platform with many features, offering something for everyone. Fundamentally, Rizzle channels allow people to create multiple genres of content. We’ve innovated on music-based content with features like Rimix and Filmi that bring the next big thing in short video music content.
What are some things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
When we build consumer products, nearly anyone and everyone feels like they are qualified to product manage it. It is not uncommon for people to have opinions about what Facebook should or should not be doing, for example. In the same way, we get a lot of unsolicited thoughts on what we should be working on. Every now and then, some of these suggestions lead to interesting explorations, but most of the time, they are fairly naive.
Since people understand how to use social media platforms, they also feel it must be easy to build them. But the reality is that the technology and product management complexities of these platforms are rather high. At one end, behaviors like playing videos with audio on by default are deliberate decisions that have a high impact on short-term vs long-term attachment of users to the platform. At the other end of the spectrum, things like figuring out how to deduce the viral potential of a video even before it is served to real people are tough engineering problems. Both in user behavior and in engineering, we deal with several cutting-edge innovations, although most people tend to judge the complexity of the problems we’re solving based on the platform’s deliberate ease of use.
What excites you about the future of your industry?
We’re building an innovative product in a hot area. Short videos are the future of media. Over the coming years, we will see short videos play a role in nearly everything -- from entertainment to commerce to edutainment to infotainment and even customer service and enterprise discussions.
It is exciting to be part of this transformation. The idea of building a product that inspires millions of people to share their creativity, thoughts, and most importantly, time, is extremely motivating to me. Every day, we strive to improve the experience for our users so that their time spent on our platform brings them positivity. That keeps me going!
What are you most proud of?
Along the way, I have had the opportunity to mentor and inspire young men and women in their own careers and aspirations. Inspiring other women to pursue their dreams and achieve their career goals has been extremely rewarding and I consider that my greatest achievement.
Where do you find inspiration?
My co-founder, Lakshminath, is my biggest inspiration. He challenges me to go deep and push beyond my comfort zone. Now, we also have a super-charged team that is ready to fight and win this game. The energy and positivity around me in the company are infectious.
On top of that, my family is very supportive of my entrepreneurial journey. My kids are my biggest cheerleaders and their blind belief in my potential inspires me to do even better.
What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?
I’ve always been a dreamer. I imagine outcomes before I know how to make them happen. Sometimes, a dream becomes an obsession and takes over until I make it happen. I’m currently making one such dream a reality with Rizzle -- the dream of building the first woman-led, global-scale social platform with short videos.
As a woman engineer, overcoming obstacles is part of the journey. Throughout my career, I’ve often been the only woman in the team, the only woman in the room.
The biggest obstacles I face today are around growing our company in an ultra-competitive area. We get to outthink and out-innovate competitors who have 100s of millions to billions of dollars to spend in the market, with orders of magnitude less money.
But we’re innovators. That’s what we do. And that’s what keeps me going. When we succeed, we would have achieved something that looked and felt impossible to achieve.
Despite all the tough aspects, it has been a relentless journey of learning and improvements. The road so far has had many stumbling blocks that I’ve learned to navigate. That said, my attitude was never to give in to those struggles. Rising to those challenges is where true grit lies. And the dreamer in me wins out every single time to keep me moving forward.