If you’ve browsed social media recently, it’s likely that you scrolled past a couple memes and maybe even chuckled to yourself or sent it to your friends. It’s also likely that one of those memes you discovered was created with Kapwing.
Kapwing was initially a meme generator, allowing someone to overlay simple text over images. Four plus years later, it has grown to be a powerful online video editing platform. From creators producing their next viral hit to teachers putting together their next lesson on the Pythagorean theorem, Kapwing empowers individuals everywhere. Since it’s a powerful storytelling tool, we thought it fitting to go behind the scenes and hear the story of Julia Enthoven, CEO and co-founder of Kapwing.
As a Developer Advocate, I work closely with our developers and partners on technical problems, but don’t always have the chance to get to know them on a personal level. That’s why I was so excited when Julia agreed to have a chat with me about her journey and career. I was surprised to find that we actually had a lot in common, from growing up in Texas and taking our first Computer Science class in our sophomore year of college, to our passion for education.
What motivated you to pursue computer science? Was it something you always were interested in or did you kind of stumble into it?
I definitely stumbled into it. I’m from Dallas originally and was really interested in lots of different things in high school. When I went to Stanford for college, I had no idea what I wanted to study. I remember telling my mom the only things I knew I was not going to major in were Chemistry and Computer Science. My brother had been a Computer Science major and watching him go through it made me think I didn’t want to pursue that major.
What I was really interested in was public policy, specifically the world of education and schools. Education as a social justice issue was always something I was passionate about and involved in as a volunteer and a student.
I actually did an internship after my freshman year with the NYC Department of Education. That was really transformational for me because I got exposure to how impactful technology is on policy makers. Great software is so important for giving educational opportunities to kids and also uplifting educators and policymakers to help support kids.
So I got into tech through the world of education. After I came back to school that fall, I took my first class in computer science and loved it so much. So many of the stereotypes in my head about CS I did not find them to be true. I thought it was super creative, really fun, and rewarding when you solved a problem. I ended up studying a mix of Math and Computer Science at Stanford.
And then you were at Google as part of the Associate Product Manager program!
Yeah, I did an internship as a Software Engineer at Apple. After that, when I was applying to full time jobs after college, I saw Google’s APM program which is basically an entry-level PM program for those that had just graduated from college with technical backgrounds. That was interesting to me, because it was one level above code but still slightly more involved with strategic decision-making and visioning that I had been interested in from a policy perspective.
I applied for the job, got the job, and decided to join Google. Actually, one of the very first people I met at Google was the person who would become my co-founder, Eric Lu. I learned a lot at Google. That was really where I got my training ground in building good software and focusing on user-centered design.
How did you decide to go on this journey of starting your own company?
After two years at Google, I was starting to get a little bit restless on my current team. I also kind of had the entrepreneurial bug from a young age. My dad was an entrepreneur and I really admired him. I’ve always had it in the back of my head that I’d like to start my own venture and go out on my own.
Eric, my co-founder, had left Google a few months before to start to work on his own projects for a startup. He pitched me that I come work with him to sort of test out what it would be like to be co-founders and work on a startup together. I took leave from Google, and we started a project that was totally unrelated to Kapwing, just a starter project. I loved it so much. I loved the speed and ownership that comes with working on a startup and working on your own. That was my journey to entrepreneurship.
I tell that story for a few reasons. I think that a lot of people think that people who go into computer science have been coding since they were in middle school and that was definitely not the case for me. I took my first class the fall of my sophomore year. Even if you don’t have that much experience with it, you can grow your career as an engineer. Don’t be afraid to start late.
I think that a lot of people think that people who go into computer science have been coding since they were in middle school and that was definitely not the case for me. I took my first class the fall of my sophomore year. Even if you don’t have that much experience with it, you can grow your career as an engineer. Don’t be afraid to start late.
Could you share a little bit about what a typical work day might look like for you? And what is your favorite part about your job?
Yes, I love so many things about my job! I always wake up in the morning and go for a head-clearing run. Most of the time, I’ll do a little bit of work from home, then come into the office from 10 till 6. The majority of my day, I have meetings, and then a bit of heads down time, responding to emails and writing up docs. Four years into Kapwing, I don’t code almost at all. Whereas in the early days, we were coding basically a hundred percent of our time. So my job has shifted a lot.
One of my favorite things about my job is that it’s just constantly new learnings. I need to learn how to recruit people. How to onboard an executive. How to lead an all-hands. I think that’s just part of being a CEO. You have to be able to jump into new things constantly.
Another big thing that I love about my job now is just the people I go to work with. It’s kind of lonely in the early days of a startup. It’s just you and your co-founder. But now Kapwing has 35 people, and every single person just brings so much energy, a new perspective, different skills and knowledge. That has been so energizing and fun to see our culture grow organically.
Speaking of your company culture, I did find the Kapwing company blog and really enjoyed reading some of your posts. Why did you decide to share your experience of growing a startup, and to do so with such refreshing honesty?
The first reason that we started writing the blog way back in the day was because of SEO basically, so we wanted our website to rank on Google. In order to get people to pay attention to our website, we were telling this story of the journey of building our product.
But then after we wrote those very first articles, I also just loved doing it. It was very cathartic for me. I would write, and do write, for the blog even if it didn’t help us grow. I felt like I didn’t have the same kind of guidance when I was going through some of those problems. So, one way that I cope with the loneliness of entrepreneurship is sharing my own experience and building community with other entrepreneurs.
Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about your company, Kapwing. Why was it important to you and your team to make sure that the app runs and runs well on Chrome OS?
The first thing is full circle back to the beginning of this conversation. Students and educators have always been a key part of Kapwing’s mission. Video is a key medium for how students in today’s world learn and express themselves. That has only become even more important during the pandemic when remote learning became a thing, and so many teachers were creating video teaching materials for the first time. Because students and teachers have always been really near to my heart, Chrome OS of course was always a piece of that story because Chromebooks are so popular in K12 schools. We wanted to empower people that were creating on a Chromebook.
The second thing I’ll say is that in general our mission is to empower creators. A big part of our philosophy is that you should be able to create a video on any device with the same product. You shouldn’t have all these hardware requirements. You should just be able to go to the website and go. Chrome OS has a similar philosophy in a lot of ways. You should be able to quickly fire up an app or go to a website and use the web. Because of that shared mission of bringing great productivity to the web and enabling people to create from anywhere, we were really attracted to working with the Chrome and Chrome OS team.
I know as part of the optimizations the Kapwing team did, they implemented a variety of web APIs like Indexed DB, Web Audio, and Web Codecs. What was that process like and what performance improvements were you able to achieve? Did you receive any positive or negative feedback from customers?
The good and the bad of working on Kapwing is that it’s barely possible to build a fully online editor. With Kapwing, you are able to create your video fully in the browser. The frontend piece of that, rendering the high resolution video and having responsive tools. That is a hard technical problem. Because of that we had to work really closely with the Chrome team to figure out how to support this snappy, responsive, and collaborative UI that we were dreaming about. We were able to leverage several different emerging technologies.
The main core feedback from users is always about the responsiveness of the website. If you drag things around or move things, does it respond as the user is changing things. That’s all about, are we rendering things efficiently? In order to do that, we’ve done all sorts of optimizations, like how thumbnails appear in the timeline, how videos appear on the frontend, and how audio plays when it’s rendered. That gives you a sense of why we decided to work so closely with the Chrome team and the benefit for users. It used to be that you could not make a video on Kapwing that had hundreds of layers; the browser would just freeze. And now you can make videos with hundreds of layers easily! The improvements have definitely helped with our stability and reliability as a product.
So, what’s next for you and the Kapwing team?
One thing is that we are working on launching Kapwing into the Google Play Store, so that people can install the app on Chromebooks and on Android. That’s a big initiative that we’re working with the Chrome OS team on.
We had lots of launches in February. And more coming soon around how to make video editing faster using AI and machine learning. Basically, automate a lot of the tedious tasks that creators have to go through in order to tell their story. We launched a feature called Smart Cut which automatically removes silences or dead space in your video. Normally this can take hours per video, but with Kapwing it’s at least ten times faster.
Going forward, we’re also thinking a lot about our business model and how to sell not only to individuals but also to creative teams that are working together to create something. We’re optimizing for collaboration. How does a team work together? How do we leave comments and mentions on video so that creative teams can work together to make even better and more things.
Yes! We’re very excited for Kapwing to be on the Play Store as well!
Looking back on your career so far, are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you want to share, especially as a woman in this industry?
There are so many things! Well, one is to don’t underestimate the power of believing that you can learn something. Believing that every skill you have is something you develop through practice and you can get better at over time. Having a growth mindset is so important in life and career. If you ever catch yourself thinking that you’re just not good at that thing, try and recognize and reverse that thinking. Because it will drain your energy. It’s especially important for women in tech, because there are so many opportunities for you to feel like you’re just not cut out for it or not capable. And it’s just not true.
The second thing. I would say, in everything you do in life, you just have to enjoy the journey. That’s also been so important to me with Kapwing too. Have fun along the way. Don’t stress too much. Try to bring levity into your work and life. Having a spirit of abundance and gratitude for everything you do is so important.
If you ever catch yourself thinking that you’re just not good at that thing, try and recognize and reverse that thinking. Because it will drain your energy. It’s especially important for women in tech, because there are so many opportunities for you to feel like you’re just not cut out for it or not capable. And it’s just not true.
With that same growth mindset and gratitude, I hope that we can all celebrate women everywhere during this Women’s History month (and every month!).
My sincere thanks to Julia for sharing her story with us. Happy International Women’s Day!