Synthesia or the Rise of “Video as Code”

We all have insatiable appetite for video, both in our personal and professional lives. Time and again, video is shown to capture our attention better than any other medium. This is increasingly how we learn, explore, collaborate and get entertained.

However, especially in an enterprise context, creating professional-quality video remains a complex and costly endeavor. For all the capabilities of smartphones, most companies still need studio-level equipment to produce enterprise-grade videos: cameras, sound equipment, actors, post-production editing. The process is time-consuming, and not very scalable. Shooting a video in multiple languages, for example, requires multiple actors or dubbing, Any update requires everyone to go back to the studio.

But what if video could be just… code? What if it could be infinitely flexible and customizable at scale, as simple as an API call?

Today we’re excited to announce that FirstMark led a $12.5M Series A investment in Synthesia – a fast-growing startup that offers exactly that.

Synthesia makes creating a business video as simple as writing an email or putting together a powerpoint presentation – a compelling “text to video” experience.

The core of Synthesia is powerful AI that enables the creation and customization of avatars, based on a library of real actors and, increasingly, synthetic characters. Since they are just code, the avatars can say anything, in any language, opening the door to mass customization of video at scale.

See what this looks like:

Synthesia is first and foremost an AI company, with a deep technical bench. In addition to CEO Victor Riparbelli and and COO/CFO Steffen Tjerrild, the company’s co-founders include two world-class professors: Lourdes Agapito (Professor of 3D Computer Vision at University College London) and Matthias Niessner (Professor and Head of the Visual Computing & Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Technical University Munich). Under their leadership, the company has put together a very impressive R&D team expanding the frontier of what’s possible in AI synthetic video generation.

I was introduced to the founders a couple of years ago, and have been incredibly impressed with their progress and execution.

As is often the case in the early days of companies that subsequently go on to become iconic, Synthesia’s product at first felt a little bit like a “toy” – an incredibly intriguing concept, but not yet ready for prime time, with too much services involved and a seemingly small market (bespoke advertising campaigns, etc.).

Since that first encounter, Synthesia has done a remarkable job evolving into a productized, enterprise-ready API offering. They’ve also built a very interesting Go to Market motion where the public version of the product drives considerable interest, and creates a strong pipeline of inbound enterprise customers, which drive the bulk of Synthesia’s revenues.

The team has smartly focused its initial enterprise efforts on important but “low stakes” internal use cases, such as training or employee onboarding – for example, videos to train fast-food employees in their native languages in multiple locations around the world, replacing the manual or PDF that no one reads. As Synthesia’s core technology rapidly matures, the product is increasingly used in all sorts of customer-facing use cases.

Lastly: there are inevitable questions that arise in connection with AI synthetic videos. My personal belief is that the evolution towards synthetic media is both exciting and inevitable, and over time our culture will learn to adapt, just like we did for cinema, Photoshop and Instagram content filters. In the meantime, Synthesia is very focused on the ethics of this question. In particular, it’s important to note that Synthesia’s platform does *not* enable the broad public to create “deepfake” videos (where one would take the image of a real person and make them say something, without the person’s consent). The company has worked hand in hand with certain celebrities and advertising agencies on specific campaigns, but in a very controlled environment, and ultimately, this is not the company’s core business.

Very much looking forward to working with the Synthesia team and the group of existing and new investors including Seedcamp, LDV Capital, MMC Ventures, TinyVC, Mark Cuban, Taavet Hinrikus, Martin Varsavsky, Christian Bach (CEO, Netlify), Michael Buckley (VP Communications, Twilio) and Eli Portnoy (CEO of our portfolio company Sense360, recently acquired by Medallia).

Coverage in TechCrunch: here

Coverage in VentureBeat: here

Synthesia co-founders Victor Riparbelli, Steffen Tjerrild, Matthias Niessner, Lourdes Agapito

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