tech startups

"Hiring was a challenge for a long time" with Julia Enthoven, CEO of Kapwing

Julie Enthoven

Julia Enthoven is the founder and CEO of Kapwing, an online video, image, and GIF editor. She worked as a product manager at Google before launching the first version of Kapwing in October 2017. Backed by CRV and KPCB, Kapwing is a Series A company and based in San Francisco. 

Can you tell our readers about your background? 

I’m originally from Dallas but moved to California to start college at Stanford. Originally, I was interested in econometrics and public policy and then, unexpectedly, fell in love with computer science. I had never taken a computer science class until my second year at Stanford, but I immediately took to the pace, challenge, and impact of tech. I did a couple of engineering internships and ended up at Google as an Associate Product Manager after school. After two years, I left Google to start Kapwing. 

What inspired you to start your business? 

My dad has been an entrepreneur for most of his career, so I grew up dreaming about running my own business. I would talk with him about his new business problems and learned from his intuition and negotiation skills. When a former coworker pitched to me that I leave Google to cofound a company with him, I decided to take the leap into Startup Land.

My co-founder, Eric, and I came up with the idea for Kapwing through our own product pain using popular video editing software. We started out building video editing tools from scratch and eventually unified the tools in a robust web platform that is now Kapwing. 

Where is your business based?

Our team is based in San Francisco.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

We started by building a website that helped people make one specific format: an image, video, or GIF with text embedded above it. We had seen this “meme-style” content on social media and knew that making the format with professional editing programs like iMovie was challenging, so we felt like there was an opportunity to bring this tool online. 

My co-founder and I are both software engineers, so we put up a landing page with an email subscription box and spent about three weeks building the MPV. After we launched the first version of the meme maker, we immediately got users through Google search. Those were our first users and customers, and their early feedback helped us develop the vision and subsequent products. 

About three weeks after the initial launch, we added a payment page and started charging people to remove a watermark from their output video. Over time, this revenue stream grew and extended our personal runway. 

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business? 

Organic search has been our most effective acquisition channel, but you can only rank on Google if you can get a diverse set of credible sites to link back to your domain. To build backlinks, we have done press stunts, written newsworthy blog posts, and launched compelling design collections. In 2018, we were nominated for Product Hunt Makers of the Year. 

Although we have no experience with marketing, our scrappy, non-traditional tactics quickly built awareness and brought thousands of users to our website. We continued to invest heavily in content marketing and SEO, even though we’ve grown and diversified our acquisition channels.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them? 

Hiring was a challenge for a long time. It’s very hard to find people who are excellent in their role, enthusiastic about what we’re working on, willing to leave their current company, and a good culture fit, especially in the Bay Area. We wanted to ensure that our engineering team had gender balance from day one, adding an additional challenge to an already difficult recruiting process. 

We’ve overcome the challenge by applying scrappy, organic, content-first techniques to source more candidates. We’ve tried a lot of things, most of which didn’t work, and we’ve been able to bring on more than 11 excellent full-time employees. 

How do you stay focused?

It’s hard. Some days, I rat hole into something that doesn’t matter much for the business and waste time. I increase my productivity significantly when I make a checklist and go through each item 1 by 1. I keep a notepad by my keyboard where I can add new items to the to-do list. I also ask my teammates to give me feedback and to hold me accountable for keeping my word and honoring my calendar. 

How do you differentiate your business from the competition? 

Kapwing is simpler, more accessible, and more collaborative than other multimedia editing programs. We designed the tools from a task-first perspective, meaning they’re much easier to learn and use than professional editing software. Second graders use it every day!

Kapwing is fully online, making it faster and more accessible than programs you have to install onto your desktop or phone. Because we use remote servers, video processing doesn’t heat up your device, and it works on phones, computers, Chromebooks, and tablets. You can use the tools for free forever with no watermark.

Lastly, Kapwing enables real-time collaboration. People can work on projects together in real-time, and people can access colleagues' projects. All of Kapwing’s projects are re-editable and shareable, eliminating the need for asynchronous feedback and speeding up the workflow for remote teams.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business? 

SEO has been by far our most effective acquisition channel. Content marketing on our blog and on YouTube helps us reach entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and people looking for specific tutorials on the internet. We’ve also launched some beautiful design collections like the Museum of Websites and funny tools like Cartoonify, bringing exposure and backlinks to Kapwing. So far, our tactics have been 100% organic.

We also add a Kapwing watermark to all of the output videos, GIFs, and images made with Kapwing. That watermark has helped us spread brand awareness across the internet as Kapwing-watermarked media goes viral on Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. We even had a watermarked commercial featured on primetime TV!

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs? 

The market is brutal, and your first idea likely won’t work. So, I recommend that entrepreneurs don’t commit to one idea too quickly. You want to embrace the likelihood of failure when designing your solution since it will need to morph and change as you experiment, learn, and adapt to market changes. Find motivation from the team you’re working with and your customer’s pain point instead of from your specific product. 

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

App - Huge Google Photos fan. I feel they continued to add exactly the features I’ve been asking for, like photo scan and live albums. 

Blog - The Kapwing Blog, obviously! Besides that, I’ve enjoyed the Canny blog. IndieHackers and Atrium also have great content. 

Books -- I have different favorites for different parts of my life. For work, I highly recommend everyone (men and women) read Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn. For business learnings, I’ve also enjoyed Radical Candor and The Hard Thing About Hard Things. My two favorite books (the most enjoyable) in the last year were Bad Blood and When Breath Becomes Air

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

Kapwing is my first recommendation since we use it for making content marketing videos and editing ads constantly. I also think HackerNews is an amazing forum because of the visibility it has in the tech community. Our posts on HackerNews have brought us more traffic than almost any other space. 

Who is your business role model? Why? 

I look up to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Canva’s Melanie Perkins a huge amount. I can relate to Melanie; she was a young, female founder with an idea in a similar space as Kapwing, and she struggled with fundraising and hiring too in Canva’s early days. 

What is your beauty routine? What are some of your favorite products? 

I use a simple foundation, eyeshadow, and mascara combo just about every day. Most days, I go to work with wet hair because I work out in the mornings and let it dry naturally. No special products to mention here!

How do you balance work and life? 

Having work/life balance is important to me personally and as a manager; I want all of my teammates to be able to live happy, healthy lives outside of the office. I work out almost every day before work, even though it means that I’m not the first one in the office. Most of the team ends the workday around 6 or 7, and I don’t expect people to work on the weekends. 

I’m also part of several communities through my investors where I get to meet other founders at dinners, happy hours, and speaking events. I’ve loved getting to know other entrepreneurs because they get it and can empathize with the emotional intensity of running a company. Even though I clock more hours in the office, I feel that I have more balance now that I’m working for myself than I did when I was working at Google because I’m much more passionate about my work and closer to my team.

What’s your favorite way to decompress? 

Napping, mostly. Sleep cures all things :) I also try to make room for an hour-long run every day where I can clear my head and enjoy being outside. Nature and the Bay Area views reduce stress. Plus, I was a broad network for friends in the Bay Area and other places who help keep me balanced and who support me.

What do you have planned for the next six months? 

Some exciting product launches, including real-time collaboration on video projects, shared workspaces, and native apps. We’re also hiring aggressively and hoping to double the team in the next six months. Stay tuned for more news!

How can our readers connect with you?

They can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn and reach out! Friends of Kapwing can also follow the journey of growing a startup on Kapwing’s Instagram account. Also, we’re hiring -- check out our open roles at kapwing.com/jobs