September 29, 2023

A conversation with Anna Chalon, Head of People at Runway

Runway is revolutionizing the world of content creation with AI. It’s one of the companies at the center of this massive technological leap—their tech is used to create mind-bending ads, TV shows, viral videos, and Oscar-winning films. But their vision is massive: to empower everyone with creative superpowers. After we led their Series C, Runway raised a new round of funding in partnership with Google, Nvidia, and Salesforce. They also understand how to nurture their community with ingenious events like an AI film festival, a studio that produces original content, a partners program, and more.

With all these amazing things going on, I was excited to chat with their Head of People, Anna Chalon. Anna and I discussed how they are growing: from scaling to 100 employees and thinking beyond, how they structure interviews, her approach to the People function, and their general approach to culture and hiring immigrants. In true Runway fashion, we managed to get a lot of this done async, which is a testament to how work gets done at the company.

According to Anna, scaling one of the hottest companies is “all about constant questioning of what makes sense at what stage of the company.”

Who works at Runway and how work gets done

Anna describes the Runway team as talented, driven, and hardworking but says the key differentiator is how humble and open-minded Runway employees are. This combination of traits is rare but contributes to the overall culture. Anna believes that coming to work should be both “challenging (in a good way) and rewarding,” so it’s vital to hire people who contribute to that environment and that ethos.  

Runway was founded by immigrants who met at NYU, and as an immigrant herself, Anna works with an immigration lawyer and supports candidates and employees actively throughout visa sponsorship. She personally handles all the visa processes with the company’s immigration lawyer. Her personal attention to this gives merit to how intentional their immigration process and focus is. The backgrounds and experiences of Runway’s founders make them especially supportive of the immigrant journey.

In a prior Felicis interview, CEO and co-founder Cris Valenzuela said, “Being an immigrant has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there are a lot of logistical challenges. It's a journey filled with time-consuming processes, obstacles, and bureaucratic hurdles—each requiring its fair share of patience and perseverance. We've navigated a labyrinth of paperwork and barriers just to secure the opportunity to work on Runway inside the US. We had so much figuring out to do at the beginning. We care deeply about building a diverse workplace, which also includes having people from different cultures and supporting immigrants from various countries.” 

According to Anna, “the goal is to create a unified culture where everyone feels equally included regardless of where they are based,” and they take multiple approaches to accomplish that. Thinking of themselves as “Remote first” vs. hybrid helps to avoid some of the challenges that can arise from a “dual culture” approach. This means no one in NYC is required to come into the office, and everyone joins company meetings from their laptops so everyone has the same experience. Further, company meeting times are alternated as much as possible every other week to be mindful of people on the West Coast and in places like New Zealand and Europe, where time zone challenges can be hardest.  

There is a heavy emphasis on creating connection and positive employee experience: much of this happens through asynchronous communication using Slack and interpersonal collaboration tools like Donut. Onboarding is a top priority, and every new hire comes to NYC their first week in addition to two weeks a year of team bonding in NYC, including their annual AI film festival.  

The People function at Runway

Anna’s approach to the People team is thoughtful but execution focused, so it’s no surprise that she has a lean but efficient team—it’s just four people (including herself) focused on recruiting, HR, and coordination. Who she hires is interesting: she’s laser-focused on delivery, so she hires executors and great project managers who can drive things to completion, not the traditional People profile focused exclusively on “friendliness.” She values problem solvers with a strong sense of ownership and ties that profile directly to a better experience for employees and candidates.

The challenge of hiring during the AI boom

Many roles that Runway is hiring for are very competitive right now—especially those focused on AI/Research since it’s a relatively new field and candidates are in demand. For anyone interested, a standard process usually looks like the one outlined below, and they try to move from screen to offer within ten days (sometimes faster). This focus on a transparent and speedy process is no surprise given the focus on "experience" that is at the core of everything Anna and her team do.

  • Phone screen with a recruiter 
  • Hiring Manager Video Call
  • Take home assignment or live assignment
  • Main Round (usually including a peer, someone cross-functional, maybe another hands-on exercise, hiring manager, or recruiter check-in)
  • Final Round with Cris (CEO)
  • References 
  • Offer 

Runway is currently looking for a Research Director, Generative AI, an AI Research Team Lead, or a Product Manager for AI tools.

It’s an incredible time to join this rocket ship of a company; if you’re interested in other opportunities at Runway, check out their careers page.