September 28, 2021

Meet the twins behind the future of animation: Luigi and Guido Rosso, Co-Founders, Rive

Caleb Bushner
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Meet the twins behind the future of animation: Luigi and Guido Rosso, Co-Founders, RiveMeet the twins behind the future of animation: Luigi and Guido Rosso, Co-Founders, Rive
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Editor's note: 
Welcome to the Unusual Founders Spotlight series! The goal of this series is to introduce the founders in our portfolio who are currently building the future across categories and industries.

When Flash wound down, nothing filled its place. In the intervening decade, the vacuum it left only grew: The world's appetite for great animation has gone through the roof as mobile games and animated apps have surged in popularity. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Design, Editing, and Rendering Software was estimated at $27.7B and projected to grow to $40.5B by 2027. Yet, despite the interest in great animation, creating digital experiences is still a cumbersome process for designers and developers. 

Flash grew in popularity not just for web experiences, but for all product categories (desktop, mobile, tablets, car dashboards, smart TVs and fridges, etc.) and was also an integral part of the gaming market thanks to Scaleform (a discontinued middleware package that allowed Flash vector graphics to work with game engines). Today’s product design tools often have limited animation functionality — if any — and game development tools are complex and require specific engines to run. Further, the process of designing and implementing animation is slow and prone to inconsistencies. Any revision to the assets requires further iterations of the entire process and multiple touchpoints between design and engineering teams.

Guido and Luigi Rosso, twin Co-Founders of Rive, are uniquely familiar with the challenges facing designers and developers. Guido, a designer, and Luigi, a developer, have spent the last 15 years building companies that designed and developed mobile, web, and TV user interfaces for Fortune 500 companies. Their second startup was acquired by Intel to build Intel’s OnCue TV platform. Throughout their various experiences, the design-to-developer handoff was a constant source of frustration. Designed assets took countless cycles of iteration with engineers to implement, and required copious designer time to provide various measurements and specs to the engineers. Further adding to the problem, designs and animations were often drastically different in production than intended at the design stage. As a result — and after an “aha” moment in the form of a nudge from an outside source — the brothers aimed to create a platform that seamlessly allowed designers to develop assets and productionize them in real-time.

We recently sat down with Guido and Luigi and discussed why they consider being twin co-founders their superpower, their biggest fundraising tip for aspiring entrepreneurs, and more.

Unusual: Tell us a little about yourselves and your backgrounds.

Guido: Luigi and I are twins and we obviously have known each other our entire lives, but we started to work together in high school. The first company we worked on focused on design and development. Really early on, Luigi and I decided that we were going to split the duties and be complementary to each other. Meaning, Luigi did all the engineering and I headed up the design. It stayed like this our entire careers from that point. Luigi really specializes in low level engineering — he was building game engines and doing all kinds of cool graphics and physics even in high school — and I really went deeper on the design side. That’s kind of been the definition of our relationship — we’re this design duo combo that has turned into our superpower. 

Unusual: Twin brothers is a unique and rare co-founder combo. What would you say the pros and cons are of working with your twin brother? Did you receive any pushback from investors in terms of working with family?

Guido: I think one of the pros is that we definitely know how to speak candidly to one another. We’ve spent a lifetime practicing our communication dynamic, so that comes really naturally. We also know that we have each other’s back and that if we critique one another the intention is to either improve the product that we’re working on or the problem we’re trying to solve. Finally, the complementary nature of having a designer and developer who really understand both sides helps remove silos in our companies that I think other companies can struggle with. For us, it’s a lot more about just working together. In terms of cons, it’s always hard when you have a personal relationship and work relationship with anyone. There’s extra challenges there. I think we’re fortunate because we’ve worked together for so long that it’s a little easier for us to detach and know that we don’t take stuff personally. But, it is impossible to completely break the two things apart. It can be challenging to break away when it’s so entrenched in your family life. It’s just part of your life really, which in some ways is awesome and then sometimes you really have to be conscious to put work aside. 

Re: pushback from investors, I was worried we would, but I can’t think of a single moment where we actually did receive negative feedback. In fact, I would almost argue that it’s a bit of a hack and superpower to have a twin co-founder because it’s part of being memorable. Being smart about taking advantage of that can be powerful because investors wanted to meet the twin co-founders. It’s exciting and different. And so, we were very fortunate through no real merit of our own. 

Luigi: One of the cons is that sometimes Guido and I gel so well that we have a tendency of going into our own world. It can be hard to pull back and realize, “Wait, not everyone has context on this. Let’s bring everyone else back in.” We are really close with our current team and they get this about us, but it’s also really important to make sure that we’re cautious about this when bringing in new people to make sure they feel like they can be heard too. It’s also important we make sure there’s space for them to jump in because we really do have this very candid approach where everyone is encouraged to speak up and say what they think is right or wrong. I think sometimes that can be hard if you’re coming into a situation where you see this really tight knit group. 

Unusual: Can you talk me through your “aha” moment that led you to start working on Rive?

Guido: I think someone actually had that “aha” moment for us. It’s funny because we were building apps and interactive animation stuff basically since we started. At a certain point after we sold one of our startups to Intel, we went back into our roots and said, “For a little bit, we’re done with the big corporate stuff. We want to do something smaller.” We were just going to try out video games and that led us on the path towards building this real-time editor for creating characters, props, and animations for games. Someone from Google came and told us about the difficulty they were having animating part of an app that they were building. He looked at our animation software and said, “Well, this could really help our team!” That was our “aha” moment where we were like, “Oh my gosh — we literally need this tool too.” But at the time, we were focused on the game side. We’ve been on the product side for so long that we didn’t even realize that this was totally a hole that’s been left by Flash. That was when we realized, there’s a real need for a design tool that helps designers drive the vision, the creation, and the interactivity of assets — essentially, the ability to create a real asset the way Flash used to be really strong at. By creating a real asset that’s ready to go, a team can plug into their app and manipulate it with code or have it respond to different states. It’s funny that we had all the technology built to create such a platform, but we were so gung ho and focused on getting back to games that we missed the connection to the product world. Someone else needed to make the connection for us.

Luigi: That whole interaction with Google is why there are a lot of product-based design features that we put into the Rive platform, but also have a lot of features that resonate with game developers too. We looked at this problem from a real-time animation perspective, which traditionally has only been necessary for games. Now that apps are getting much more interactive and have much more gamified moments, it’s interesting to see how much the engineering and design worlds correlate. I think we were in the right place at the right time to hear that and get a little bit slapped in the head like, “What are you doing? This is a huge opportunity you’re missing.”

Unusual: What excites you the most about what you’re building at Rive?

Guido: I think what’s particularly exciting over these last few weeks to month is that we’ve seen a ramp up in bigger name companies interested in using Rive. We used to try to make the relationships happen or think, “Someday, someone will use Rive and make it the next big thing.” And now, we’re getting inbound from big companies organically. We have a few big things in the works that we unfortunately can’t share right now, but it’s exciting to be at a stage where companies we only dreamed about using our platform are coming to us like, “Wow, this is really cool. Check out this thing we built on Rive. We just showed it off at an internal conference and it’s going to be the future of our company.” It’s just incredibly flattering and exciting because it feels like we’re picking up some pretty solid steam with the format and platform as a whole. 

Luigi: Just watching the adoption pick up and seeing how it’s going to impact other platforms and apps. It’ll be really exciting when we can see that animation as a whole comes back a bit. We had Flash and all of a sudden there were all these sites that were really creative — some for the worse, some for the better —and then that interactivity disappeared. Now you have a little bit of animation, but it’s very cookie cutter. I think it’ll be really exciting to see animation start going back into all these interactive apps and hopefully Rive will be a big part of that.

Unusual: You both have a long entrepreneurial history. What is so appealing about being an entrepreneur that keeps you coming back for more?

Guido: We didn’t jump into this line of work to make some money or anything along those lines. We genuinely love what we do — it’s something fun that we get to do together. There’s a bit of a feeling of being young again and having the freedom to do something different. For me, being an entrepreneur is the ability to explore our vision to its fullest.

Luigi: I think I’m the luckiest person alive. You get one life and not everyone gets opportunities like this. From being born twins with similar interests and who could push each other, we’ve been lucky on so many fronts. We also realized early on one of us was better at one thing and the other one was better at something else and were able to really harness those skills. Now, we get to live in one of the most amazing places in the world that’s accepting in so many different ways, but specifically accepting to new ideas and giving you the opportunity to make something of those ideas. At the same time, I’m able to raise my daughter from home and spend time with my family. My wife is also an entrepreneur and runs her business out of the house too, so she gets it. There are definitely times when that can be challenging, but ultimately, we’re not living to work. We both view this as our life’s work and we’re incredibly fortunate to have the ability to pursue this work. I think anyone who would be given this opportunity would take it. 

Unusual: Who is your biggest influence and/or inspiration and why?

Guido: As we’ve grown as a team, we’ve been talking about books we’d like to give first-time hires that match our company’s mentality. One book that really impacted my way of thinking the past two to three years was Ed Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc. After we read it, we both suddenly started quoting parts of the book and used a lot of the ideas in our company’s everyday speak. Things like candor and how to give feedback. For example, when we’re giving critiques, the critiques are based on people’s work, not their personalities or them specifically. There are a lot of gems in the book that I think are fantastic for any founder and/or anyone interested in building a startup should read.

Unusual: What is the biggest tip you’d give aspiring entrepreneurs just starting out on their journey?

Guido: One of the hardest things any founder or anybody who is growing a team under them will have to do is duplicating yourself or handing something off that you really care about to someone else. A book I recently read basically said that you need to be willing to accept that when you are trying to scale and need to hand something over to someone else, you have to be willing to accept that things will get worse for a little bit and that it’s not going to be as good as if you were to do it. The book went on to say that you need to build this into your methodology and come to terms with things being worse before they get better. However, once you work with that person or that team — if they are the right person or team — they will continue to improve. It may never be done exactly the way you were going to do it, but if you’ve hired a good person, it will eventually be done better than how you were going to do it.  Another thing Ed Catmull talks about in Creativity Inc. that applies here is embracing failure. In this example too, I think it’s important to fail at scaling yourself, so you know what doesn’t work and you can learn from that. 

Luigi: I agree with everything Guido said. I’ve struggled with this concept — I care about a lot of things and I struggle to know when to let go of certain things. At some point, founders need to let go and not want to be there for every line of code. One thing I really value from our team now is that I can step away. I really trust them, which is hard to find and took us a few tries. We had to go through a few different people to find the right people and I do think we’re at the spot where we all trust each other. There is that candor and lack of fear of bringing things up or failing and saying, “Well, we tried that and it didn’t work. Let’s try something else.” It does take a bit to find the right people to work with, which is hard when you’re trying to scale a company fast. If you’re going to grow fast, you have to be ready to let go of people fast too, which is really hard for me. So, to future founders, I would say, be ready for that.

Unusual: What’s your biggest tip for entrepreneurs in terms of fundraising?

Guido: You read so many rules — you’ve got to have this in your pitch and you’ve got to have that in your pitch. Make your pitch about your story and use that as part of your storytelling. That’s something that worked really well for us and made it feel genuine. Our product is genuine and our story is genuine. We aren’t just following some cookie cutter way of pitching and other founders shouldn’t either. Every founder has a unique story to tell and should find a way to really stand out to be memorable when you’re selling your product. As a designer, I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on selling in design school, design mentoring, and design careers. It tends to be considered a separate function or even a bad thing to be a salesman. But I think great designers need to be as good at selling their vision as they are at designing. What I mean by that is communicate in very clear terms why you are proposing the design that you are. I think that’s a skill that designer founders — and designers in general — really need to work on. 

Luigi: I think being genuine and candid really worked for us. Again, we were also really lucky. We didn’t have to pitch to as many investors as we thought we would have to and since this was our first fundraise, we went into the process pretty green. I think being so green actually worked to our advantage because we were honest about the things that we did and didn’t know. People were more willing to help us figure out what we needed to know. Another big thing was actually having something to show. If you’re building a product, have a prototype. We had a big V1 that was already out there and helped investors really visualize what we are trying to build at Rive. I think that goes such a long way because it enables you to show that you can explain the intricacies and findings of what people like about your product and why it makes a difference. A vision is great and selling on a vision is important too, but having a little bit of meat to show the proof goes far — especially at the seed stage. 

Guido: I want to add to what Luigi is saying. As a society, I think we tend to give a lot of value to ideas. We’ve learned and demonstrated multiple times now that the idea is not really the special part, but society tends to give the idea so much weight. “I had this idea first and that company invented it first, but they were treated unfairly because it was their first idea. But then, Facebook came along and did the same thing and they got all the credit for it.” The reality is that ideas are not really all that special — it’s the execution and how you build the product that matters. I would tell entrepreneurs and potential founders, as you go to fundraise, don’t make your idea so sacred or think of it so highly. Don’t ask for NDAs — I’ve heard from multiple VCs that it’s a big red flag the second a founder asks for an NDA and flat out won’t talk to a founder if they include a NDA as a requirement. Let go of your idea being special and focus on how you’re going to execute on that idea because that will determine whether someone’s going to invest in you or not. 

Unusual: What has been your most exciting moment either as entrepreneurs or co-founders of Rive?

Luigi: After we sold our previous company, I remember seeing our team’s faces when they received their individual offers. It was incredible to watch people realize they graduated to the next level and hearing them talk about their career trajectories. We had a small team of 20 at the time and it was so exciting to see everyone embrace this big change. As founders, we were really worried about how the team would feel about joining a bigger company. But the team rallied around the change and after the acquisition happened, the whole team stuck together. We became a division, even though people had the opportunity to move to other parts of this larger company. That made me really proud, especially since quite a few people were able to go and buy houses and have great lives in the Bay Area. 

Guido: A Rive-specific moment goes back to that initial story around our “aha” moment. We mentioned our “aha” moment had to do with a project we were working on with Google. When they realized the potential for the tool, they invited us on stage with them to announce Flutter was going 1.0. It was the biggest event the team had done at that point and they invited us to London to present Rive as part of the announcement. The message to people was, “Hey, if you’re building interactive animation with Flutter, you should take a look at Rive.” It was a very big — and exciting — moment for us. But, personally, the most exciting moment was after we did a live demo at the end. A live demo is always risky, but it went really well. I was excited and my adrenaline was rushing. I forgot to put my watch on “do not disturb” and as I was getting off stage with my heart pumping, my watch just started blowing up. I thought, “Gosh, this must be family members or something. You think they could wait another five minutes until we’re off stage.” But, Luigi and I quickly realized signups were coming in 100s at a time. The signups were coming in so quickly, that they crashed my phone and watch. It was nuts! That was the moment we realized we were onto something and that what we were building really resonated with people.

Learn the practical steps and specific milestones for early-stage fundraising in the Fundraising Field Guide here

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