Women in Streaming Interview – Interview with Zoe Liu

Intro: In the “Women in Streaming” series of articles, we talk to incredible women who have contributed a lot to the growth of the video streaming industry and share their stories. In this series installment, we talk to Zoe Liu, the Co-Founder and CTO of Visionular.

zoe liu

Zoe Liu is the Co-Founder & CTO of Visionular, a leading on-prem and cloud API solution provider in video transcoding, intelligent processing, and video streaming. Before co-founding Visionular, Zoe Liu was a Staff Software Engineer with the Google Chrome Media team for five years.

Thank you, Zoe, for agreeing to sit with us for this interview. It is a pleasure to talk to you and hear about your experiences. 

Please tell our audience a little bit about yourself and your career before you co-founded Visionular.

I earned my Ph.D., ME, and BE from Tsinghua University and another Ph.D. from Purdue University. My thesis was titled “Layered Scalable And Low Complexity Video Encoding: New Approaches And Theoretic Analysis.”

I have published over 50 international conference and journal papers and filed over 50 international patent applications.

Before I founded Visionular, I worked as a Staff Software Engineer with the Google Chrome Media team for five years. During my time there, I significantly contributed to developing and finalizing the open-source video codec standard AV1.

I also took on the Principal Contributor and Technical Lead roles for several renowned video real-time communications products, such as Apple FaceTime, Tango VideoCall, and Google Glass VideoCall.

zoe liu interview in women in streaming

Why did you become an entrepreneur, and what led you to start Visionular?

I founded Visionular with my partner Zheng Zhu in July 2018. Before that, my background was mainly in engineering. I got my first Ph.D. at Tsinghua University in 2000 and came to the United States immediately to receive my second Ph.D. from Purdue University.

Both of my Ph.D. theses focused on imaging and video codecs.

After working with many different research labs, e.g., Bell Labs, Nokia Research Center, Sun Labs, and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs, I decided to take on engineering roles at Apple and, subsequently, Google.

But, I feel every single silicon valley engineer has a dream to create a startup. And, I was no different from this. I, too, had such an item on my bucket list.

I have been working on codecs since school, and having a startup dedicated to this field seems natural, more than anything else.

However, a couple of things cleared my path –

  • Joining the WebM team with Chrome Media at Google
  • Meeting my co-founder Zheng when I was giving a talk for Google in Beijing in 2017.

With the booming media industry, it became clear that it was the right time to start up on my own.

Do you think being a woman entrepreneur has its challenges? If yes, what are those, and how do you overcome them?

I don’t feel any specific challenges for women entrepreneurs from external environments exist. I have received unanimous support from my family and friends. We’ve also gained the trust of our customers.

I’ve never felt that I am different from other entrepreneurs, regardless of gender. We are all focused on business, products, and technologies.

As a mother, I have responsibilities that go beyond my professional life. Visionular just celebrated its 5th anniversary, which coincidentally aligns with my older son completing high school and getting ready to start his college journey in the fall.

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I’ve had to undertake a fair amount of domestic and international travel due to my professional commitments, which sometimes makes me feel guilty about not being able to spend more time raising my children, especially as my son will soon leave home.

Nonetheless, I’ve made it a point to share my experiences with him.

Life is full of ups and downs, and startups encounter challenges daily. When my son asks me what I would do in certain situations, I emphasize the importance of dedication.

To establish long-term relationships with our customers and our team, we should strive to create two types of happiness, as Eric Yuan from Zoom mentioned: happiness for team members and happiness for employees.

It’s essential to empathize with others and be considerate of their perspectives. By benefiting others, we inadvertently foster our growth.

zoe liu women in streaming

As you might have noticed, there are fewer women in tech roles. What do you think needs to change to improve gender diversity in tech?

I believe that one of the critical elements to improving gender diversity in tech is fostering a sense of self-confidence in women from an early age. We need to encourage girls to explore the fields of science and technology, show them that they can excel in these areas, and support their interests and curiosity.

When we talk about self-confidence, it’s also about feeling confident that you’ll be supported by your environment (schools, families, friends, and workplaces).

Creating supportive, inclusive work environments where women feel valued and heard is equally important. Companies should create a culture that encourages diverse perspectives and ideas and ensures everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves.

zoe liu interview in women in streaming

What is your advice to people wanting to start in the video industry? Any hot areas to explore vs. stay away from?

Talking about hot areas, as we are in deep tech, it’s difficult not to mention GPT and other Generative-AI tools. 

I’ve noticed that Generative AI is rapidly being applied to video and image compression but focused only on improved quality and lower bitrates. It is essential to also work on computational efficiency and adapting to different characteristics and use cases.

For now, though, the traditional 2D+Transform framework remains the dominant and promising approach for compression.

I’d still advise people to 

  • monitor developments in the AI+codec domain by reading IEEE Journals
  • and using the fundamental building blocks (Shannon’s theory, etc.) as a solid foundation for innovation.  

Finally, we come to our rapid-fire section – a list of fun questions about you.

  • Favorite way to relax: Go for a run
  • Favorite cuisine: East Asian Cuisine
  • Favorite travel destination: Exploring small towns I have yet to visit and immersing myself in diverse cultures
  • Favorite movie or web series: The Lord of the Rings
  • Favorite sport: Long-distance running
  • Favorite airport to transit: Singapore Changi Airport, bridging the East and West.

Thank you, Zoe for this wonderful interview and we wish you all the best.

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