Cartoon Raccoons Lampoon Startup Life

I was too busy to write a regular column this week. Or maybe I’ve simply run out of weighty things to say about mobile gadgets, digital media, the future of journalism, and the like. In any case, I thought I’d entertain you instead with a few of my favorite startup cartoons. These animated shorts all satirize some aspect of life at a technology startup, whether it’s fundraising, social media marketing, dealing with journalists, or adopting a “lean startup” methodology.

All of these shorts were made using Xtranormal, a Web-based moviemaking tool that I first wrote about a couple of years ago. The Montreal-based startup that created Xtranormal and its desktop cousin, called State, lets users pick from a few stock characters and settings, then applies text-to-speech technology to turn users’ scripts into dialogue “acted” by the animated characters. Writers can even choose camera angles and add pauses, gestures, and basic inflections.

In my first column about Xtranormal, I wrote that the company’s “easy-to-use toolkit of commands and its endearing cartoon people give it the feel of a big Lego set for adults.” Which turns out to be pretty funny, since some of Xtranormal’s newer characters actually are Lego people. But the most popular characters seem to be the “Pawz” people—vaguely anime-inspired raccoons (or maybe they’re dogs or teddy bears) with big eye patches.

Overall the technology is pretty amazing, but what I really like about Xtranormal is its primitiveness. These days, you can do a lot to enhance synthesized speech with emotion and nuance (pun intended). But the algorithms behind Xtranormal’s free moviemaking tool are at least a couple of years old, meaning the characters deliver their lines in a flat, deadpan tone that can render even badly written copy hilarious.

I wish I knew who created all these videos, but Xtranormal actually makes it pretty difficult to find out. The last one, however, was my own concoction.

Warning: Xtranormal is great at TTSW (text-to-swear-word) technology, so most of these videos are very NSFW. Listen with headphones on.

Stupid Questions VCs Ask

I Will Honor the Embargo

Lean Startups

What’s a Meme?

So You Want to Start a Web Startup

Pitching a Venture Capitalist

Social Media Lunch

I Need an iPhone 4


Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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5 responses to “Cartoon Raccoons Lampoon Startup Life”

  1. Paul Barrett says:


    While I usually like your regular column, you have made my day with this collection.

    To anyone who has ever launched a company or tried to raise capital I highly recommend watching these videos, they are priceless!

  2. tom summit says:


    I’m curious about xtra normal. I believe I saw somewhere that the CEO is from the North Shore MA. area. I actually think I met him at a North Shore Web Geeks meetup last year.

    any info would be of great interest.

  3. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @Tom – Xtranormal is an intriguing company. You can see my first story about them here: I don’t know much else about them, but Fairhaven Capital in Cambridge is one of their investors. They exhibited at the Virtual Worlds conferences in New York two or three years ago, but they seem to keep a pretty low profile.