Shehryar Akhtar of Prontopia Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Plan Thoughtfully But Nimbly — Rapid changes mean businesses need to be able to pivot quickly and thoughtfully switch direction. The future is more unpredictable than ever and businesses need to be able to adapt on the fly.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shehryar Akhtar.

Shehryar Akhtar is a seasoned technology leader with 20 years experience and a keen focus on Artificial Intelligence. He’s the Founder and CEO of Prontopia, where he’s disrupting the video creation landscape with a game-changing AI-driven solution, enabling businesses to produce high-quality videos in less than a minute. It’s a practical tool that allows businesses to create professional videos at scale, quickly and cost-effectively. Sherry’s vision is reshaping how businesses approach video marketing and content creation.

In parallel, Sherry wears the hat of CEO at Cloutel, a team focused on AI, Cloud, Data, and Information Security solutions, where he partners with Fortune 1000 companies to bring their visions to life through tailored AI and Data-driven platforms. In the tech world, Sherry’s known for his practical entrepreneurship, forward-thinking leadership, and deep-rooted expertise. He’s not just a voice but an action-oriented advocate for innovation and technology, driven by the belief that technology should uplift businesses and communities alike. Sherry’s journey is one of genuine passion, using technology to effect positive change and earning respect across the industry as he continually pushes the boundaries of what’s possible.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My journey to a career in technology and founding a startup traces back to my spark for innovation, which started when I was in college. After graduation, I dabbled in various technology ventures with mixed success for about ten years until I found my calling and established Cloutel — a thriving technology services firm.

The company delivers AI, data, cloud computing and information security solutions to a roster of clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. I thrive on complex challenges, so I love the opportunity to provide cutting-edge solutions that leverage the latest technological advancements.

Despite running a profitable services business, I wanted to launch my own product company crafted around my own vision, rather than tailoring solely to customer needs. So, when the right opening emerged three years ago, I took the plunge into the exhilarating chaos of startup life.

While my previous technology experiences equipped me in many respects, I quickly realized that steering a startup requires an entirely different level of nimbleness, risk tolerance, grit and resilience. It’s been intense, yet immensely gratifying to navigate each twist and turn as we grow into a firmly established company with a game-changing product. I can’t imagine a more exciting and fulfilling adventure at this point in my career evolution.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Prontopia resolves many challenges surrounding video content creation which often prevent good ideas from coming to life. We firmly believe visual storytelling shouldn’t be confined to those with creative expertise or big production budgets. Everyone should have access to a tool that will help them easily produce a powerful, visually compelling video for a reasonable price.

Virtually every modern business hopes to use video to market their products, yet cost and complexity create barriers to quality execution. We experienced these frustrations first-hand and realized AI advancements could eliminate many of these barriers and make video marketing more accessible to many business owners. With the right synthesis of automated creative and strategic human guidance, we could design a radically simple, cost-effective, fully-featured video creation tool.

Prontopia was created to fuse left-brain logic with right brain inspiration — to finally translate ambitious visions into finished products without intensive manual workflow or cost. By recombining cutting-edge AI with human imagination, Prontopia can produce high-quality videos similar to those produced by a video production company. By tapping into both neural networks and emotional intelligence networks, Prontopia videos will target and delight audiences and drive measurable business success.

At its core, Prontopia just wants good ideas to thrive. We arm passionate creators with an AI amplifier to get beautifully crafted stories out into the world with speed and care so they can spark change.

Our platform exists so that all businesses can have access to video’s immense ability to influence. We want to unleash greatness!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The three traits that have been most vital to my leadership success are authenticity, leading by example, and resilience.

For me, authenticity is about transparency and building genuine relationships, whether with employees, clients or partners. For example, I am very honest upfront if unrealistic asks don’t align with deliverables or our principles. Rather than overpromise, I focus discussions on finding ethical solutions. Internally, as CEO, I foster trust by maintaining open communication and welcoming critical feedback. My priority is to cultivate meaningful connections through clear and transparent dialogue.

Leading by example centers on keeping my word and matching actions to promises. I pride myself on consistently delivering whatever I personally commit to — whether hitting a delivery deadline, closing a strategic deal, or accomplishing an important milestone. If specific asks don’t make sense or align initially, I convey that respectfully from the start rather than overpromising. My integrity is rooted in taking personal responsibility for only what I know I can fully execute or influence. Especially nowadays when bold talk often eclipses grounded action, I stand behind every commitment made and ensure no balls get dropped on my watch. Both employees and external partners can rely on my habits of thorough preparedness and laser focus on agreed objectives until a project is complete.

Resilience is core to my personality. No matter the setbacks, I persist in achieving company goals. Rather than getting overwhelmed, I objectively assess challenges then course-correct as needed, without ego or stubbornness. This grit has served me well as a startup CEO facing constant resource constraints and market threats. I liken resilience to agility — not just reactive perseverance, but the ability to actively transform visions into reality at speed. As our journeys are defined less by stumbles and more by the strength to persist, my responsibility as founder is assembling leaders who can inspire and navigate storms without losing sight of our North Star.

Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

AI is disrupting video creation by automating the process of identifying, inserting and editing appropriate video footage. Complex production tasks such as editing and producing that required a lot of human effort and skill are now handled easily by artificial intelligence.

Specifically, businesses can increase their video output by ten times while cutting their production costs by eighty percent. This brings more small businesses into the fold. No longer does a business need to have creative teams and large budgets to develop a compelling video marketing campaign. These gains in efficiency can intensify competition, but as strategic early movers in video AI, we view this disruption as positive. We integrate human creativity with automation and empower our users.

Our goal is to leverage AI to unlock human potential, not drive pure labor replacement. While building the market benefits our bottom line, overreliance on technology risks commoditization. We believe melding AI capabilities with human ingenuity sustains differentiation. The machine will amplify, not replace, the human mind.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Without a doubt, generative AI has unleashed the most significant transformational impact — essentially turning basic text descriptions into full-fledged video content.

Specifically, large language models like GPT-4 exhibit uncanny natural language processing capabilities to ingest any concept, context or script ideas and instantly produce sophisticated documents, scripts, etc. The output generated by these platforms is incredible in its ability to resemble the work performed by humans.

Prontopia users have the ability to feed AI-generated scripts into equally advanced generative video models and create video with human voice-over audio that can also include visually compelling graphics, animation and target or localized video footage. Imagine a video campaign targeting an audience in Dallas that can easily be recreated so it appeals to an audience in Denver.

Businesses no longer have to hire a video production company in both cities. AI can handle the production of targeted videos for an audience in any location.

And if you want to produce an animated video, the synchronized combination of Natural Language Processing and video generation can essentially allow users to conjure up professional-grade animated and live-action videos from thin air based on a few lines of prompting. It brings unprecedented scalability to content production, bypassing many creative and budgetary barriers.

There is no denying generative AI will upend the creative industry by allowing users to easily turn their creative ideas into reality — for a fraction of the cost. Today, even beginners can be sophisticated video creators. We call this “Democratization” because economic savings accelerates adoption among a wider range of users. This unlocks latent demand and grows the market exponentially as users are able to produce radically efficient, yet still personalized, video campaigns.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

The launch of ChatGPT and advanced large language models in 2022 triggered my realization of AI’s disruptive potential. I knew it would impact almost all industries, but especially video content creation, which I could see would develop into a dynamic, highly-customizable and targeted process.

For example, I realized banks, using natural language processing, could easily target the identical financial products to different audiences — such as millennials and retirees. This would allow for better A/B testing and more robust data analysis. Ultimately this would allow a business to improve their messaging, it would also potentially allow them to identify future business opportunities.

For traditionally underserved populations, this technology has the opportunity to release pent-up demand as businesses can now easily target and market their products to these groups with an array of rich media.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

Employees will need to learn new skills that will complement emerging technologies. We’re trying to create a culture of continuous learning. This is certainly important for engineers and a part of their professional culture, but it’s now important for employees at all levels.

Going forward, we want to help our employees develop an array of new skills such as the ability to provide creative direction to generative systems. We also want to help them develop data literacy and data analysis skills as the new generative systems are providing new opportunities in this area. We also want employees with emotional intelligence, creativity and empathy. These are the employees who will be able to connect with customers and target audiences and help them find the technology solutions that best fit their needs. We believe employees with these traits will be better equipped to identify business opportunities and communicate with engineers to help creative ideas become a reality.

We aim to set our workforce up for fluid integration with AI where technology handles rote tasks while uniquely human talents elevate overall outcomes.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

We recognize we need to create a culture that helps employees and clients overcome fear, skepticism or misunderstandings about AI. We also don’t want employees or clients to fear or be threatened by emerging AI capabilities. We want to build confidence by helping our people understand AI will still have limitations and only employees with technical literacy and soft skills will be able to find the right solutions and help our clients receive a high return on their investment.

We will also need employees from diverse backgrounds who will be able to help generative AI understand how to reach and appeal to certain audiences. Additionally, these employees will need to have a strong foundation of ethical behavior. We need them to identify biases and provide values-centric guidance on issues of trust and transparency. In a world of artificial intelligence, humans — more than ever — are an important component of business success and a healthy society.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

We are keenly aware of the evolving responsibilities around ethics and unintended societal risks caused by artificial intelligence. Our platform promises immense efficiency but we’re committed to more than just creating a useful product. We also want to contribute to the collective public good.

This requires we not only consider the impact our product may have on society, we also must devote resources to ensure our clients can use it safely. This means we need to thoughtfully develop data privacy protocols, mechanisms to curb misinformation, and creative consent requirements in line with industry best practices. More importantly, we know we must conduct ongoing re-evaluation so we don’t implement set-and-forget policies.

We don’t view the development of ethics policies as just a compliance exercise. Our teams frequently discuss safety considerations, fairness nuances and moral complexities that inform our product development.

We also want to develop healthy collaboration within the industry as we believe it will prove vital to establishing the necessary guardrails around the use of artificial intelligence. We believe this will foster an environment of joint accountability.

Shehryar Akhtar

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

As AI disrupts industries, companies needing to adapt should:

  1. Rethink Where Value Comes From — AI’s changing business models will lead smart companies to identify new profit opportunities rather than cling to old ones displaced by technology. Leverage data and efficiency gains as unique advantages.
  2. Innovate Around Real Customer Frustrations — Businesses can use AI-powered personalization to identify and improving areas that matter for customers. Fixing irritations and creating robust relations with customers will start to matter more than just generic adoption. Business will benefit from creating quality over quantity.
  3. Lead With Vision While Keeping People Front and Center — Businesses need to balance technology and metrics with human needs. Don’t let technology create an environment of emotional disconnectedness. Work to build healthy, intimate relationships with customers and teams.
  4. Plan Thoughtfully But Nimbly — Rapid changes mean businesses need to be able to pivot quickly and thoughtfully switch direction. The future is more unpredictable than ever and businesses need to be able to adapt on the fly.
  5. Make Ethics a Bedrock Priority — Plan oversight, governance and transparency around AI from day one. Don’t make it an afterthought. You will, inevitably, face ethical dilemmas. Be prepared to respond within an ethical framework that focuses on societal good. Also, recognizing responding in this manner will set your company apart.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

Some common misconceptions about AI in video production that the industry needs to address:

  1. AI will replace human creativity — The video production industry needs to reinforce that AI aims to enhance and assist creativity rather than replace creators. Automating mundane production tasks allows all companies to focus people on more meaningful innovation and judgment beyond current AI abilities.
  2. AI-generated content is generic and dull — Companies need to share the innovations that allow the infusion of personal style, emotion and custom branding in AI content. Showcasing these innovations and the templates for making it happen can overcome assumptions that AI content is generic.
  3. AI innovation is bound to plateau — Companies need to recognize that immense computing infrastructure investments and rapidly iterating breakthroughs make it highly plausible for AI progress to continue surprising us at exponential paces, beyond assumptions of plateauing.
  4. AI will just amplify unfair bias — Companies need to acknowledge inefficient data models can create or exacerbate existing biases. While it would be incorrect to assume all AI will amplify bias, companies do need to demonstrate accountability and rigorous oversight to ensure any unchecked discrimination.
  5. AI may behave unpredictably — Misconceptions about AI often come from exaggerated fears that overshadow real progress. We need to focus on educating the public about the true benefits and challenges of AI. Companies should lead the conversation with honesty, not hype, and policymakers should base decisions on evidence, not fear. We’re making strides with AI, but we must do so responsibly and ethically in the form of strict testing protocols and control guardrails. Companies must also detail emergency containment procedures and provide reassurance against worst-case scenarios.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My Favorite Life Lesson Quote: “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” — Marcus Aurelius

This quote has been a grounding force in my life, particularly in my entrepreneurial journey, where uncertainties about the future can lead to anxiety. As I navigated uncharted territories, such as launching a product with emerging machine learning, the tendency to envision every obstacle as a potential catastrophe was a constant challenge.

Embracing the wisdom of this quote has shifted my perspective. Instead of letting worries amplify present difficulties, it encourages me to take a rational approach. Rather than succumbing to the emotional weight of worst-case scenarios, the quote guides me to analyze problems calmly, focusing on solutions and workarounds.

In any ambitious endeavor, unforeseen challenges can seem insurmountable when viewed in isolation. However, this quote reminds me to maintain resilience through sound judgment. It emphasizes that progress happens in the present, unaffected by the past or the future. This quote serves as a guiding light in navigating the unpredictability of entrepreneurship.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

As a startup leader, what keeps me awake at night is the fear of letting my team down, especially in an industry that is rapidly evolving and filled with uncertainties about the future.

It’s tempting to get caught up in worrying about things beyond my control — economic downturns, the impact of AI disruptions. I could easily drive myself to the edge with endless “what-if” scenarios. However, I’ve come to realize that my focus should be on what I can influence as a leader, primarily aiding my team’s growth so they can thrive in the face of external challenges.

In essence, my late-night reflections center on safeguarding the well-being of my team and steering the company towards its goals in a sustainable way. My top priority shifts to cultivating a supportive company culture where employees are encouraged to innovate and take calculated risks. I aim to nurture each person’s creativity rather than imposing rigid plans through micromanagement.

While the exact future remains unpredictable, I believe that by igniting the talent and passion within our team today, we can build resilience to navigate ongoing changes together. My success metric becomes less about immediate victories and more about witnessing the potential within our staff over the long term. Their development is the ultimate antidote to my concerns.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I envision kickstarting a new entrepreneur community — one where those who found success pay it forward by guiding struggling startups. Rather than entrepreneurs fighting alone for limited money from big investors, what if we cooperated and funded each other? Successful founders could provide small chunks of early money without demanding quick returns. Even better, they can share hard-won wisdom to shortcut pitfalls that sank early ventures before stability hit. The most valuable support stems from empathy built through living through uncertainty first-hand rather than textbook theories.

Beyond funding, we’d share workspaces, connections and emotional encouragement to uplift innovators that elitist circles ignore. The community binds all of us to empower fresh ideas together rather than compete — strengthening society’s innovation muscle.

The core principles ground around compassion and service over self-interest. If those ahead lend a hand behind without entitlement, economic rewards recirculate sustainably. And new leaders emerge from unexpected places through the warmth of guidance, not coldness of transaction.

How can our readers further follow you online?

To stay connected, you can follow me on LinkedIn or you can also follow Prontopia on IG @prontopiaai and on LinkedIn.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.