Christian Napier is the founder and CEO of Rakonto Inc., an online technology platform developed specifically to help people record and share life stories through talking (oral history).
Born in the Bay Area of northern California, Napier moved to Salt Lake City after his parents got divorced when he was five years old.
In Utah, Napier’s mom eventually remarried, and that made home life rather interesting.
“My mother remarried when I was around eight years old, and then she had four other children in quick succession, and all of them looked very different than my sister and I because our father was Tongan,” Napier shares.
“To give you a visual, my stepfather’s heritage went back to Scotland, so he had very blonde children. We were all a very interesting mix.”
A quiet and introverted individual, growing up Napier avoided the spotlight, preferring building model airplanes over immersing himself in various social circles.
“I didn’t have a lot of close friends growing up, but part of that was because there weren’t a lot of children in my age range where I grew up.”
After high school, Napier enrolled at the University of Utah.
His initial stint as a Ute was brief because before his freshman year ended, he went to work for his father, an engineer who also owned a computer store.
Yet not long after that gig started, Napier was on a plane bound for Mexico, where for the next two years he sought to make the world a better place serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Still, Napier knew the importance of education, and after returning from Central America, he returned to the University of Utah and eventually earned a degree in accounting.
“I also met my wife at the University of Utah, and we got married while we were still in school,” he adds.
Post-college, Napier dabbled in a variety of careers.
At one point he was a consultant for IBM, and then for nearly a decade he worked for EKS (Event Knowledge Services) in a litany of roles that ranged from Senior Consultant to Deputy Chief Executive Officer.
It should be mentioned that Napier also consulted for the IOC (International Olympic Committee), a role in which he was tasked with interviewing people from around the world to learn about how they planned and delivered the games.
“I interviewed over 1,000 people on behalf of the International Olympic Committee, the goal being to capture their stories as it related to organizing the games,” says Napier, who has always possessed a fascination for how storytelling can impart knowledge.
“I was drawn to the stories because they were cool, but also because the people behind those stories were very interesting, and by hearing their stories, the prejudices and preconceptions that I may have had about certain people, they fell away. I started seeing people as individuals, and consequently I developed a lot more empathy.”
Years later, the worldly Napier began to ponder how he could leverage his love for storytelling and create a business.
That’s how Rakonto Inc. came to fruition, because even though stories are constantly being shared online, Napier believed there was a need in the market for original content that wasn’t on social media or inundated with an abundance of ads.
“I also wanted to create something that would honor the memories of different people,” Napier says.
In fact, the former Ute has done just that, and in a way that allows all types of people to unlock the power of storytelling.
For context, Rakonto’s seamless and intuitive platform enables users to create and share videos quickly, meaning regardless of one’s video expertise, clients can capture their life story without having to fret over how they are going to disseminate their message.
Napier attributes this desire to mesh creativity and technology to his background in consulting, where in the past he helped companies generate payrolls in hours instead of days, in turn saving the company precious time and resources.
“I like being able to simplify a process that would normally take 27 steps and create a better solution,” Napier says.
“That’s what my career has been about, is marrying knowledge and learning, and it’s resulted in the creation of Rakonto, which attempts to remove the friction from the process of harvesting, transcribing, and curating stories.”
At the same time, there are some who wonder why Napier has gone to the lengths he has to give others a voice, particularly those who don’t have an online presence or a public audience clamoring for their content.
“Everybody wants an opportunity to share their story,” Napier says, before reiterating that his platform isn’t designed to attract billions of viewers, but rather share perspectives that rarely, if ever, get attention from mainstream media.
Napier reveals that the power of conversation became clear years ago when he was doing work in the Middle East.
At the time, Napier found himself in conversation with a woman who was a refugee.
On the surface, their lives appeared drastically different, but when the two made the effort to understand each other, Napier realized that he and this woman were more alike than he could have possibly imagined.
“We came from different parts of the planet and practiced different religions, but as she talked about being a kid growing up in Baghdad and enjoying pomegranates, it became clear that she had the same wants and desires that I did,” Napier explains.
“Her story was different than mine, in that she fled Iraq because she wanted to find new opportunities and safety for her children, but that is no different than what anyone else in this world wants.”
By having these types of interactions, Napier learned that people have the capacity to look at each other less judgmentally, provided individuals make a concerted effort to table their preconceptions and seek to understand others.
“When you talk with someone about their story, and not their political or ideological beliefs, you can’t help but have a little bit more empathy and understanding,” Napier says.
“If people sat down and had more genuine interactions, as a society, we would be more forgiving and open to ideas, and willing to look past those things that traditionally obscure our view of others.”
And it’s not like people have to book an international flight to develop empathy and understanding.
Napier once worked for a software company that sold payroll systems to motorcycle dealers.
At first, Napier was nervous about working with people who didn’t fit the stereotypical definition of Corporate America.
Unsurprisingly, once Napier made an effort to look past his clients’ appearances and actually take the time to have a conversation, his perspective was altered.
“Once I started working with them, I learned that they were awesome people. I couldn’t put them all in a box because when I started to get to know them better, they defied all the stereotypes,” Napier explains.
“That experience was another reminder not to judge a book by its cover, and to actually take the time to get to know somebody because we have a lot more in common with each other than we give ourselves credit for.”
At its core, this is what Rakonto is striving to do, is remove the barriers that typically prevent people of all demographics from sharing their story.
It’s a mission that will take years to complete, but Napier is confident that his company will one day have people from all over the world sharing their stories, while simultaneously bringing understanding to a world that is regrettably devoid of compassion and empathy.
“It could be someone talking about their life, or people using the platform to apply for a job, which users are already using Rakonto to do,” Napier says.
“Regardless, our focus will be on continuing to remove the obstacles that keep people from doing that because when you remove that barrier people see how easy it is to share their story, and that’s ultimately how we will make a difference.” QS
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