Bitmovin’s journey to the “North Star”

For Stefan Lederer, the University of Klagenfurt is an alma mater in all its facets. Here, he generated knowledge and established many contacts and cooperation arrangements ready for the leap into self-employment, which he took jointly with Christopher Müller and Christian Timmerer. Together, they created bitmovin.

Even during his student days, Stefan Lederer made the most of the international opportunities available at the University of Klagenfurt. The computer scientist completed internships at Dolby in the USA, at IBM and McKinsey in Germany, and he took part in a study trip to China. At bitmovin, Lederer has maintained this high level of internationality. Meanwhile, the company’s locations reach from Klagenfurt across the globe, including San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, New York, the Netherlands, China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Berlin and Vienna. For him and for bitmovin, this translates to a vibrant diversity of colleagues. Demand for the video services, which are bitmovin’s speciality, is soaring. “It’s extremely positive for the company”, Lederer points out, “but at the same time it sets us the significant challenge of achieving reasonable delivery timeframes.”

Not only is every customer unique, the requirements are growing and the company needs to reinvent itself every three months. Employees must keep up their own development along with the development of the company. Lederer enjoys entering into contact with customers at major trade fairs such as the one in Amsterdam, where 50 employees hold over 400 meetings on site. For Lederer, more customers also mean an increased need for personnel. He sees access to this resource as equally challenging at every location, although he acknowledges that it does open the door to a wider talent pool. In Carinthia they remain in constant exchange with the university, they carry out projects and acquire new talent for the ever-growing company. They also maintain good relations with the University of Applied Sciences, allowing them to gain two to three new employees straight from Carinthia’s universities every month. Lederer particularly appreciates the internationality in Carinthia and was surprised to be able to recruit an American, originally from San Francisco, who was pursuing his studies in Carinthia as a regular student.

Customer service is the main focus for bitmovin. This means meeting new requirements every quarter, and to a certain extent it also requires self-study in order to remain fit for further growth. Staff must be flexible and personal development is an important corporate priority. Lederer is always please to observe the large number of good, capable people who are reinforcing the team and continuing their own development over time.

At the time of setting up the company, the three founders would not have been able to predict the path that lay ahead. Today Lederer, Müller and Timmerer know that many small steps can add up to something very large indeed. The “Y Combinator” programme had a key role to play here. This is a business incubator that provides financial support, contacts and know-how to entrepreneurs for a period of three years. Currently, bitmovin is extending its feelers further in the direction of an initial public offering (IPO). Their ultimate aim: the so-called “North Star”, to be listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York. Lederer is keen to emphasise that they are not looking for a quick exit, they want to build up the company, not just “give it a makeover” for potential buyers. They want to develop their technology in such a way that it succeeds on the market by itself. This is what the IPO would allow. If all goes to plan, it is possible that these Austrians will be ringing the stock market bell in New York in five years’ time.

What they wish for from the University of Klagenfurt over the next 50 years is clear: to continue along the path of internationalisation, interesting degree programmes in the technical sciences and economics, many international students and strong cooperation between the faculties. Lederer can easily imagine that an innovation hub will be established in Klagenfurt in the future and that there will be more companies that are founded as spin-offs of the university, showing what can be achieved. Students – the innovators and founders of tomorrow – should be able to work in these companies, gain expertise and use it to grow, going from a university spin-off to a listed company.

für ad astra: Lisa Svetina
translation: Karen Meehan