This is a follow up story for Meister. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! I’m Michael, co-founder of Meister. We make beautiful, simple, and collaborative apps for teams and individuals. Our tools are built upon the principles of great design and ease-of-use, creating an enjoyable environment that helps people get more done in business and education. Our rapidly-growing team is home to around 85 people, based primarily in Vienna and Munich but also in our US office in Seattle.
Our flagship apps are MindMeister and MeisterTask. MindMeister, launched in 2007, is the world’s leading online mind mapping tool and is getting ready to welcome its 20 millionth user any day now. MeisterTask came a little later, in 2015, and is an agile task management tool that over 4 million global users rely on to plan their workdays and collaborate on projects with colleagues.
MeisterTask’s customers come from a variety of different sectors: from banking to city management, to education. Most commonly, our users are part of small and medium-sized teams that are looking for a compact, well-designed alternative to the overcomplexities of tools like Jira or Monday.com.
Our annual recurring revenue is well into the double-digit millions, but we don’t disclose exact numbers. The long and the short of it is: things are going well!
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since our last conversation, almost a year ago now, the world has changed drastically due to coronavirus — the biggest black swan event in recent history.
Focus on what makes you great: the ambition and discipline you needed just to start your own business put you ahead of 98% of the population of this planet from the start.
First off, I’d like to point out that while everyone at Meister has been affected in some way by the pandemic, the human factor has to come first. The most important thing for me is that no one in the team or their immediate families have died or been critically ill from the virus (knock on wood). Our experiences have therefore been of the broader societal and economic effects of the virus, which — for Meister at least — have been something of a mixed bag.
On the one hand, the pandemic and its associated restrictions resulted in huge new challenges for us as a team. Unlike a lot of comparable tech companies, Meister has always been primarily office-based: 90% of our staff are based in Vienna and the office has traditionally served as their base. There were a lot of reasons for this — we’ve fostered a great sense of team spirit over the years that means our people actually like spending time with each other — but there are advantages on the business front too. We strongly believe that the best results are achieved when people have direct personal contact, so when the restrictions were imposed and the recommendation/requirement was for home office wherever possible, it fundamentally changed the way we work. Our team has been almost entirely remote since March.
On the business side, it has been a different story. Obviously, we weren’t alone in needing to adapt rapidly to remote work, which in turn means that our remote working solutions are in higher demand than ever before. This surge in popularity has caused our business to grow significantly as a result. We’re well on course to comfortably exceed our growth goal of 45% for this year, which still seemed very ambitious just a few months ago.
Most significantly, signups for MindMeister exploded at the beginning of the pandemic, a trend you can easily see from the red bars in the chart below. A lot of these new users were students in schools and universities, for whom distance learning tools became a very pressing necessity. Mind mapping has always had a strong basis in education, and when it comes to structuring thoughts, taking notes, and the like, we’re confident that MindMeister is the best tool out there for the job.
Despite its ups and downs, 2020 has been — and continues to be — a very interesting year for Meister.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Probably one I could have learned in the Boy Scouts: be prepared. The biggest challenge by far this year has been to adapt to the massive growth that is illustrated in the chart you see above and continues with each passing week. We’ve had to adapt extremely quickly to keep up with demand, both on a technical level and in terms of the team itself. There were only 50 employees at Meister at the start of the year: last week we hired employee number 85. It’s wild.
What I will say is this: scaling servers is much easier than reading the structure and processes of an organization to accommodate so many newcomers. The biggest lesson learned in this respect is just how much quality communication matters in a company, and how hard it is to maintain once you grow beyond a certain size. The challenges of keeping everyone informed, motivated, and pulling in the right direction were exacerbated massively by the lockdown, with everyone at home and video calls the only real means of communication.
Both my co-founder Till and I have technical backgrounds, and as engineers, you always try to do everything as efficiently as possible. Communication is no exception to this: in the past we invested minimal time on concepts like all-hands meetings, team updates, and internal communication, assuming everyone knew what was going on anyway. Our Head of HR and management teams have successfully convinced us to change our ways, but despite significant improvements, we probably still communicate much less than we ought to.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We’re making things! Now that’s a fantastic feeling — next year will be the most exciting in terms of product development and innovation in a long time. I’m so excited about it: we’ve just launched the first (private) beta of the all-new MindMeister, which is essentially a complete reinvention of our flagship product. It has tons of new features, a brand new UI, and it looks fantastic: so many gorgeous new themes and templates. The public launch is planned for Q1 2021, and I can’t wait.
That’s only one part of the plan though. We’re also getting ready to launch a completely new product, the third in our suite, which takes us another step along the road towards our company vision to bring joy to work and simplicity to collaboration. The product is called MeisterNote and is designed to make collaborative writing fast, fun, and effective.
We’re also looking to branch out (excuse the pun) the MindMeister experience to become a more generic canvas-based collaboration and to combine our apps in an even more closely-integrated all-in-one suite. Our tools are linked, in terms of their style and their place in the workflow. By moving them closer together, we’re essentially broadening the range of applications for distributed teams who value simplicity, beauty, and impeccable security standards in a toolset that helps them get the best out of their work.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Of the books I’ve read this year, my favorite has been Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I’ve known about the book for years, but I was always a bit intimidated by it, thinking it was dry and overly scientific. It pleasantly surprised me and I loved every page of it. Highly recommended!
Right now I’m reading The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, which is a really well-written and meticulously-researched history of the financial markets, banks, bonds, and stocks. It’s a great primer for a techie like me who never really understood the mechanics of money in detail.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
When you’re just starting, it’s easy to feel small. Don’t assume that the business world is made up just of geniuses and that you don’t belong — even the top CEOs are human and we all make mistakes. Focus on what makes you great: the ambition and discipline you needed just to start your own business put you ahead of 98% of the population of this planet from the start.
Secondly, stick to your goals. This is especially relevant if you operate in a market with strong competitors, just as we do. For us, it doesn’t really matter that our competitors are backed by seemingly bottomless pits of venture capital, we reach our customers by focusing on specific segments and solving problems for the companies within them.
Once you know where you want to go, hire “doers” — people with initiative — and stay true to your vision. Slow and steady wins the race, those hyper-growth bubbles are just a distraction.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Other than that, the most urgent positions we have to fill are for Data Engineers, DevOps specialists, and Customer Success Agents.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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