Flashlight Interview: with Till Vollmer the Co-founder of Meister

Recently, European workplace collaboration tools provider Meister has announced a $52 million growth funding transaction with Verdane I am delighted to have organized this exclusive interview for you!

  • For the audience, can you share more about yourself as an entrepreneur? What are you most proud of?

Of course, thank you for the invite! Firstly, to introduce myself, my name is Till Vollmer. I’m the co-founder of Meister, which is a growing tech company that specializes in workplace productivity tools. I started Meister alongside Michael Hollauf in 2006, with more vision and guile than actual business management experience, but our enthusiasm has served us well.

The first tool we created was MindMeister, an online mind mapping solution launched in 2007 that can now boast over 20 million users, but we’ve added to our product range during the intervening years as well. The first expansion came in 2015 with the introduction of the task management software MeisterTask, which will be followed by MeisterNote, a collaborative documentation tool that is scheduled to launch this year. 

There have been plenty of achievements since we started the company: 1 billion ideas generated on MindMeister, 8 million users reached on MeisterTask, an annual revenue that’s now well into 8 figures. However, I would say that I’m proud of the last 15 years of Meister as a whole, rather than anyone's specific personal achievement. Naturally, on the flip side, there have been plenty of challenges along the way, but essentially we’ve succeeded in transforming a two-man show into a really dynamic team that punches above its weight on a super-competitive market. 

How? By sticking to what we know best: creating simple, intuitive productivity tools that people love to use. 

  • What is the business growth stage now? ( in terms of revenue, projects, awards, international exposure, etc).

Steady and sustainable. Generally speaking, we’ve achieved our growth up to the first half of this year without the need to seek particularly aggressive investment from external sources. For over a decade we’ve spent what we’ve earned, invested wisely in the team, and kept a clear idea of what our tools should be and what they are not. It has worked, too: we’ve gone from a handful of beta testers in 2007 to almost 30 million users today, who are located in hundreds of countries around the world. Although the US and DACH markets are where we have the most success, there is significant movement in the Japanese and French-speaking regions as well.

Given this background, our recent announcement of a $52 million investment funding package from our new backers at Verdane may come as a surprise to many. If you’ve been following our progress, the logical question would be this: why now? However, I think the time is right and the investment is a good thing for us. Simply put, we’ve been the underdogs for too long — and honestly, we outgrew startup status long ago. It’s time for us to assert ourselves and take on the world. 

  • When the pandemic hit, what happened with your business?

Lots! Obviously, it’s been a pretty tough year and a half for most people around the world, but we were very lucky in quite a lot of aspects. Firstly, the restrictions weren’t overly stringent in Vienna, where most of our team is based, which means that the office could stay available at certain times. It wasn’t “normal”, but it’s a normal sort of life in comparison to the experiences of many companies. Fortunately, restrictions are easing slightly in Austria now, but I would describe our attitude towards continued home working as “wait and see”. Our team went through a lot, suffered at times, but still delivered epic work. They’ve earned the right to define how they want to work in the future themselves.

Then there is the question of the products and the business as a whole. With so many companies forced to change their ways of work in such a short space of time, remote working solutions were, and remain to be, in high demand. Obviously, you hear a lot about Zoom and the like in this regard, but our own branch was a big “winner” too: interest in both MindMeister and MeisterTask grew significantly during the lockdown, and we gained significant momentum as a result.

Going forward, we’ll look to build on this success by convincing the market that our tools are for life, not just coronavirus, but I think it’s something we’re already doing quite well. The value-for-money proposition for both products will still be excellent for our customers, even when they return to the office. 

  • How do you see the impact of $52 million in growth financing?

It’s massive, clearly. We’re talking about big, big money, and things will change in all branches of the company as a result: the team will get bigger, the product range will expand, and we will have more clout when it comes to marketing budgets, awareness campaigns and the like. There’s a pressure aspect too. Eventually, Verdane will want to see some return on their investment, the $52 million wasn’t given to us as a gift, but there are plans in place to acquire more users and achieve higher revenue numbers over the coming years.

In other ways, our users, partners, and employees can expect more of the same from Meister. We certainly don’t feel inclined to rush or panic now that we have funding. Much of our calmness is thanks to the very balanced, sensible nature of Verdane themselves. Their focus on sustainability essentially allows us to continue our mission uninterrupted, just in a more purposeful sort of way.

Our choice of partner means our path of accelerated growth comes with the unique opportunity to maintain our culture and grow the team according to the Meister principles. Among these are the values of equality and work-life balance, which have always made us a much-appreciated employer and an attractive destination for commercial and technical talent alike.

  • Learning about how to get funding to grow your business, what was most valuable for you?

Obviously, here at the beginning of our journey, I can’t tell you with the benefit of hindsight what the key things to look out for really are. We sincerely hope that this new direction will be a fruitful one for us, but I can only tell you for sure once we see that growth over the coming years. What I can divulge is this: we had a lot of offers, but we’re confident that in Verdane we made the correct choice. 

Firstly, we wanted to choose a partner who valued sustainability: we’ve worked too hard on Meister, and we owe too much to the people who work here, to risk our business on a venture capitalist’s whim. On that score, we’re confident that Verdane’s targets are achievable in the given timeframe. They’re aggressive enough to be profitable but seem to be based on solid numbers and facts. 

In fact, the due diligence performed by Verdane was really the aspect that impressed me most about their approach. It meant a few sleepless nights for the people involved, but it’ll all be worth it in the end. We do our homework, keep our feet on the ground and achieve success; just like we’ve always done.