Tuesday Apr 16, 2013 by Ben Mirin - Contributor, VentureFizz
After nearly being rejected for visas at the US embassy in Vienna, Moritz “Mo” Plassnig and three-fifths of the Codeship team arrived at Logan Airport at midnight on February 23rd for TechStars Boston. Having decided to move to Boston one month earlier, the team now had 36 hours to get over their jet lag and get ready for their first day of the program at 8am on Monday morning.
“The first time I tried to get our visas, I went to the American embassy before we had received a signed contract from TechStars,” Plassnig said. Brushing aside his mop of dark brown hair, he readjusted his loose-fitting neon-blue beanie and laughed. “They took one look at me and said they didn’t even believe my company was real.”
But this wasn’t the first time Plassnig and his team had picked up and moved to a new country in such hasty fashion. Their product, Codeship, a cloud service that allows software engineers to test, integrate, and deploy projects in real time, had already taken them to Berlin in November 2012, and on frequent trips to meet with potential investors in London. Crossing so many borders together has brought greater cohesion to the Codeship team, but it has also shaped the company’s perspective and approach to creative web development.
“Moving around so much helped us develop a company culture of making decisions quickly,” Plassnig explained. “Our product works by the same token to help developers get their products into the hands of users at top speed.”
Most of Codeship’s traction has been among lean startups around the world, and that’s the point. The company is constantly scaling their product by accommodating additional programming languages and linking with new hosting services around the world. Plassnig and his colleagues say they want to optimize workflows for other creative entrepreneurs whose experiences are not so far removed from their own.
“The smartest software engineers say it’s important to bring your stuff out regularly and quickly,” Plassnig asserted. “Most startup companies don’t have the resources of tech giants like Facebook or Amazon, so we’re trying to give them a viable method for achieving the same level of productive throughput. It’s a process we’ve just been through ourselves, and we’re always trying to go faster.”
Plassnig is not a product of a fast-paced environment. He grew up in Kirchbach, a small market village in south-central Austria. Its population is roughly 3,000, although Plassnig remembers it being smaller, about 800.
“Kirchbach means ‘Church River,’” he said. “It gets its name because there was a river, and then they built a church.” He laughed.
Plassnig’s parents are teachers, and his sister is a freelance designer. He says his father’s love for computers instilled in him an early love for technology. After passing his A-levels in computer science he enrolled in a business administration program at Vienna University of Economics and Business, the largest such university in Europe. While at school he became frustrated with the style and pace of the business culture in Vienna.
“People at school weren’t thinking about doing their own stuff,” Plassnig remembered. “Even more frustrating was the fact that the tech people weren’t even talking to the business people.”
Plassnig wasn’t alone in his frustration. A student two years ahead of him named Florian Motlik was doing something about it, organizing startup weekend summits as part of a student organization called STARTeurope. Plassnig joined the organization and the two worked together for a year, organizing 25 startup events in locations all over Europe.
“Getting out of Vienna stripped us of anything familiar, and optimized our team for networking,” Plassnig remembered. “The same can be said any time you go to a foreign country: you don’t know anybody, so everyone is a potential friend or business contact.”
Plassnig left school to work with STARTeurope full time in January 2011, the same month Motlik left to launch the first prototype of Codeship. Traveling through Europe and building an international network had broadened both men’s horizons and ambitions, and when the two came back together in the summer of 2012 Plassnig finally got the focused and the fast-paced environment he craved.
Five months after Plassnig came on as Codeship’s CEO, he and his team moved to Berlin. The entire moving process was over in two weeks, and they were already planning their next jump to the United States.
“Berlin was boot camp for us,” Plassnig said. “Actually living and working under one roof we had lots of hard discussions, and got a lot done in very little time.”
As the team honed its focus and enjoyed the richness of the Berlin technology scene, Plassnig began looking for opportunities to make the jump overseas. Starting unsuccessfully with an application to TechStars Cloud, the team enrolled in London’s all-Europe accelerator SeedCamp and plotted their next move.
Then the team got a call from TechStars mentor and Brightcove Co-Founder Bob Mason. He had received Codeship’s TechStars Cloud application and wanted to make a suggestion.
“It was Bob’s initiative that got us to apply to TechStars Boston,” Plassnig said. “Over the course of several phone calls together we developed a great opinion of him, and later of TechStars Managing Directors Reed Sturtevant and Katie Rae.” It was January 2013, and with the imminent hire of the team’s fifth member it wasn’t long before Plassnig found himself racing to the US embassy back in Vienna.
Five weeks into TechStars’ Spring 2013 program, Plassnig and his team had scheduled a coffee meet-up at Voltage Coffee and Art in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. The coffee was paid for, and the turnout was impressive for an 8am networking event. Beneath his blue beanie and Codeship T-shirt, freshly printed with his company title and Twitter handle, Plassnig seemed right at home.
“Coming to Boston was definitely the right decision for Codeship,” he assured me over his second latte. “The mentors at TechStars Boston are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and they’ve already made us all better entrepreneurs.”