“Do you want me to start with our origin story?” asked Wowza CEO Dave Stubenvoll. “This is the hero’s journey after all.”
The “hero’s journey,” also called the “monomyth” — a ubiquitous 17-step narrative archetype by writer Joseph Campbell — was built upon the idea that all mythological stories share the same basic structure: The hero is called on a fantastical journey, discovers something of depth about humanity during his conquests and returns home armed with wisdom to share with his community.
Stubenvoll’s take on the modern startup is not unlike Campbell’s monomyth theory. No matter what vertical a startup tackles, Stubenvoll posits, success is built upon a collection of stellar individuals who are genuinely excited to work together. Find the right people and listen to the customer — the rest will follow.
On this principle, Stubenvoll has embarked on the startup hero’s journey five times, with each venture bringing him closer to launching Wowza Media Systems. An innovator at heart, Stubenvoll measured the success of each business with a unique metric: the ability to support a daily Starbucks habit — “If we couldn’t support a coffee habit after 90 days, we had to move on,” Stubenvoll said, grinning.
Success is built upon a collection of stellar individuals who are genuinely excited to work together. Find the right people and listen to the customer — the rest will follow.
Wowza ultimately bloomed from the bones of its predecessor, Blog Cheese, a video blogging platform with a TikTok-esque interface. Heartened by his easy connection with his co-founder, Stubenvoll leaned into the video platform as the cornerstone of his business, iterating the streaming concept as a widget, messaging platform and beyond.
“The most interesting businesses I’ve been involved with grew out of other businesses,” Stubenvoll said, laughing. “To figure out what business you should be in, you really have to be ‘in business’ first.”
Stubenvoll credits the evolution of Wowza to a spirit of experimentation and an afternoon of brainstorming at a Coyote Ugly Saloon in Austin, Texas.
“My co-founder and I had been going around to trade shows, and people were shocked we had written this code on our own,” he said, noting that nearly everyone they spoke with shared their distaste for the Flash products en vogue at the time.
After licensing out the product several times by adamant request, Stubenvoll knew the business had legs.
“We rewrote everything — including the name — built something we felt was truly server-grade and created a beta that would fit the needs of the people we had met along the way,” he said. A few months later, Wowza was cash flow positive.
WHAT WOWZA DOES
Driven by its mission to empower businesses to unlock the value of video, Wowza offers streaming technology that is customizable, scalable and helps mitigate the challenges of video and audio delivery. “We’ve shifted from self-service components and a differentiated product to full-service solutions and a customer relationship focus,” Stubenvoll said. “We’re powering more than 6,500 companies, and we’re very focused on getting our customers’ jobs done.”
As Wowza has grown, Stubenvoll has become adept at surrounding himself with a group of professionals as passionate about meeting customers’ needs as he — with an intentional diversity of perspectives to temper his entrepreneurial impulses.
Enter CFO Erin Sawyer.
“We’re a great balance,” said Sawyer. “Having that partnership is about listening to all sides and discovering the right solution forward.”
In conversation with Sawyer, her practical mindset immediately shines through. It is this pragmatism that aligns her so deeply with Wowza’s core mission.
“My background has been in operational efficiency — making jobs easier internally is very important to me,” Sawyer said, nodding. “What I love about our product is that we’re making jobs easier for our customers and helping them drive their own strategies.”
As CFO, Sawyer homes in on investing in technology that makes Wowza a steadfast partner for its customers.
“We want to be that partner our customers scale with,” Sawyer said. “We’re investing in expanding the capabilities of the player and its analytics so the customers can have more ways to solve their business needs and visualize what they can deliver to their own clients.”
NURTURING DEI AT WOWZA
As Wowza evolves, Stubenvoll is focused on welcoming more diversity to the company and the historically homogenous tech space. “You can bring in a diversity of backgrounds and thought and still have that common humanity,” he said.
“Just as important as recruiting diverse professionals to Wowza is retaining them,” said CTO Michael Phillipi. “We’re constantly asking, ‘Is this a place that enables a variety of folks to really thrive?’”
“Part of creating a diverse workforce is making sure that everyone’s voice is heard and important,” Sawyer added. “You might have that great idea that could change the world, and we want to hear it.”
As the newest addition to the C-suite, CTO Michael Phillipi’s vision of Wowza’s place in the video streaming industry is razor sharp. He’s thrilled with the recent acquisition of Flowplayer, which has expanded Wowza’s global footprint. Beyond creating critical mass in the European market, the addition of Flowplayer has created a serendipitous partnership of value-aligned teams and complementary technology.
“Around 80 percent of web content is video, and the industry is growing,” Philippi said. “That rising tide lifts all of the Wowza boats in the harbor — I can’t wait to look back a few years from now at the breadth of the product we’ve built and the growth of the folks who work here.”
“Around 80 percent of web content is video, and the industry is growing. I can’t wait to look back a few years from now at the breadth of the product we’ve built and the growth of the folks who work here.”
As Stubenvoll noted, a look back often makes the road ahead all the more clear.
“When we started, seeing video show up was a bloody miracle,” Stubenvoll marveled. “Since then, the modes of competition and the needs of the customers have changed, as have the type of customers who use video in their businesses.”
With more analytics capabilities, quality of service and seamless functionality on the horizon, Stubenvoll is more excited about Wowza’s future than ever.
“We’re on a journey with a tremendous group of individuals, and that’s what gets me coming into the office every day,” Stubenvoll said, animated by the consistently positive feedback Wowza garners from its customers.
“When we ask customers why they use Wowza, we most often hear, ‘It just works,’” he said. “And that is just music to our ears.”