How I Went From Competitive Swimmer to Tech Startup CEO

Posted December 9, 2016

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Our CEO recently published this inspiring personal story on Linkedin, worth a read!

At 14, I was a competitive swimmer in East Germany with my eyes firmly set on the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics. That’s when the Berlin Wall came down, and with that, the entire sporting scene in East Germany came to a grinding halt.

Years later, I’m now CEO and Co-founder of Clipchamp, a video tech startup.

So how did I get here? It was a series of major changes, some just happened, others I initiated. All of them however, have led to lessons that have applied throughout life.

If you’re wondering about whether radical life changes will be valuable at all in your life, this is the story for you.

Move fast

My swimming career ended because the system around me changed and my ears did not agree with dozens of hours in the pool each week anymore. I was forced to change paths, so eventually I became a paramedic.

Working in ambulances and emergency situations was like nothing I could have imagined – you see first-hand how fast things can go from bad to worse.

I learned how valuable putting yourself in confronting situations is – you automatically grow as a person. The ability to quickly assess situations in a fast-moving environment is also something that applies daily in running a startup.

However, having had my fair share of blood, I decided it was time for another change.

So, I went and got a computer science and business degree. Oh, and moved to New York.

Redefine your comfort zone

Growing up in a half Polish, half German family I learned to be culturally sensitive from an early age. Seeing the collapse of the Berlin Wall from an East German perspective and having had to settle in a new society, the new Germany, forced me learn to adapt to a new culture.

But none of that prepared me for life in New York. For the first three months I struggled at work and I struggled privately, but I loved it. I pushed myself to adapt fast, I learned you can really achieve whatever you want, you just really need to want it.

I also realized that while many people are content in their comfort zone, it was exactly that zone that I grew increasingly uncomfortable in, and that I needed to constantly leave that comfort zone to gain personal satisfaction.

It was time for another radical change. I moved to Australia to work for a large tech company.

Stop talking, start doing

Over the resultant years, I learned how little actual work gets done in huge corporations. If you’ve worked in the typical corporate job, you’ll know how much time is wasted on internal politics. You often find yourself dealing with bureaucratic changes, rather than tackling the really big problems.

In R&D, we worked on many incredible things, but it was frustrating seeing that so many of them never came to fruition. I also discovered that true innovation can occur in big companies – it just often happens at the fringes, away from the center of corporate operations.

Take Google Maps, developed by two brothers in Sydney and grown to over 1 billion users. While working with Lars Rasmussen, one of the Google Maps founders, we all commented on how it was the smaller teams, away from the center of our large corporations, that pulled off the most dramatically innovative projects.

Stretch Yourself


Clipchamp at the Advance Queensland Summit

Deciding to change paths once again, I took a role as a university associate professor. I moved fast, got out of my comfort zone once again and began working on a tech startup, Clipchamp, on the side.

When the startup took off, the choice to change paths again wasn’t easy. I knew the risk was high and I knew what the impact on my salary would be. But I also knew that the amount of learning I’d get would be insane.

I consciously take on challenges, with running Clipchamp, my tech startup, being one of the biggest ones yet. It’s incredibly rewarding to build and lead a team that’s consistently pushing the boundaries of how people record, edit and share video.

In summary, I love what I’m doing and I did not get here because I did not love what I was doing before. I changed, a lot. And I learned quite a few things along the way:

  1. Every situation you are confronted with is a chance to grow and learn. It’s your attitude that determines whether that situation has a positive or negative impact on you.

  2. Don’t wait for change to happen around you. Initiate it yourself. That way you learn from it before others.

  3. Don’t get comfortable in your comfort zone. The world around you will change – learn to feel comfortable outside your comfort zone. As an example, I enjoy watching Chinese movies with Korean subtitles on flights. This might just be me though…

Undoubtedly, there will be a life after Clipchamp. I’m looking forward to it, and not because I don’t love what I do now, but because I know that the next change will help me grow even more.

– Alexander Dreiling, CEO Clipchamp

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