Interview: Netvibes CEO Freddy Mini on personalization, expansion, and the social web


Netvibes allows anyone to assemble the Netvibes CEO Freddy Minibest of the web in one place. By providing private and public digital dashboards for individuals, personalized pages for brands, and personalized intranet pages for enterprises, it may just be the best personalized start page out there.


CEO Freddy Mini told us about his role in expanding Netvibes, the importance of personalization, and his view on the current stage of the social web.


After you're done reading, make sure to send Freddy a tweet and add the Social Nerdia Netvibes widget.


 1. Netvibes pioneered the personalized start page, but there are several options these days. What makes Netvibes the best?


addtonetvibes


Netvibes is the only personalization platform. With Netvibes you don't customize someone else's page you're invited to, you really own the page. entirely. An example: Netvibes doesn't have a big logo on the upper left corner to remind you you're at some eelse's place; at Netvibes you can get rid of the search engine if you're rather use it separately from your personal page. In addition, Netvibes offers the largest widget gallery with 180,000+ widgets to really find what you are looking for to build your very own page. And finally, Netvibes offers you 2 pages: one private and one public. On the public page, your own URL will welcome all the widgets you'd like to share, like a super profile page. Who can match all this? :)


2. Netvibes has very loyal users, me included. As CEO, do you find it difficult to please old users while innovating and seeking new ones?



It's in fact our biggest asset. Our installed base is beyond faithful, they are passionate. Netvibes is their product and we help improving it. To tell you the truth, I'm very happy with this and I believe that's the way all web services should be. To please existing (users) and seek new ones, we laser focus on our unique positioning: we are all about personalization. Everything should be, at the end, the choice of the user.


3. What would you say are Netvibes' shared values? Do other elements like strategy, structure, and staffing revolve around such shared values?


Netvibes' shared value are all around Personalization. Yes, our strategy, structure, and staffing to develop features and business offers are driven by it.


4. You previously served as COO. How has your focus changed now that your role is to lead the company?


As COO I led the business strategy, my role now includes product and corporate guidance. To the risk of an easy cliche, but it's the truth, I have a fantastic team and the fact that I spend one week a month in Paris forces us to be disciplined, organized and focused. What could be seen as a challenge is in reality a great opportunity.


5. You helped expand Netvibes across 4 continents. Do you see the company expanding into new products/offerings? Are there any examples already?


Yes, in the product offering, absolutely. By focusing on the "Personalization" arena, we expand, in addition to our media business of distributing widgets, our business offering in 2 directions:


1. Netvibes is today a super powerful publishing tool. We wanted to give to ad agencies all the tools they need to create sophisticated personalizable pages. For that, we had to go way beyond the classic grid of widgets piled up per columns. We introduced the flexible layouts back in December and have released an HTML editor widget to create post-like content within the widget. Benefit for user: the page can be made his/hers and he/she can peel off widgets from it. Benefit for the publisher: the page is managed by him directly without any IT. Benefit for the marketing dept: the page is more sticky than a classic page and its creation is faster and cheaper.


Netvibes for Brands


2. Netvibes is entering in the Enterprise Portal arena, competing with big classic players like IBM or Oracle. Our approach is different: we're born to be a personal page. We use the latest technology, all open-source and standards, we're independent of all 3rd parties like search engines, database makers, etc., we come with 180,000 widgets and our offer includes everything: on-site installation and training, mobile versions, widget technology that installs everywhere including desktops and we prove every day we do scale. Netvibes installed base is bigger than the biggest employer in the world :)


6. How did your experience with CNET in Europe help prepare you for your position today?


CNET Europe was a fantastic experience for me. Managing a multi-cultural company in the challenging time that was 2001-02  was enriching. It helped me a lot in management during crisis time and adaptation of a common product across languages and cultures. Not to mention remote management which is very useful when a big part of your team is 9 hours difference, 9000 kms away.


7. You blogged for several years at Le eMini Blog . Why did you stop and what do you think about Blogger?


I stopped blogging almost a year ago when I took the CEO position. It's difficult to part the voice of Netvibes with the voice of Freddy. I tweet instead for now. I use blogger because it was totally turnkey. Great service for someone who wants to solely have readers for his content. Now, to tell you the truth, I support my wife with the blog of her activity, www.perlentine.com about hand made jewelry, and I used Wordpress. Superb product.


8. Do you think the social web is becoming more and more like the real world in terms of how we communicate, participate, and collaborate?


It will be but it is not yet. The web, like many fast techno-evolutions, moves with wide pendulum swings. At this point, Facebook allows to reconnect with people, and Twitter (allows) to broadcast yourself to your own audience. In both cases, the notion of followers/friends is dangerous and used chaotically today.


Micro-celebrity is dangerous. Like in high school, people think they are popular because a lot of people follow them. And popularity can change someone and make him/her behave in a different way than the reason people were following that person in the first place. I believe in the future we will be wiser in the way we behave and manage our public communication. The collaboration part, as an ex Lotus (Notes) guy, is closed to my heart and I think real-time exchanges like Zoho or Google Docs are fantastic. Soon they will/should have a task allocation and next step process to them.


Bottom line, I believe we're still at the tool age for the social web and not yet at a more mature, service age.


Netvibes


10. What do you do for fun and what would you say is the secret to finding joy in what you do?


Developing a new territory, Personalization, is like creating a new city or a new country. The need for a Personalized web experience is undoubtedly here and we are the best suited to make this happen. For a small startup, born out of France, aiming at conquering the planet and competing against Google and IBM could be a nightmare... or great fun if you have the right product and the right team. I'm having a lot of fun :)


11. Finally, what advice would you give to a web startup in today's difficult economic environment?


It's quite simple: Dream the product and get real with your business.  A product without users is not a product and a business without revenue is not a business. Don't fix one side of this equation, fix both.

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.