SNW INTERVIEW -- Sep 20 -- Viadeo is a competitor to Linkedin in Europe and recently raised 5 million Euros. The site is localized in German, Spanish, French, Portugese and Italian. Here's my interview Viadeo's CEO and Founder, Dan Serfaty. - Mark Brooks
What is Viadeo’s founding story?
Viadeo started under another name, Agregator, which is an entrepreneur club we founded in France in 2000. Agregator operates like a classic networking club and aims to get its entrepreneur members to exchange their experience, ideas and contacts with other club members. The price for participating in the club was to exchange some of their equity for equity in the club creating a pooling of risk and reward. At the time, this was a novel concept that has since grown into a pretty big club with 350 entrepreneurs having contributed shares equal to 2-10% of their companies. Members now have more of a link with other Club members because they share a common interest in the success of Agregator.
Around the end of 2003, we got an idea to create some software that would allow the club members to access each others’ contacts. Every entrepreneur knew at least 20-50 other people, so there was the opportunity to increase the influence and potential of the club by giving members access to other members’ networks. When we started to work on the product, though, I received an invitation from a friend for a pretty new website called LinkedIn. We realized then that what we were building could be much more powerful if we built it on the Internet. Viadeo was launched October of 2004 and the website was fully implemented by the end of the year.
We used part of the first 5 million euros we raised for Agregator to invest in Viadeo. In November 2005, we spun off Viadeo because the growth was really impressive and it truly was becoming a different business. In the beginning of 2006, we raised another 5 million euros specifically for Viadeo. We just raised another 5 million euros last month.
How will you spend it?
Our first round of funding got the site up. Our second round aimed mainly at our international development. We translated the website into 6 or 7 languages and opened offices in England, Spain, Italy, and Germany. We also took a strategic participation in Tianji.com, the leader of the field in China. During this period in 2006 while our current expenses were covered by our revenues, we still needed more money to expand. This latest round or funding will be used for more international development. We want to increase our presence in Asia, particularly in China, India, Korea, and Japan. We hope to make some targeted acquisitions or at least take on more strategic participations, which will give us a say in the management of the local companies.
How did you seed the site to get the initial 5,000 members?
We used two successful methods. The first one was Agregator. At the time, we had 200-250 entrepreneurs who were really well-connected. They invited all their contacts and that really increased membership at the beginning. The second was our connections. My partners and I and the initial staff of Agregator went to the best French universities and we were able to play on all our different alumni networks. We made the first 5,000 members in a little more than two months. Then, the virality started and we got to 20,000 members in the next two months and more than 180,000 after a year.
How would you say Viadeo is different from Xing and LinkedIn?
We’re all professional social networks, but LinkedIn is more network and Xing is more social. LinkedIn is all about getting in touch with people you don’t know through people you do know. There are no social tools – no forums, no groups. Xing, on the other hand, provides no way of networking and getting in touch with someone through someone else’s contacts. You’re just looking for people through the search engine, finding profiles, and getting in touch with strangers directly.
Viadeo is in the middle. We have a very strong network system that allows you to get in touch with people through the people you already know. But we also have social features, like groups/hubs, communities, sub-communities, and agendas. And we’re launching chat functionality within three weeks. With Viadeo, people can network and socialize.
As far as members go, Xing and Viadeo are pretty close since we’re both aiming locally. LinkedIn is only in English and, outside the US and UK, is aimed more at the international people working at big corporations. Viadeo and Xing are much more local and aim at the middle and top management levels in every country we’re in. We don’t just have our sites in native languages, we also capture the local cultures.
How do you help people make more money on Viadeo?
This is what we’re trying to better understand. We now have about 2.6 million members. The majority joined Viadeo just to network and be visible. Because they’re not looking to make money or business directly, Viadeo is more of a lifetime management career tool. Other users, though, are more directly interested in doing business. We give these users specific tools to make them more efficient. A good example is recruiters, who can use professional social networks to find new hires. For them, we’ve developed a specific search engine. They can look for, say, an experienced financial analyst in London. If they get 50 results, they then can – with just one click – send their job ad to the 50 different people. This is something that nobody can do on any other professional network. And only recruiters can do this on Viadeo, otherwise spam would be everywhere.
We are also building a specific marketplace where suppliers and customers can meet. We have just built one for use between Europe and China and called it ECL (Euro China Link). These are just some of the tools our members use to make more money and business.
How does Viadeo make money?
We have two main streams of revenue. For the people who are just using Viadeo to manage their careers, there is a B2B subscription fee of 5-6 euros per month. This option has all the necessary features to network and be visible in the long term. For the rest, we have specific global B2B products and services. Recruiters’ subscriptions are around 10,000 euros per year. For the suppliers and buyers, I cannot tell you all the prices – they depend on the population, products, and tools.
What are your goals for 2007 through 2008?
All of us – LinkedIn, Xing, Viadeo – are still young. Our combined members number, what, 20 million? It’s really a young market still, so our goal for the next 2-3 years is to grab as much market share as we can from all over the world. We want to become a worldwide company. Today, we have about 1.3 million members in France, 1 million in China, and about 300,000 in the rest of Europe. In 2-3 years, we’d like less than 20% of our members to be in France, 20-40% in Europe, and 30-40% in China and Asia.