By Uday Broca, Global MBA Student - India
Last week we had a company trek to Viadeo, the second largest professional social networking site in the world. Seven of us made it to their Global HQ in Paris and were pleasantly greeted by two huge walls filled with photographs of all the employees at the various company get-togethers in the reception area. Besides these were two fussball tables and we knew we were going to be in for something very different. During the tour of the office, we also saw a beautiful zen room, Playstation gaming room, a poker table and a cafeteria with their own personal Italian chef preparing some wonderful and aromatic food! What else could an employee ask for!
It wasn’t all fun and games though; you could definitely feel a sense of urgency and energy amongst all the employees, a rarity in European offices these days. The campus manager took us through the company presentation and facts and figures. With over 40 million registered users on their various sites, Viadeo is not small by any stretch of the means. They are on a crazy growth trajectory fuelled by the strategy set by the two founders to focus on emerging markets that include Brazil, India, China and now Russia and Africa as well. They have made some strategic acquisitions with UNYK, adding 10 million users in South America, Apna Circle in India, the largest local professional network with 3.5 million users and Tianji in China.
Peter Crosby, the Chief Sales Officer - a hardcore sales professional coming from the cut throat advertising sales business, laid out the strategy in more detail. He explained how Viadeo could not only compete but co-exist very easily with Linkedin without much trouble as they believed in adding a localised flavour to their sites rather than going for the broad brush approach used by Linkedin. This was evident from the subtle nuances felt between Apna Circle which provides astrological advice on the home page (very important for Indians) while Tianji has a very different colour scheme and layout in red (considered auspicious in China). They have also recently opened an office in Morocco and added a strategic partner in Russia, all parts of the overall strategy of growing and reaching a critical mass.
Peter also explained another major difference, Viadeo does not want to become just a job board through a social network and they are taking some major steps to achieve this. They would like to keep the website as a tool for building your network, finding a job, recruiting university candidates, connecting with sales contacts and much more.
After the presentation and discussions, the floor was opened for questions which ranged from threats from Branch Out and Yammer, opening up of the API, controlling SPAM, brand differentiation to possibility of IPO etc. All the speakers answered the questions in great detail, with room for some cross questioning as well.
Overall, the trek lasted nearly 3 hours and the ESSEC Global MBA students were highly appreciative of the time taken out by all the employees. It will be very interesting to see the battle between Linkedin and Viadeo transform in the coming years with most social networks being dominated by one large player. In this case we have two very strong yet completely different companies going head on, but could they co-exist? Will it result in one buying out the other? Will one just fritter away like Orkut did under facebook pressure? Or will we see the emergence of new giants like Google+ coming into the fray! Maybe it could be a few ESSEC Global MBA students joining Viadeo and making the difference? Only time will tell.
For now the class will concentrate on the strategies for growth (JV, M&As) elective starting this week and possibly come up with a few more answers to all the questions above.