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Building a browser community: Q&A with Jon von Tetzchner, founder of Opera and Vivaldi

By Emma Lee


Being an entrepreneur is all about realizing the long cherished vision regardless of the difficulty of the process. For Jon von Tetzchner, that vision is to build the most powerful browser for users.

Jon worked more than ten years as the co-founder and CEO of Opera Software, a majority of which was sold last year to a Chinese consortium led by Qihoo 360. He left Opera in 2010. Motivated by his original vision, however, Jon is back in the arena six years later with Vivaldi, a feature-rich browser for power users, to continue where he’s left with Opera. The Vivaldi browser was born out of a namesake social network and forum site for exiles from Opera’s now-closed community site, which Jon built in 2014.

The Icelandic programmer shared with TechNode his insights on the Chinese browser market as well as how to build an active fan community to power product development here.

Building an active user base is crucial for startups to improve their products constantly based on quick customer feedbacks. This is especially true for Vivaldi, a user-centric browser targeting power users who have higher and more detailed demands.

Why did you leave Opera when it was doing great?

The reason for leaving the company was a disagreement with investors about the direction of the company. I wanted to continue to grow Opera, while the investors and the current management wanted to sell the company. They did not believe that we could continue the growth we had had for 15 years.

Two years after I left Opera, they decided to change the product philosophy to be more like the others, meaning a simpler browser with limited functionality and flexibility. This made a lot of Opera users unhappy and me as well. I had planned to continue to use Opera for all time, but Opera no longer had the features I and other users wanted. Thus we decided to make Vivaldi, a browser for our friends.

How is Vivaldi different from Opera or any other browsers available on the market now?

The general trend in software is simplification. In the past software was feature rich, but hard to use. During the last 15 years or so, there has been a trend towards simpler software, where features are removed unless they get widespread use. We believe it is possible to make feature rich software that is still easy to use and that adapts to your needs. We see every single user as an individual that deserves to get a browser that fits their need.

This means that Vivaldi has a lot of features that no other browser has and typically many different ways to do the same thing, as we know people differ in how they use this tool. People spend hours each day with their browser, so learning a few tricks is worthwhile if it saves you a lot of time and effort. That is what Vivaldi is all about.

How’s Vivaldi growth in China and what’s your strategies in building a local community?

China is one of our top 20 countries. Clearly, Asia is very important to us and we are seeing a lot of users in many Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea, and India as well.

We currently have a dedicated Chinese community where Chinese volunteers with whom we engage personally help us understand the needs of the users in the Chinese market.

Vivaldi supports both traditional and simplified Chinese language. We intend to get deep into blogging, social networking sites, online communities. 92% of Chinese netizens use some kind of social media. Initiatives like the Vivaldi Club by our Chinese volunteers is an example that we do want to reach out to more.

In a vertical community of tools such as browsers, members are the end users. The characteristics of such users are a willingness to try products, a pursuit of individuality, strong practical ability and high engagement in software-related industries. Most of our Chinese users were familiar with Opera and were loyal users of the browser. They believe in Vivaldi’s values and mission of being a very personal browser that adapts to the user.

A large proportion of Chinese internet users are mobile first or even mobile only. What are your plans on releasing mobile browser?

Clearly, we are working on a mobile browser, with a focus on Android. We aim to provide a browser that is more advanced than what you normally find in the market. Also on the mobile side, browsers tend to be too simple for the kind of use you are seeing. Especially for those that only use mobile devices, a more advanced browser is needed, but also for others.

What are your tips for fellow entrepreneurs in product, team management or in managing relations with investors?

I co-founded Opera and I have now co-founded Vivaldi. I am also involved in some other companies, but in general, I have stayed on course. In many ways that is my best advice. Do something that really interests you, whatever it is. You are much more likely to succeed if the project is something that you are engaged in, instead of just a way to make a buck.

It is important to have a great team that has balance. People with different skills, but with the same mission. That applies to the investors as well. They need to be on board with where you want to go or the whole project may be a disaster waiting to happen. So many projects have been destroyed by having team members and/or investors that are not in tune.

Source:: Building a browser community: Q&A with Jon von Tetzchner, founder of Opera and Vivaldi

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