Michelangelo Volpi, known generally as Mike, was for a long time the person most mentioned as successor to Cisco CEO John Chambers. Before leaving this year, the man named after an artist, spent 13 years at Cisco, including seven as the head of their mergers and acquisitions group. During that tenure, he was responsible for the first seventy acquisitions – many across the time zones of the world. He was also active in pushing the sale of Cisco’s networking equipment to many media power houses. Now, Mr. Volpi will be taking on a new challenge as the CEO of hugely funded, largely hyped, talent-agency-represented, IPTV company Joost.
In his new endeavor as CEO, Mr. Volpi’s will likely find some overlaps to his past experiences and a host of new challenges to resolve. His mergers and acquisitions background, for example, probably won’t be a large part of his early activities. Joost is focused more on partnerships (with media content providers and advertisers, and eventually hardware makers). Still, it’s probably the same business development skills used in sourcing the deals will be put to use at Joost.
Joost is aiming to provide a global Internet platform from the start. It’s not picking and choosing a narrow region and expanding bit by bit. It’s going all out. Joost already has offices in New York, Amsterdam and London. Content offerings on the site include programming as disparate as Bollywood created shows on one channel, soccer from Latin America on another, and those alongside American programming like MTV and Survivor. (Viacom, owner of MTV Networks, and CBS Corporation are both investors in Joost and programming from both companies will be available through Joost).
To help the globe-spanning effort, the London based company, has raised significant capital from investors around the world and even signed up to work with Los Angeles talent agency Creative Artists. Their goal is unequivocally, global reach. In that regard, Mr. Volpi’s background from Cisco will also be an asset. Michaelangelo will bring both global contacts and global experience.
Mr. Volpi’s background in hardware, and relationships inside Cisco (which owns set-top box maker Scientific Atlanta and the consumer networking brand Linksys) may also be a valuable contributor. That’s apparent when reading between the lines of some of Mr. Volpi’s recently published statements, notably the following: “Joost is a piece of software and it can reside on a variety of platforms. It could be on a television set-top box. Or potentially it could be embedded in a TV set with an Ethernet connection . . . The flexibility is really high.” Possible translation: Ethernet connection equals Linksys. Set-top box equals Scientific America.
One of the biggest questions hanging over Mr. Volpi’s involvement will be his relative inexperience in a consumer-facing media business. He will be tasked with finding a way to balance the interests and needs of what amounts to three different customer groups: i. Content Partners, the companies that provide the programming Joost will show. ii. Advertising Partners, the companies that will pay to get in front of Joost’s audience; and iii. Consumers, the ultimate end-users. Finding a balance that gives more than lip-service to the competing needs of all three groups without allowing a fractionalized, lower-quality user-experience will be hard. Not to mention marketing a free service for mass market use in such a competitive is going to be a unique challenge.
The team at Joost does have some experience with consumer marketing that will offset any weaknesses. Joost’s founders were previously responsible for creating peer-to-peer Internet telephony company Skype which was bought by eBay for around $2.6b. Prior to the acquisition, the team showed marketing prowess with Skype’s rapid growth around the world. And though not widely known, Mr. Volpi was involved in that process too. He filled a seat on Skype’s Board of Directors in 2004.
While Joost is still testing its technology, and the present offering has some quality and user-interface issues to work out over the next year, the addition of Mr. Volpi adds an exclamation mark to an already ambitious plan. Advertisers already love the idea of the kind of interactive advertising they can use with IPTV, and user’s, albeit early adopter types right now, seem to love the flexibility that is locked in the promise of successful IPTV delivery. Be interesting to see if Mr. Volpi and Joost can unlock that promise over the next year or two.