Kara Swisher

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Mike Volpi Jumps From Joost to Index: A BoomTown Interview (And Full Press Release)

Two years ago, Index Ventures was part of a group that invested $45 million in Joost, the then-hot-and-hyped online video service, while bringing on well-known tech exec Mike Volpi (pictured here) as CEO.

Now, he is headed to Index as a partner at the venture firm, in what some might think is an ironic move.

That’s because last week, after much effort to get traction for Joost, Volpi announced that the service was undergoing a major shakeout–drastically cutting staff and shifting its business model and strategy.

Volpi also stepped down as it top exec, although he will stay on as chairman of Joost.

The development for the much-hyped Joost caused a small hubbub across the Internet, with much second guessing over could-have, would-have and should-haves about its strategies and product.

At Index, according to the press release, Volpi will be “based in the London office as part of the venture team where he will lead early stage investments in the Internet, telecom/networking and media sectors and contribute to the firm’s later stage growth fund.”

BoomTown talked with Volpi by phone from London about the move, which will be announced today, and about what happened at Joost.

Taking a job at Index, which is also located in London, was a natural one, said Volpi, who made a $10 million investment in Index’s first fund while an exec at Cisco (CSCO).

Over the years, he has gotten to know its partners well, including Danny Rimer.

Volpi also said he thinks it is a great time to be a VC, a new job for him. “In a market downturn, it is a good time to invest,” said Volpi. “There are a lot of great opportunities out there now.”

Currently, he is very interested in Web companies built around transactional business models rather than ad-supported ones, which he thinks need a lot more development to become significant.

Volpi should know, given his recent experience at Joost, which relied on the still nascent advertising business for online video.

“At the end of the day, the consumer offering we had was not working, a lot because we did not have enough access to content we needed to build traffic,” said Volpi.

Joost was competing with outfits like Hulu, which is joint venture of two major media companies, News Corp. (NWS) and GE (GE) unit NBC Universal, as well as Google (GOOG) video unit YouTube.

The video service was started by Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, whom Volpi met when he served on the board of their last hit, Skype.

Volpi said that to keep competing, it needed more funding. And, since no online video service was making money, he said it was decided a change was needed instead of just keeping on the same path.

Thus, the shift to a white-label video service, becoming a back end for other video players, which is still putting Joost into what is still a very competitive business.

Volpi acknowledged this, although he noted: “It is better to be competing in sector that has profitable rivals than one that does not.”

Discussions with possible acquirers of Joost also did not pan out, due mostly to price issues. But, said Volpi, it yielded some insight about Joost’s future direction.

“Not everyone wanted to pay a lot to own Joost, but a lot of people wanted to rent it,” said Volpi.

Volpi called his time at Joost “a fantastic experience,” which he also hopes will be the case at Index.

In addition, here’s a video interview I did with Volpi when I was in London last year:

And here is the official press release on the move of Volpi to Index:


Technology Executive to Invest in the Internet, Telecoms, Networking and Media Industries

LONDON, GENEVA and JERSEY, 6 July 2009–Index Ventures today announced that Mike Volpi, a renowned technology industry veteran, joined the firm as a partner. Volpi is based in the London office as part of the venture team where he will lead early stage investments in the Internet, telecom/networking and media sectors and contribute to the firm’s later stage growth fund.

During his 13 year career at Cisco, Volpi acquired more than 75 companies and served as Chief Strategy Officer responsible for corporate strategy, business development, strategic alliances, and advanced Internet projects. Volpi then led Cisco’s billion dollar routing and service provider business. For the past two years, Volpi was CEO of Joost, an Internet startup focused on online broadcast TV, and recently transitioned into the role of Chairman. Volpi started his career at HP in 1989.

“Mike has been a close advisor to the Index family for more than 10 years. He has worked closely with several of our portfolio companies such as Skype, TrialPay, Joost, FON and Telegent, even serving on some of their boards, so it’s a natural progression to have him officially join our team,” said Giuseppe Zocco, partner and co-founder, Index Ventures. “Mike’s world-class leadership qualities, transaction experience, and network make him a great addition to our partnership and will enhance our ability to serve our portfolio companies.”

“Venture has become a global business and I’ve watched Index take their place as a marquee name by investing in industry-altering businesses such as Betfair, MySQL and Skype,’ said Volpi. “I’m excited to become part of this team and look forward to helping Index partner with the next generation of great entrepreneurs.”

“Index companies have benefited from Mike’s wide ranging experience and his perspective will be invaluable as we continue to identify disruptive companies to invest in,” said Danny Rimer, Index partner.

“Mike has been a great source of strategic advice and has opened many doors for Telegent ever since Index invested in the company,” said Weijie Yun, CEO of Telegent Systems. “We highly value his perspective and we look forward to working with him even more closely now that he is a permanent member of the Index Ventures team.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work