In the first of a series, Trista Bridges takes a closer look at france’s cloud startups. First up is an interview with the co-founder of Jolicloud, Tariq Krim
Over the last few weeks we’ve discussed a couple initiatives sponsored by the french government, namely Andromède and another initiative led by SFR and Bull, to develop cloud computing services. While it’s encouraging that the government has recognized the massive opportunity cloud computing offers, it’s discouraging that they are relying on large, established companies to develop these solutions rather than engaging the various French startups that are already innovating in this space. There are several reasons that explain this situation, but perhaps one factor is also the general lack of awareness around what’s already going on in France around cloud computing. In the past, we’ve highlighted a couple french startups focusing on the cloud. One we’ve profiled is Contract Live, which is a cloud-based SaaS providing ‘contract management in the cloud’. Given this is such a rapidly evolving space, we’d like to start to take a closer look at others. We’ll start this week with Jolicloud, Clever Cloud next week, and others to follow.
JoliCloud – Disrupting the Personal Cloud
Tariq Krim, co-founder of JoliCloud, is a big thinker with equally big ambitions (which we think is a really good thing) although he thinks of himself first and foremost as an execution CEO. In business school one learns about BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Tariq lives for BHAGs. He’s always looking to anticipate trends and disrupt sectors through developing innovative products that transform how people manage their ‘digital lives’. I caught up with Tariq recently to discuss what JoliCloud is up to, where they’re planning to take it and his general thoughts on how France is doing in the cloud space.
Tell me about how JoliCloud started and how it’s evolved.
Back when I was developing NetVibes I came to the realization that the browser was capable of doing most of the work and, thus, my long-term vision was the ‘web as the platform’. However, this was not how things evolved as Apple and Android went a different way. Neither (nor other big firms) was actually faithful to the pure web as a platform vision. We felt this was an opening and decided that we would develop a project that would endorse the web as a platform. So, in developing the OS (Joli OS) our initial vision was that for the first time there was an the opportunity to create an entire system on the web to do all the casual task that one would normally do using (computer based) software. My co-founder and I then developed a prototype (of the OS) and started testing it first on inexpensive netbooks (before launching it more broadly). Ultimately, our first goal with the OS was for it to be inexpensive, simple, and easy to use. It has developed quite well as we now have 4 million downloads of Joli OS with users all over the world.
After this we started thinking bigger and said why not turn any computer in the world into a cloud device for free. Up until that point we not only had Joli OS, but also had the Jolicloud platform. For a long time we were only known as an OS, although the purpose of the OS was always to connect to a cloud platform. The vision was very clear at the time that if everything was going to be online, people needed a way to access it. We figured why not build the platform to allow everyone to be able to access the cloud. As we started working on this idea, a big event came along in our industry and changed everything…the launch of the iPad. People started to adopt tablets as their primary way to access content. And, of course, with the iPhone getting better and better every year and Android catching up, the mobile essentially became a computer. At this point we had a decision to make around whether we should allow only the users of our OS to benefit of our platform or if we should go after our bigger vision and enable people to access their personal cloud via all devices. I must say that we struggled with this as our vision was always the web as a platform (ie HTML 5). The success of the iPad, iPhone and Android, however, substantially delayed the vision of a pure web world. We then had a moment of pragmatism. We asked ourselves whether we wanted to do HTML 5, web model everywhere including mobile or whether we wanted to develop native products (ie apps for each device). At some point we decided the platform we were developing was more valuable and that we would develop the best user experience we could on each device. So we built and recently launched an iPhone app called Jolicloud Me and have developed an Android app which will be launching soon.
Jolicloud Me provides a view of your life on the cloud on a daily basis by connecting to the various networks your are a part of. The ‘Cloud Engine’ then scans these networks, finds all your data in these networks, and then turns it into a (single) timeline. It then gives you the power to quickly search this data or create ‘collections’ organised by interest or other criteria (criteria can be customised).
What do you want to ultimate vision for Jolicloud?
Right now I’d say we’re only 5% of where we ultimately want to be. Our greater purpose is really is to open the cloud and make it available for people. For example, over the last 7 or 8 years I’ve been using tons of services, so my digital life is scattered around multiple services, devices, etc. So at the end of the day our digital life is broken. The question is how do we give people the ability to access everything they own, everything that is related to them in an easy way. So, we want to make the cloud easy and accessible. We started by giving people a desktop and enabling them to access apps, but this isn’t enough. The most important problem is how do access your data across various services. Your online data is your life online. For us, the moment you give people access to this data in an easy way, you give people power…the power of access. People think they have access, but to really have access you need to know where (the data) is, ‘how’ it is, ‘when’ it is etc. This is the idea of helping to build and have full access to your personal cloud.
You’ve spoken a lot about the power to access content. What about enabling users to have more control over their content?
This is very important, but first you need to know what content that you have online. So, we now have our ‘Cloud Engine’ that trawls the web and allows you to instantly know what private and public content you have on the web (in certain apps for the moment) and gives you access. The next step is to be able to, for example, delete content across the web and or make public content private. For the moment, however, APIs across the web don’t allow us to do this so we have to send you back to the original content to manage it. So, ultimately the services need to open up more to do this.
What are the specific things you’re looking to do with Jolicloud in the future?
We’re still in the very early days. We’ve now built this ‘Cloud Engine’ that provides a massive way of organising your data for you. A lot of services you use have benefited from you putting all your data there, but there is no service that has been designed to allow you to benefit from having all this data. Now we do photos, videos, music, links, etc, eventually we want to include other data such as bank statements, tv shows, books, etc. Our focus first has been providing access to what’s easier to access and most closely related, however our vision isn’t limited. There’s so many other services that we could include. For example, business have come to us and said it would be amazing to compile all the information on their brands.
We eventually want to give people the ability to decide where they can store their data and manage their data (which can be monetized). So, for example offering more functionality around people’s personal cloud, storage, backup, etc. I personally believe that advertising and monetizing around (users’) data is not likely to be a course that we will take. I think people are looking for a different contract around how their data is treated. However, we have to focus first on developing the product and getting users to value their personal cloud.
What are your thoughts on Europe’s and France’s approach to the cloud and entrepreneurship?
I think Europe has a good understanding the next challenges of the cloud. For example, most data, the digital lives of 450 million people, are stored on server farms that are under non-European (but US) law which is a very new thing. This is a very big question for them. In addition, at the moment, the US is going in a certain direction (in terms of its development) because the US has a strong industry. Europe doesn’t have industry leaders (in the space), but instead has companies ‘borrowing’ stuff. Let’s take the example of Andromède. The difference between companies like Orange or Thales (who are working on the project) and Jolicloud is that we build genuine and unique core technology, where as they are buying off-the-shelf technology. They aren’t inventing the future. They are buying the future that is being invented somewhere else. That’s why I was raising a lot of doubts around whether we should be paying companies to buy technology from the US rather than investing in technology that is from Europe. This is not to say that the US technology isn’t good, but we I think we should be spending our resources and time promoting our own technology. I think thought there is a cloud ecosystem that’s being built as we speak in France, but maybe the problem is that we don’t make ourselves heard enough.
Also, most politicians have a poor understand around the dynamics of startups. One of the things I’ve said before is that startups and SMEs are totally different types of companies. We need urgency, efficiency, and extra care in dealing with them. The goal of an SME is to be a bigger company whereas the goal first and foremost of a startup is to survive. They require very different solutions.
The Jolicloud team are off to a solid start in terms of realising their vision and, ultimately, establishing Jolicloud as a leader in the personal cloud computing space. Given Tariq’s proven experience in developing transformative products and services, he’s well suited to lead the charge. We hope that Jolicloud and Tariq in particular will also play a active role in helping to put France’s growing cloud computing sector more prominently on the map.