Netvibes Five Million Users & Counting

The upside of conferences such as The Future of Web Apps confab (currently underway in San Francisco) is that you run into folks you never expect. Today, I ran into Tariq Krim, chief executive officer and founder of Paris-based Netvibes. While I have often Skyped him, it has been difficult to overcome the geographic distance and meet in person.

A journalist-turned-entrepreneur, Tariq’s little project recently got the tongues wagging when the nine-month-old company raised $15 million in venture funding from the likes of Accel Partners and Index Ventures. The company counts Marc Andreessen, Martin Varsavsky (the founder of WiFi network, FON) and Pierre Chappaz (founder of Kelkoo) amongst its backers. After spending a few minutes discussing my recent Business 2.0 story on the widgetization of the web, we discussed the state of Netvibes.

Krim says his company now has five million active users and growing fast.

He says nearly half the users are from the U.S., and are amongst Netvibes’ most demanding (in terms of using features and bandwidth) users. The company is days away from launching an updated service that would address some of the growing frustration with “too many social networks.” I did get to see the new feature, and even to my jaded eyes, pretty hot.

After some querying about the state of finances, Krim did tell us that the company is making some money from referrals and affiliate deals. In the near future there will be premium module deals. I suspect you would see more companies to follow in the footsteps of travel search engine, Mobissimo, which announced a Netvibes module today.

Such deals are vital for the company, which might have generous VC backing but it is facing deep-pocketed challengers including Microsoft and Google, as well as other start-ups nipping at its heels. The company’s features are becoming commonplace. What would make them different form others? (Read Niall Kennedy’s essay that is pretty comprehensive.)

Tariq told Liz while she was working for Red Herring that Netvibes was going to try to get distribution deals with big media companies to have branded personalized homepages. That sounds like a promising business, but skepticism prevails. Blame much of that on the copious amount of VC dollars!

Nevertheless, when I see Netvibes, I see a company that is offloading a bulk of heavy lifting to the client, aka the browser. Not very different than Skype, you could say. I see a tool that if nurtured properly could become the gatekeeper to my attention. Just like MySpace has the attention of its 100 million plus users, Netvibes can do the same, but as a starting point for our digital journeys.
Of course, the company has to keep innovating and coming up with ways to extend their ecosystem. And they need to maintain unwavering focus on making the service easier, faster and more convenient to use.