Posted by Florian Wardell | 5 comments
Interview with Jimdo co-founder Matthias Henze
The days when you needed to be an HTML expert to create a website are over. Thanks to companies like Google or Yahoo!, even smaller businesses took conscience that the web was a powerful marketing tool which they had to learn to master, and individuals started seeking what is now known as “web presence”. Today, there are literally hundreds of services that try to penetrate the easy website creation market, but only few stand out like Jimdo, founded by a talented trio of European individuals. Matthias Henze, one of them, is now responsible for marketing and distribution at the Hamburg-based company. He graciously accepted an interview:
TechHaze: Mr. Henze, some of our readers may not know what Jimdo is all about. Could you briefly describe the services offered, as well as give us a snapshot of the company’s current situation? How has your business scope evolved since United Internet, the leading German ISP, took 30% stake in Jimdo?
Matthias Henze: Jimdo is a free online website creator which allows users to create a great-looking website without any special computer skills. What really separates Jimdo from the pack is how easy it is to use and how professional the created websites look. We started Jimdo in February 2007, have over 1 Million users, and are doubling our userbase every 6 months. Jimdo is available in 8 languages and we see the growth from all parts of the world.
TH: You graduated from German and Swedish universities and obtained a degree in business. How did this lead you to the creation of Northclick, and how did Northclick lead you to the creation of Jimdo?
MH: I met Fridtjof through his brother with whom I studied together. Fridtjof at that time was 20 and had already co-founded a web-design agency with Christian. Their agency was doing well but they were looking for a unique product. In fall 2003 they developed a concept for easy content management, saw the potential, and were looking for a business guy. That’s when I jumped in. I had just graduated from university and couldn’t picture myself at a consulting firm or a big corporation, so I was more than happy to join. In early 2004 we went live with NorthClick and targeted SMBs in Germany with our easy-to-use content management system. Soon more and more of our friends asked us whether they could use our service for their personal websites. That’s when we recognized the huge potential for personal use and for very small businesses – and decided to launch Jimdo.
TH: How do you cope with immensely popular products like WordPress or Weebly, and on Macintosh, iWeb? Is there any Jimdo-specific feature that differentiates your product from the competition?
MH: I don’t think that you can break it down to a single feature. It’s the constant focus on permanent innovation, internationalizing the service and great customer support. Keeping the innovation speed high is quite a challenge when your service is growing quickly – you have to additionally focus on the infrastructure to keep the service running. For us in particular, we also had to manage the integration of Jimdo into the 1&1 infrastructure. However, I think we’ve managed well and we even expect to increaase our innovation pace in 2010. When it comes to internationalization – if you’re a start-up from a non-English speaking country but are aiming for the worldwide market you have to offer English as a language right from the get-go. That’s at least what we did and we thought, if we set up the process then we might as well add other languages too. I do think we’ve established a good knowledge of how to launch and manage different language versions of the service. And of course good customer support is always important.
TH: One of Jimdo’s most impressive feature is the ability to copy another website’s design. Some may find this incredibly useful, others may say it facilitates design theft. How do you respond to this?
MH: We developed this feature mainly for our SMB-users who should be able to hire a local web-designer to create a custom design for them and implement it in Jimdo. And that’s actually how it’s used. The results are great and the graphic flexibility of Jimdo comes to light. The feature indeed could also be used to copy a design of any website – but in fact there has not been any design theft reported to us since we introduced the feature in fall 2007.
TH: WYSIWYG editors are often accused of producing poor results. However, during our short test run of Jimdo, we found the results very impressive. What technologies did you develop to make this possible?
MH: We developed Jimdo ourselves – and it is mainly based on PHP.
TH: Jimdo is more successful than Weebly worldwide, but has a weaker market penetration in the United States. That seems strange in an industry where distance practically doesn’t matter. How do you explain this?
MH: That’s a good question. Probably, one reason is that the US in one of many countries we’re targeting whereas our competition is mainly focusing on their US home market. And in addition, although distance doesn’t matter as much as it used to, it still does matter. We know our tasks for the US and that’s why we expect to get stronger in the US, too.
TH: How do you see Jimdo’s future?
MH: It feels like we have just started out with Jimdo. We’re really proud on what we’ve achieved so far but there’re so many chances and challenges ahead of us. So we’re really looking forward towards what’s still to come.
TH: On a personal level, are you Mac or PC?
TH: Jimdo is an incredible success story. Do you have any advice for young companies starting up small, but aiming high?
MH: There’s a new startup movement in the US, called Lean Startup. The theory behind it is to focus on the product-market fit before you think of rolling out the product to the masses. In my opinion, this is very relevant to all entrepreneurs who are thinking of starting a company. If you’re interested in this theory, I can recommend the blogs of Sean Ellis, Eric Ries, and Steve Blank.
TH: Mr. Henze, thank you very much for your time!
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