Jon S. von Tetzchner: We will (re)create a browser you love.

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner — Founder and CEO of Vivaldi, Former CEO of Opera Software

It has been five years since you left the position of CEO at Opera. What is your current status in the company, and are you still a shareholder?

Jon: I sold my shares right before and about the time I started work on Vivaldi, so I am no longer a shareholder. Opera went in another direction, and it was quite natural for me to sell the remaining shares. I still have a lot of friends working in Opera, great people with whom I worked for many years. Some of them joined us at Vivaldi, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, as time passes, we see more and more familiar people joining our new project.

In addition to the foundation of Vivaldi, what did you work on during the past five years?

Jon: I left the company in mid-2011, moved and now live in the United States. In recent years I took a role of an investor, but when I realized that Opera announced significant changes that will further alter the product, and not necessarily to the satisfaction of loyal and long-time users, I decided it was time to make another browser.

Tell us more about your experiences as an investor, and in how many companies have you invested so far?

Jon: I invested in ten companies with which I still work very closely. I try to be a good investor; I’m always there as a mentor, so founders may ask me for an advice at any time, and I also try not to interfere into the way in which these companies operate. Since I am originally from Iceland, I decided to invest in a number of local startups, working on very interesting and creative things. However, from the way things are developing in Vivaldi, I am currently not looking for new companies to invest in.

In the golden age of the Opera, it always attracted the technical part of the user community, which liked the browser because of the advanced technology under the hood. When you stepped down as CEO, it seems that the company completely changed direction. Can you explain exactly what happened?

Jon: Although Opera actually recorded strong growth, I spent a lot of time with investors who did not share the same vision, and it was almost impossible to explain to them which way we think the product should be developed. Such pressure resulted in me leaving, and this is also one of the reasons why Vivaldi has only one investor.

My successor as Opera’s CEO, Lars Boilesen, wanted to focus on the development of new businesses within the company. On the other hand, my goal from day one was to build products that users will grow fond of. So, after my departure, the company focused on acquisitions of other companies which operate in different areas, most notably in the advertising industry. They not only changed the focus of the main product, but also changed the focus of the entire company.

During the last couple of years, while you were still on board, investors wanted to switch the focus towards products which are easier to develop, easier to grow and therefore easier to monetize. One of the projects which no longer had the support of management is the “My Opera Community”. Can you tell us how it came up to its closure?

Jon: The company is focused on what the shareholders wanted, and I was focused on the customers and the product itself. Do not get me wrong, Opera was an extremely profitable company with a large sum of money in the bank. However, a good portion of that money was spent on investments in other companies, and when they occurred, change of focus proved to be inevitable.

I think we could’ve taken the desktop browser business to a whole new level, and create a product that does not exist on the market. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and time will show whether some of these were really smart investments.

“My Opera Community” may not constitute as a necessary investment that would satisfy shareholders, but represented a kind of investment in happy and satisfied customers, as a foundation for a successful business.
Logo of Vivaldi Browser

At the time when “My Opera Community” closed, we first heard of Vivaldi. You announced that you will start constructing a similar community that would allow long-time users to have a new place to continue with their activities. What was the idea behind this new project, and what are you and your team trying to achieve with it?

Jon: When we launched this new project, we already had an idea to work on a completely new browser. So, it was natural to start with a community that already had a large number of users of a browser they loved. They had nowhere to go, so we made a place for them. At the same time, we proceeded with the Vivaldi browser which we designed according to the needs of the community and users, who have used Opera for many years.

Who are the founders of Vivaldi and the first employees in this company?

Jon: The first employees of the new company were certainly people with whom I worked closely in the Opera. In the early days, we met in secret to discuss the things that moved us, things that actually drove us to unite in creating a new product. At the beginning we hired several former Opera employees, but I quickly realized that I have many friends in Iceland that could also help us in building Vivaldi, so the company is a kind of mix my former colleagues and my friends from Iceland.

Is Vivaldi a hobby project or will you try to build a “real” company with your team?

Jon: Currently the company has 25 employees, which clearly shows that this is not a side project. Our desire is to create a browser with an amazing community behind it, and we plan to invest a lot of resources in the whole thing.

We have already created quite a stir in the world of Internet browsers just because we are working on something totally different. In a place where leading browsers offer simple solutions to a large number of users, we strive to offer our users with a product that is packed with rich technical features, specifically shaped according to their advanced and ever growing needs.

Today’s browsers are mainly simple products that can be customized according to user requirements with a large choice of add-ons or plug-ins. Can we expect a similar philosophy with Vivaldi, or more of an Opera-like approach trying to create a powerful “package” that will in itself have all those features that the power user needs?

Jon: Our plan is to create a unique, fast and feature-rich browser that does not use too many resources like many of today’s solutions, and which will allow users to have significant functionality within the browser itself. Vivaldi is based on the Chromium engine, which is used by many browsers of today, so one of the benefits is that our solution will also be upgradeable with a large number of plugins and extensions. The whole team is thinking outside the box, and coming up with new ways to improve existing and well-established processes in using the everyday browser.

One of the reasons why Opera was so popular among the technical community was a unique “Presto” engine powering the browser. Which was the primary reason that averted you from developing a custom engine for Vivaldi?

Jon: “Presto” is simply great. I would say it has perfect code execution. At that time, we managed to make it run on hundreds of different devices from desktop computers, to PDAs, television sets and mobile phones. My view is that the company should have proceeded with further development, but as with many other things, this was unfortunately not the case.

When it comes to drafting a completely new engine, there is a very good reason why no one has done it in the last 15 years. It is an extremely difficult and complicated process, and it takes extreme amounts of work in order to be compatible with all other standards. Opera is now used by more than 350 million users, of which about 60 million are using it on desktops, and at least half of them have their content rendered by Presto, but problems persist on certain websites — they simply do not display correctly. When you look realistically at all the facts, the construction of a new engine from the beginning was simply not something we could afford at Vivaldi.

Vivaldi Browser in use.

What are the plans for the expansion of Vivaldi? Can users expect a mobile version, in addition to the desktop one?

Jon: With Vivaldi we started at one corner; we started with a desktop version because it was a starting point from Opera. The focus is definitely both on desktop and mobile versions, which means that we will have support for multiple device types. When we reach a certain level, we will actually decide on further steps for product and community development. Our customers are our highest priority, and I openly say that we will put their needs first while working on the product.

When can we expect the first stable version of Vivaldi, both for desktop and mobile devices?

Jon: We start with weekly builds, and in time we will increase the number of features that will be available in the tests. Similarly, in a timely manner we will introduce a mobile version, but currently we do not want to set a fixed date. As was the case in Opera, we will launch the moment when we actually are ready, and not before that.

How many people have so downloaded the first technical preview of Vivaldi, and are you satisfied with the results?

Jon: We have had 500 000 downloads so far and that is a number I am very happy with. We are talking about the first Technical Preview release, so given that fact, these are significant numbers.

When we talk about functionality, we are aware that we must have a solution that will work across different platforms. Opera was one of the first browsers that supported the “web based” applications, which was revolutionary thinking at the time. Guided by such ideas, the team behind Vivaldi is trying to create an ecosystem that will provide for users demanding different experience of using the Internet, and the way they solve the daily tasks. We are the ones who have to think out of the box.

These days we see the first users, and the initial reactions to Vivaldi. Are you satisfied with the feedback, and do you plan to proceed with a more active promotion of the product among potential customers?

Jon: As I mentioned, we are starting with weekly builds that will serve as a way of unique promotion, and we will work on promotion in parallel with the development. The information we received from the first users are remarkable, and I have to admit the first numbers are extremely promising, since we have seen a huge increase in the number of downloads. We continue with our mission, and I’m grateful that I have a great team behind me for which I am confident it shares the same vision as me, they are fully committed to building quality products that users will enjoy.

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Author Ivan Minic, with special thanks to Vladimir and Marko.