Viadeo, the France-based professional social network that competes with LinkedIn, has announced a trio of news items today including the upcoming launch of an innovation lab in San Francisco, the acquisition of French startup Pealk and that it has hit 50 million registered members.

The first two events are closely linked and center around Pealk, a 5-man French company that built a people search application for LinkedIn. The service saw impressive uptake when released but its short life ended when LinkedIn revoked Pealk access to the API in June citing a breach in terms of service.

Pealk’s founders were “surprised” by the LinkedIn decision — claiming that the company had been discussing a potential partnership with them — but now, six months later, the startup has been acquired by its fellow French firm for an undisclosed sum, which Golden tells TNW is ‘six figures’.

pealk 730x432 Now at 50m users, LinkedIn rival Viadeo acquires French startup Pealk and announces US innovation lab

The deal will see Pealk’s ‘super search’ service — which proved popular with recruiters for its ability to search through LinkedIn’s user data — rebuilt for Viadeo, while Boris Golden, the company’s co-founder and CEO, will head up that activity and also lead the company’s new ‘Viadeo Labs’ team, based in San Francisco.

Viadeo has had an office in the US city since 2010, but Viadeo Labs — which will open in the coming months — will be a new addition focused on “outside of the box ideas, projects and products”, Viadeo chief strategy officer Olivier Fécherolle tells TNW. Indeed, LinkedIn itself opened its own ‘incubator’ in December with a similar aim of encouraging new thinking.

Thierry Lunati, Viadeo co-founder and its director general, will head up the team which will consist of Golden and four engineers who will explore new approaches, products and business models for the company.

“The Labs team will be focused on finding great ways to make social networks more useful on a daily basis,” Fécherolle says. “We are sure that there are new products and ideas outside of our current scope — and multi-local approach — which can make the service more relevant to our users.”

Fécherolle also stresses the importance of emerging markets, which are a key focus of Viadeo — which runs localized services in China, Russia, South America and other regions. He believes that professional social networks like Viadeo should appeal to “more than just white collar workers”, and he says the Labs team will have a massive hand in shaping future product and service development.

Viadeo raised $32 million in new funding last year to spur its growth into emerging markets, and the company has seen particular success in China, where LinkedIn remains unblocked by authorities but is yet to generate local traction.

However, LinkedIn stands a long way ahead of Viadeo worldwide, having just announced 200 million registered users last week. Indeed, Viadeo is in need of all the ideas it can muster; LinkedIn has added 50 million users since Viadeo raised funding in April 2012, in which time the French company has added just 5 million new sign-ups.

That is one of the reason that spurred Golden into taking the role with Viadeo, unlike his other co-founders who moved on to other projects after netting the proceeds of the Pealk sale.

“Viadeo needs to be different to LinkedIn, which means a focus on innovation and new ideas; that’s the aim of the Viadeo Labs team,” he says.

Despite just one co-founder coming aboard, both sides tell TNW that the deal is an acquisition not an aquihire, since the Pealk product will live on and Golden will retain an influential position with the company.

Though it has been bought by a fellow French company — which is ironically located just a stone’s throw away from the Pealk office — Golden and his co-founders traveled to Silicon Valley in the aftermath of their LinkedIn saga, soliciting approaches and offers from other companies. The team settled on Viadeo because of its focus on reviving the product, and Golden believes this is an ideal match.

“I couldn’t have imagined it at the time, but the deal with Viadeo makes so much sense,” he says. “Some US firms wanted to acquihire us but that would have meant that the product would die, and that would have been such a disappointment.”

Golden is also excited about the potential to be involved in ‘a startup within a big company’, which what the Viadeo Labs project is aiming to be. The team is set to come together and began work in April/May, so Viadeo users may see the fruits of its labor later this year.

It’s hard to see Viadeo catching LinkedIn on overall user numbers but, as it continues to push its local approach and focus on emerging markets, it will be interesting to see what release come out of the new Labs team.

Here’s the short press release issued by Viadeo and Pealk today, note that the company’s new user numbers are quietly announced in its about section at the bottom:

Viadeo Acquires Pealk

The merger adds an innovative, high-performance tool to Viadeo’s arsenal of solutions for SMBs.

Paris, 14 January 2013 — Viadeo, the professional social network with 50 million members worldwide, announced their acquisition of French start-up Pealk today. The buyout means that Viadeo members will get access to Pealk’s innovative web app, a streamlined interface that helps SMBs find and contact professionals on social networks.

Pealk’s app has garnered unanimous praise worldwide and gives professionals a seamless, straightforward tool to search, filter, and organize profiles that can then be contacted. Designed for maximum productivity, it allows HR and sales professionals to make the most of Viadeo’s extensive database.

“A PSN’s value depends not only on the size of its member base, but on how members can use it to their advantage,” states Dan Serfaty, co-founder and CEO of Viadeo. “That makes Pealk the most innovative product we’ve released in the last five years, thanks to its ability to democratize social networking for business purposes.”

“We’re very proud and pleased with this buyout, which we consider to be the happy ending to an exciting adventure,” says Boris Golden, Pealk’s CEO. “It’s also the beginning of a new adventure for us, since there are plenty of applications just waiting to be invented that will give professionals more ways to unlock Viadeo’s full potential!”

The transaction was conducted in late 2012 for an undisclosed sum. Pealk shareholders were advised by François-Bourrier Soifer, partner of the Scemla Loizon Veverka & de Fontmichel law firm.

About Viadeo

Viadeo is a professional social network with 50 million members worldwide (Jan. 2013). Available in 8 languages, Viadeo is used by those who want to:

  • Seek out new business opportunities by contacting potential customers, business partners, and suppliers;
  • Improve their online visibility and reputation;
  • Manage and grow their network of professional contacts.

Viadeo’s members include business owners, entrepreneurs, and managers from a wide range of industry sectors. Every month, more than 1 million new members register on Viadeo, 10 million new connections are made, and over 100 million profiles are viewed.

Headquartered in Paris, Viadeo also has offices in the UK (London), the US (San Francisco), Spain (Madrid and Barcelona), Morocco (Casablanca), Italy (Milan), Russia (Moscow), China (Beijing), India (New Delhi), Mexico (Mexico City), and Senegal (Dakar). The company employs 400 staff worldwide.

Headline image via ThinkStock