This article was published on March 26, 2009

Exclusive Interview: Xing’s Chief Product Officer – “We’re going to ship it, fast and often”

Exclusive Interview: Xing’s Chief Product Officer – “We’re going to ship it, fast and often”
David Petherick
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David Petherick

Scotsman David Petherick is a director & co-founder of several companies, and provides social media strategy & visibility services. Scotsman David Petherick is a director & co-founder of several companies, and provides social media strategy & visibility services. David became known as ‘The Digital Biographer’ after a 2007 BBC radio interview, speaks Russian, wears the Kilt, and is a co-author for the books 'Age of Conversation 2.0, & 3.0'.

Today, Jason Golderg was named in the new post of Chief Product Officer at Xing, a business social network with over seven million members, and over half a million members paying for premium accounts. This follows on the acquisition of Jason’s social median ‘social news aggregator’ By Xing, as reported by The Next Web in December 2008.

The Next Web’s David Petherick spoke to Jason Goldberg in an exclusive interview in Hamburg on the eve of today’s announcement.

Jason Goldberg, Chief Product Officer, Xing, talks exclusively to The Next Web
Jason Goldberg, Chief Product Officer, Xing, talks exclusively to The Next Web

DP: Xing, the business social network is not famously ‘social’ so what will change, and how will the corporate user of Xing see that?

JG: We’re entering the second major of phase of XING right now. XING had a very successful first phase, led by its founder Lars Hinrichs, who took the company from just an idea to one of the leading social networks in the world, a public company, and a highly profitable business. Lars transitioned to the board of directors this year and our new CEO, Stefan Gross Selbeck, is leading the second phase of the company.

Stefan and I joined the company at the same time — he from running eBay Germany, myself from a social media pioneer, socialmedian. This next phase of XING is all about going deep on user engagement. In many ways that is the story of social networks overall. Phase I was about building big networks. Phase II is about providing increasing value to the users of those networks.

Stefan has made clear he believes that the future of XING is all about making XING more interactive and more essential to people’s daily lives. I’m thrilled to be leading those initiatives, as it follows on from our work at socialmedian, where we see upwards of 25-30% of our users returning to the site more than 5 times per week. There’s an incredible foundation at XING and already a very high user engagement rate. What we’re going to do is give people more and more reasons to rely on XING, and keep coming back to XING for their essential and occasional business networking and informational needs.

From a corporate user perspective, we now go from building the network to making the network work for you. Connecting with your colleagues was just the start. In fact, in many ways, that was the easier part. Now we do the harder but more valuable work of helping you learn from your network, get access to information from your network, and filter through your network. That means relying on your network to discover who else you should know and meet, relying on your network to discover what news and information you need to know, and relying on your network for advice and knowledge.

DP: Xing is growing as a big jobs marketplace – how will the ‘products’ engage with that for job seekers and for those looking to hire?

JG: Jobs and career development is obviously an even more important topic now given the current economic crisis. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there and business professionals need every tool they can get to help them figure out what’s next. XING is making major investments in the jobs category both from a candidate’s perspective and a recruiter’s perspective.

I can share with you that we have substantial teams currently working on major features to help both sides of that equation… so you can expect to see a lot of new developments in the jobs and recruiting area in the coming months. We already have tens of thousands of recruiters using XING to find and get in touch with candidates, and we are working with them to build better products and features to help them do that even better.

One thing you can expect to see from XING in the coming weeks and month is a whole new XING in terms of how we ship product and how we gather user feedback from our users…

DP: I expect we’ll see more like a socialmedian model – new stuff every 2 weeks maybe?

JG: The current mantra around the company is “Ship it!” — which means build stuff fast and get it out in front of users as quickly as possible and learn with our users how to make it better.

And yes, socialmedian style, we’ll be shipping stuff weekly starting in April. And we’ll be launching new methods for gathering user feedback directly from users.

DP: I have been the co-moderator of a group in Xing since 2006. It’s grown steadily to over 1400 members, but ‘conversation, and socialising is still slow, and perhaps stilted. I am just about to start a group to explore Using Twitter for Business in Xing. Where do I meet with you to explore that new possibility?

JG: (I should also note that socialmedian style, 20,000 XING users got a personal email from me this morning asking for their feedback and response to some specific questions.)

We also have now fast-tracked weekly product releases for April and May, and are planning what comes after that. So the pace is going to be much faster. In Q2 of 2009 you will see us make some major enhancements to the overall user experience and to how we help users get started on XING, and get immediate value from XING. We’ll be launching the Open Social platform and bringing some engaging applications onto XING. We’ll be making major investments in our international products. We’ll be investing heavily in jobs and recruiting. You’ll also be seeing a number of socialmedian-like elements on XING, designed to increase user-to-user interactivity and the overall richness of the platform.

But mostly it’s all about engagement. Our mission from a product standpoint is to make XING the essential companion for business professionals — the utility they rely on daily to help them navigate their professional life.

DP: Enagement is a wonderful term. I like that.

JG: To get there, we need to be loved by our users, not just liked. Engagement is everything.

DP: I sense Xing becoming a kind of platform – and when I see the term “Chief Product Officer” – I think ‘I have a product, so – how will I be able to channel that with / or through Xing’? Where’s your API? How do I engage?

JG: We will be launching a number of initiatives in the coming weeks that enable partners and interested parties to embrace and extend XING. Open-social enables partners to get their own applications onto XING. I can tell you that we are going to be very aggressive with open-social and we already have a number of very compelling applications being tested by users ahead of the official launch of the platform. We also will be launching a number of extensions using our API. We have a number such initiatives also in the works.

Hey, i just got this language from our PR team on the press release tomorrow if you need any of it.

Press information from XING AG, March 26, 2009:
XING AG continues profitable growth and boosts revenues by 80 percent

∙ Rising membership figures led to increase in revenues and profits in 2008
∙ XING plans to introduce new features in Q2/2009
∙ Recruiters will become more important to XING and its professional members
∙ Europe’s leading business network will continue to expand market positions
∙ New development strategy to accelerate speed of innovation
∙ XING reorganizes its management structure and plans to create new jobs

Hamburg, March 26, 2009. The online business network operated by Hamburg-based XING AG continues its solid growth even in the midst of the global financial crisis. This fact was confirmed by the results in the 2008 Annual Report which the company released today. The over two million new members that XING AG acquired made it possible for the company to increase its revenues to €35.27 million in 2008, an increase of 80%. In these economically difficult times, professionals are recognizing more than ever the advantages that a personal network can provide them in their work. A development that is benefiting the leading European business network. About 550 thousand of the approximately seven million business professionals pay for Premium functions on XING in order to take a more proactive approach to their networking. The 52% increase in paying members (2007: 362 thousand) is one of the main reasons why XING AG was able to increase its annual surplus by 31% to €7.32 million in 2008 (2007: 5.61 million). “XING is the business network with the most active members throughout Europe. We are pleased that more and more professionals around the world are using the platform to get the most out of their networks,” reports Dr. Stefan Gross-Selbeck, CEO of XING AG. “The fact that we have over half a million paying Premium Members is unique.” The Executive Board has defined strategic core goals for the current year and will have the company focus on implementing the further growth strategy.

XING plans to introduce new features in the second quarter
The management at XING AG has focused the project pipeline on developing features that will have the most to offer the members, and hopes that this will significantly speed up innovation. With “Company Pages” and new applications, a number of new features that will make XING even more attractive for professionals will be introduced on the platform.

Recruiters become an increasingly important target group for professionals and for XING
More than 40 thousand recruiters are already using XING to find the best-suited candidates for open positions. Managers and experts tend to change employers often in their career and numerous studies show that more than half of all new jobs are found through personal contacts. That’s why human resources decision-makers are becoming an increasingly important target group for many people. And it’s one reason why XING is focusing on further developing features that will make the platform more valuable for recruiters.

Europe’s leading business network would like to further expand regional market positions
With around 3 million managers and specialists, XING has significantly more members than any other professional network in the German-speaking world. The executive board would like to increase their lead even more, and sees sufficient market potential in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to more than double the number of members in their home markets within the next few years. XING already has over four million members in non-German speaking areas. Another area of focus this year will be increasing growth in other European countries.

New development strategy intended to speed up innovation
Clearly, a Web 2.0 company needs to involve its own community in the development of new features as soon as possible. That’s why XING would like to let its members use new features much sooner than before by making them available in the beta phase. “We would like to include our members much sooner in the further development of our platform. Their suggestions for improvement and, of course, any complaints they may have will help us develop our business network more quickly and, most importantly, in a way that best suits their needs,” explains Dr. Stefan Gross-Selbeck with respect to the new development strategy. XING is also setting up the technical requirements needed to offer new applications in cooperation with external developers on their own platform through the OpenSocial Standard in the second quarter.

DP: Jason, as an entrepreneur, you obviously are fired up by this, and have a real hunger, a real fire in your belly. Where will we be if we are having a late-night chat between Edinburgh and Hamburg in 5 years time? Or will it be Amsterdam and Mumbai? What I am really asking is what do you think is going to be happening – and who’s going to be making it happen?

JG: I can tell you that while I’ve done some pretty amazing things in my career (7 years with Bill Clinton, worked for some great companies like AOL and T-Mobile, and started 2 companies of my own), I have never been more excited about a job than I am right now leading product at XING. There is an incredible foundation at XING and all the opportunity in the world to leverage that foundation and redefine what a business networking platform is all about.

We all know what Version 1 of online business networking was. Now we get to create Version 2, which is all about going deep on engagement, which is so exciting because we get to figure out what it is that users really want to make their lives easier and build it with them. We get to try things and get instant feedback. And we do so with a world who is already on Facebook and increasingly using services like Twitter, so the learning curve is so much smaller and the potential so much greater this time around. So, I’m focused on XING right now and for the next few years.

In terms of what’s going to happen and who’s going to make it happen, my bet is that two things happen the next couple of years.

1. Innovation will continue to be primarily driven by the smallest companies. Like at socialmedian where it was just me and a handful of guys and we had to live every day like it was our last.

2. The larger companies, like XING, who are successfully able to act like small companies, and who are able to figure out how to take these networks and turn them into experiences, will win, while the large social networks that act like large companies will start to fade away as users turn to more engaging alternatives. Engagement wins this round. It’s all about user engagement.

DP: Finally, I am currently reading Jeff Jarvis’ new book “What would Google do?” right now , and one idea that won’t go away is this: – as a business, you need to get social and talk, because the conversation is happening, whether you are in the room or not. What’s your take on that concept?

Jason Goldberg, Chief Product Officer, Xing
Jason Goldberg, Chief Product Officer, Xing

JG: I could not agree more with Jeff. Social is a fact not an option, and it is an asset — an essential tool for building products and experiences that real people want to use. I LOVE user feedback — the good, the bad, and the ugly — because it first means that users care enough to even provide feedback, and secondly, it is critical to learning. I like to say that when building products, a good product team should expect to get it 50% right on their own, and then figure out the other 50% over time through trial and error and feedback from/with users. So being part of the conversation is critical.

It is an amazing world we live in now. It used to be that you would take 2 years building software and hope the market received it well. Now you just Ship it! And then Discuss it! And then Learn it! and then Repeat it! Again, and again, and again….

The one thing I can promise you is that the new XING is going to ship it, fast and often, and we’ll participate in a very public dialogue with our users on how to make it better.

DP: Thank you. I’m very grateful for your time and focus here Jason.

Next Web Reader, if you have read this far, as a reward for your interest, please click here to enjoy a free premium trial of Xing.

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