netmagInterview

Brad Smith

In August, former “MySpace killer” Virb relaunched as a slick website builder and host. Oliver Lindberg talks to co-founder and CEO Brad Smith about the change of direction and future developments

.net: Why did you opt to reposition Virb?
BS: In late 2009, the team and I took a long, hard look at the strong points of our company – what was holding us back and what made us get out of bed every morning. Owning and operating a social network – fighting against the thousand-pound gorillas of Facebook and MySpace – wasn’t working out. Not for us. Not for our users. We’ve always been great at helping people present their idea, their uniqueness, their product, in beautiful ways. After weeks of internal debate, we realised we could still achieve this by changing Virb’s venue from a social network to a website builder. It may sound like a business plan straight out of 2004, but yeah… Virb is focused on helping people build elegantly simple websites; and we couldn’t be more excited.

.net: Who’s the target audience?
BS: Virb was engineered with simplicity in mind, allowing anyone — regardless of how much nerd knowledge you do or don’t possess — to create a beautiful website with minimal effort.
Bands that don’t have the skill or money to build their own website will certainly find new value in Virb. Photographers, filmmakers, businesses and artists who are tired of sticking a website or portfolio peg into a blog-shaped hole, will find Virb to be intuitive, easy and possibly even fun! We also think the professional webmasters will embrace Virb. They’ll appreciate that they can focus on the good stuff versus slaving over clunky details.

.net: What sets Virb apart from other website  builders such as Squarespace and WordPress?
BS: Will Virb be the perfect solution for building any website? Nope. The power and flexibility you get with Squarespace and WordPress come at the cost of expertise. Tumblr has rekindled the enjoyment of simple blogging unlike no other company in recent years; and Flavors.me offers a way to aggregate content from other sites into a single page. They all have their place.
Virb puts the power in the hands of people who have creativity and imagination, but lack the know-how or patience. They want a complete website that looks great and is easy to update – and they want it quick. This is what sets Virb apart.

.net: Why don’t you offer the service for free any more? Are existing customers alienated?
BS: When we looked at cutting back on features such as multiple pages, custom domains and file storage, the product felt fractured. Instead of offering an incomplete service for free, and a full-featured one for a higher rate, we landed happily in the middle. Staying true to our goal of simplicity, Virb has no tiers. No la carte menu of add-ons. One price, all features, $10 a month.

Like I said before, Virb wasn’t working as it was. Users knew this and showed us by visiting the site less and less. Most of them are happy to see us relevant again, even if that means closing their account. We’re also taking care of those pre-existing customers by offering them an immediate 50 per cent discount. For only $5 a month, we’re giving Virb’s 103,000 musicians and 7,500 portfolios the tools to create and manage a complete website.

.net: Why did you choose Weightshift to lead the brand facelift?
BS: We originally had no intention of rebranding, but as the new product became more complete, it felt weird keeping the old look and feel. That was about eight weeks before launch and our small team was stretched pretty thin, so we reached out to Naz Hamid (Weightshift’s principal) to lead the project. There are few people my lead designer, Ryan Sims, would trust with that project. Weightshift was a great fit and really helped breathe new life into our brand.

.net: What’s the feedback been like so far?
BS: More positive and genuine than we expected. Relying only upon our early adopters to create the initial buzz, we saw more than 7,000 new trial accounts created in the first two weeks alone.

.net: What’s next for Virb? Mobile, perhaps?
BS: Over the coming months, we’ll have: new themes, customisable theme HTML, a storefront for digital and physical goods, a file manager and the ability to build pages with content from sites such as Flickr and Vimeo. We’re even working with our parent company, (mt) Media Temple, to offer domain names directly to our customers.

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