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"The German start-up scene is very exciting"
Kevin Eyres ist Managing Director des Business-Netzwerks LinkedIn Europe. Im Interview mit förderland spricht er über die Konkurrenzsituation zum deutschen Platzhirschen XING, über die kürzlich ins Leben gerufenen LinkedIn European Business Awards und die deutsche Gründerszene.
förderland: Mr Eyres, please give us a short introduction on your person. What can one read on your LinkedIn profile?
Kevin Eyres: On my LinkedIn profile you can see everything you might want to know about me as a professional. This includes the companies I’ve grown and led over the past 20 years, the fact that I have spent the last ten years working in Europe and joined LinkedIn in 2007, and that I’m chapter chairman of the Young Presidents Organisation and on the board of other companies. You can also see the professionals I have worked with and who have recommended me, the people I’m connected with and any connections that we might have in common. In short, it’s a full picture of my professional identity online – things that would normally take time to find out about me.
What is the current status of the competition between the business communities LinkedIn and Xing in Germany? What about the market situation?
Eyres: Competition is of great benefit to customers as it drives best practice. This is true for professional networks as it is in other industries. Competition also drives innovation as demonstrated by the recent integration of LinkedIn and Twitter and our expanding range of mobile services for BlackBerry and iPhone which allow members to be connected to their network wherever they are.
In Germany and worldwide, two things have come together that have meant growth for LinkedIn. Firstly, the economic crisis has made people more aware of the importance of strengthening their professional network as one of there most valuable assets should their circumstances change in the future. Secondly, people are more aware that their online profile is as important as our offline one and, increasingly, the first thing that people see, so they need to protect and manage it. LinkedIn allows its members to easily do both of these things.
We’re happy with the accelerating number of members who are joining us in Germany. With the German language version of the site, we’ve allowed German professionals to connect and communicate with their local professional network, as well as given them access to a global network of 52 million professionals should they need it. All of this we offer for free. That’s why we’re at 850,000 German speaking members, 12 million in Europe overall, and growing fast.
How did the idea originate to launch and establish a business network? What kind of philosophy was behind it at first?
Eyres: Our founder Reid Hoffman always believed there was a need to keep track of and stay in touch with the professionals you work with. Having a network of trusted professionals close to hand makes it easier to solve business problems, provide insight and create opportunities. Business has always been done between people who know and trust each other. LinkedIn is the best way to manage your network of trusted contacts and share information and opportunities with them. By creating your online profile, connecting you with your contacts online and making it possible to easily share information, LinkedIn allows its members to become more productive and successful.
In the beginning of LinkedIn, did you imagine the community to achieve such a size? How did LinkedIn develop? What are next aspired evolutionary steps?
Eyres: We’re obviously really happy with the rate of growth LinkedIn has experienced. It took us a year and four months to reach our first million members and today we get a million every 12 days or so. Every single member is just as important to us now as they were then, and we’re constantly listening to feedback as to how we can help members get the most out of the site.
While the way business is done varies from Germany, to France to China, the idea of working with trusted professionals is a universal one, which is why we were optimistic that LinkedIn would be popular with people all over the world.
In terms of next steps, we’ve just announced the first of a series of partnerships with Twitter, the microblogging service. This is just one example of how we’re developing the LinkedIn service to meet the changing needs of our members. Additionally, we are increasing the number of local language versions we offer in addition to French, German and Spanish which we have now. Look out for more in 2010.
In your opinion, how are employees and employers using social networks like LinkedIn? Has the behaviour of users changed in recent years?
Eyres: With the rise of social networks, people are quickly realising that they don’t always want their personal lives being seen by their colleagues, which is why more and more are creating and managing their professional profiles on LinkedIn. It allows them to keep the two separate. Additionally, people now often have more than just one job or area of interest – everybody is becoming an entrepreneur - so an online professional network allows them to tap into all of these areas and manage their contacts effectively.
On the other side, we’re seeing employers switching to LinkedIn as a source of talent and collaboration in increasing numbers. For an employer looking to fill a role, a professional network gives them access to all the qualified candidates, not just those actively looking to move as you would find on a job site. This enlarges the pool of talent and means the chances of finding the right person for the job increase. Additionally, employees can now easily collaborate with experts inside and outside of their business, driving efficiencies and productivity for the business.
You recently launched the LinkedIn European Business Awards. What is it all about regarding these awards?
Eyres: The first LinkedIn European Business Awards were launched in October this year. They’re designed to identify personal success of European professionals and make sure the very best get the recognition they deserve. European LinkedIn members can nominate or be nominated in four categories: innovation, leadership, best start-up and rising star.
For the winners of each category there is the chance to get time with highly successful entrepreneurs to learn how they do it as well as to be celebrated by the European membership. Entrants can either nominate themselves or others online at www.linkedinbusinessawards.eu.
We’re already seeing plenty of German nominations getting through but we want more. There’s so many top professionals in Germany and we want them to be part of the awards and get recognised.
You are looking for the "Best Business Startup". Which criteria will be assessed for young companies during the awards?
Eyres: The judges will be looking at a range of aspects when picking the Best Business Start-up for the Awards. These include beating forecasted targets, demonstrating long-term potential and commercial success. We’re looking for the smartest start-ups in Europe from amongst more than 12 million members, so competition is tough.
What is your estimation of the German start-up scene? Which start-ups were your favourites in recent years? Why?
Eyres: The German start-up scene is very exciting. There are many experienced entrepreneurs acting as business angels across a number of new technologies. Companies such as Adscale in ad inventory, Zalando in ecommerce and Plinga in social gaming are looking to have strong futures. Add to that activity around mobile, video on other web 2.0 ideas and you have a vibrant mix of emerging businesses.
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