Veering Off Topic With Opera Founder & Vivaldi CEO Jon von Tetzchner

Xconomy Boston — 

Jon von Tetzchner has been trying to perfect the Web browser for two decades.

The Iceland native co-founded Norway-based Opera Software in 1995 and led the maker of browsers and other online tools until 2010. He stayed on as an advisor until the following year, when he stepped down amid disagreements with Opera’s board and management team over the direction of the company.

Von Tetzchner has since moved to Gloucester, MA, and formed another Web browser company, Vivaldi Technologies. This month, the startup released the latest version of its product for public beta testing, and it intends to launch an official commercial version later this year.

I recently chatted with von Tetzchner over coffee, and our conversation continued via e-mail. The result is the next installment in my series of CEO interviews that begin with questions about company strategy and morph into something … else. Read on for highlights.

Xconomy: Why does the world need another Web browser?

Jon von Tetzchner: There is really not that much browser choice. Most people can name only five browsers, if that, and all the browsers have the same target audience—meaning everybody. They go for simplicity, but it also means that out of the box they tend to lack a lot of functionality, and they tend to not offer a lot of ways [to] customize the browser.

We do the opposite. The browser is the most used piece of software in the world. Everyone uses it. We believe not everyone wants a browser that looks and feels the same. So, we offer a wealth of options and we offer more functionality out of the box than any other browser. We aim to make more advanced functionality easy to use. … We believe every user deserves to get the features they want and to be able to customize the browser so it feels like it was made for them and only them.

X: Vivaldi’s browser is geared toward power users. Does that limit its market potential?

JVT: In one way. But every time you make a decision, you select a market. You set up a café, you’re for the coffee drinkers. … You’re catering [to] a certain group of people. And that’s what we’re doing. Everyone is welcome, but we’re clearly going for a group of people that care [about browser features]. And I think it’s a very sizable group of people, and it’s an influential group of people. … Our goal is really just to get as many of those power users as possible, and anyone else is welcome, and we take it from there.

X: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between the startup cultures in Europe and the U.S.?

JVT: I think you will find that there are a lot of differences inside Europe and the U.S. as well. For a lot of people, the U.S. is Silicon Valley, but the picture is a lot more nuanced than that.

The biggest difference is probably the availability of funds and the willingness to take risks. I think there is more of that in the U.S. On the other hand, many think that means that any idea gets funding, but that is far from the truth. There are a lot of companies and competition is tough, but if the idea is good and the team is good, I think there is more willingness to invest in the U.S.

In Europe, I think you have to prove yourself to a greater degree, which does not need to be a bad thing at all.

X: You said you don’t like using the word “no” in your company. Does that ever backfire on you?

JVT: No. It just means we take our users seriously. We do not like to say no to them, but sometimes we do and sometimes things just take a lot of time and we cannot deliver everything at the same time. … We get a lot of requests. This means that we have to prioritize the requests, which in turn means that some will have to wait a bit. But if you look at the feedback, it is clear that people are happy with the fact that we listen and that we deliver on our promises. They also understand that it takes time to get all the functionality in.

X: You’ve got three children. How does your parenting style differ from how you run a company?

JVT: Now that is a hard question. I have not thought about that a lot. It is very different, but there are also similarities. You want your children and your employees to grow and to be able to make decisions. You want to empower them and you want to listen to them. But clearly, kids are kids, and we work with adults.

X: Favorite member of The Beatles?

JVT: No real favorite, to be frank. They were a great team, and the team is often more than the individuals, as is maybe clear with The Beatles.

X: Biggest pet peeve?

JVT: It really is the pet peeve of my users. I want them to be happy. So, it is about [paying attention to] details. A lot of details.