Digital Transformation

Conversations on Convergence— Richard B. Kimber

Chief Executive Officer, Friendster

Richard Kimber is CEO of Friendster, a leading global online social network. He leads Friendster’s global business, guiding the company’s operations in Asia as well as the United States.

Richard has strong Internet credentials, a notable track record of managing operations in several international locations, a deep network and knowledge of the Asia Pacific region, experience in consumer Internet monetization and strategy, marketing and sales expertise.

Before joining Friendster, Richard was the regional managing director of South Asia at Google, where he successfully led business operations and strategic partnerships across the region. Prior to that, he was the CEO of FirstDirect Bank in the UK and worked in senior roles in the USA and Hong Kong. Richard holds an MBA in Strategy and Finance and a BSc in Psychology and Statistics from Macquarie University in Australia.

Q.  What is your assessment of the current state of the convergence space?

A.  Convergence is a very exciting domain for us: social media is essentially the convergence of entertainment, communication and the Internet. We’re seeing constant activity across all fronts. Convergence is changing the very way that content is distributed and exchanged. Mobile phones are playing a big role in convergence, too. Today’s mobile handsets are Internet-access devices, so that changes everything.

Q.  What are some of the things going on in this space now?

A.  First of all, people are definitely spending much more time on social networking—it’s becoming a destination. For example, Friendster is a portal for our users: it’s a starting point from which people access the rest of the web. We’re also seeing very interesting things happen with singers and music groups: the Internet is powering the launch and the success of a variety of new artists in Asia. All sorts of specific genres of music here have huge followings. In fact, Friendster is working with Asian artists to get exclusive content, and to develop ways that artists can interact directly with fans to set up concert tours.

Q.  What challenges does convergence bring to your company?

A.  Much of what we’re doing now is very “cutting edge.” Some people we speak with about partnerships want proven business models before they agree to certain deals, but there just isn’t any history available for a lot of these opportunities! There is no blueprint yet for how this will all play out, especially in Asia where there are so many different economies and cultures and ways of doing business. Being nimble is clearly a key attribute for success.

Q.  Are there any special opportunities that come from being in the Asian market?

A.  Well, one opportunity is certainly the scale of the region: this region has an enormous population. The potential for growth here is tremendous.

Another opportunity is the widespread penetration of mobile phones. Mobile broadband is popular in Asia, and it’s growing. Social networking by mobile phone represents a big part of mobile data traffic. In fact, Friendster is a top-5 global generator of mobile Internet traffic on a global basis. Our brand has a real resonance throughout Asia; we’re looking to leverage it as a “white-label” service.

Q.  What are the human capital implications?

A.  We need people with experience in Asia; people who know how things are done in Asia; people who have relationships built upon trust already in place across the region. We need people who know and understand the Internet and who have experience with different kinds of media and different kinds of content. And we need people who understand mobile phones and the mobile Internet. Unfortunately, people with this combination of skills aren’t exactly hanging thick on trees! Right now, we have too much to do and not enough people to help us do it.

Q.  How important is innovation? How important is content?

A.  Innovation is extremely important: We spend 99% of our time working to innovate, and 1% working on what already exists. Content is also very important of course, but technology is a bigger challenge right now. Our site is evolving all the time. We’re scaling our platforms, adding new features and functions. We’re looking for ways that technology can help us deliver a whole range of value-added services, like music and games.

Q.  What do you see on the horizon?

A.  Convergence isn’t just a theory, it’s a reality. Convergence is going to change the balance of power in a lot of industries. Think about our reach and distribution as compared to other mass media; we have incredible depth and granularity in our user data. We have very precise data about who “watches” our “shows.”  We also know a lot of demographic data about who forwards content, and about who they forwarded it to, and about what those people then did with it. These insights are increasingly important. These aren’t just industries converging, these are industries colliding! We are going to see dramatic changes in the power dynamics through these structural shifts.

Digital, Media and Entertainment Practice​

The Russell Reynolds Associates’ Digital, Media and Entertainment Practice sits at the intersection of dynamic digital content, which is reshaping the way we work and play, and wireless and broadband networks, which keep us connected seamlessly around the globe. We also have significant experience in helping our clients recruit in the managed services and outsourcing areas. The combination of our experience with service providers as well as infrastructure solution providers (who design, build, and deploy their platforms and networks) allows us to work at the forefront of technologies including IPTV, WiMAX, FTTx, IMS, Ethernet, 3G/4G and VoIP. Finally, our success with assisting media and content providers and aggregators to leverage these powerful new technologies positions us at the heart of the convergence movement as the key human capital solutions provider on a global basis.

Learn more about our Digital, Media and Entertainment team >>


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Conversations on Convergence— Richard B. Kimber