The story of Jolicloud in 500 000 users!

This morning we just passed the 500,000 (half a million) users milestone for Jolicloud. We celebrated with a ping-pong tournament, some drinks and we went back to work. It’s no secret that we are working hard on a really cool new product that should be released this fall.

As an entrepreneur, this is the venture I am the proudest of, probably because it’s the hardest project I have ever worked on. But I am lucky to be surrounded by one of the best team I ever had, and an amazing board.

Don’t let the appearances fool you. Jolicloud is not about building an OS. This is just one of the brick we developed in the company. In general, I feel I have not been doing a good job at communicating around our vision, our product and also our success.

Let’s try to correct that with this blog post.

Some history

4 years ago when the iPhone was released I became instantly convinced that this new form of computing platform would soon dominate and replace the old PC paradigm. I was very excited but had no experience in platforms so I decided to create one.

With Romain, my co-founder, and our (small) team, we designed Jolicloud like a mini Apple, with its own OS, its own app launcher, its own app store, and even its own hardware, the Jolibook (which ended up finalist of the Engadget best netbook of the year 2010 with the outrageous marketing budget of $5000).

We identified 3 things that would make a killer platform

- A simple interface: With Netvibes I’ve learned how simple interfaces are crucial to make a product successful and we thought we could do a good job there. But designing interfaces for OS in C++ can be costly. We decided that we would use HTML5 and Google Chrome instead to make our interface easy to deploy, update and work even when the computer is offline.

- Zero maintenance: Eliminate any technical knowledge and time spent on updates. By managing the OS from the cloud, our platform would be able to automatically update all the components needed. The same technology would let our users replicate their exact configuration on any new device.

- Social: Making an OS social was a big deal. I took Mark Zuckerberg for lunch to discuss about it. He thought it was a good idea. We offered to our user love the ability to share and promote their favorite apps to their friends. This feature became the most used section of our app store. It’s unbelievable that these social features are still missing in Android and iOS stores.

Inventing a new form of distribution

We came shortly with a prototype and worked hard to build a beta version but we had a big problem to solve: distribution.

We went to see 19 computer manufacturers and all of them told us they loved the product but couldn’t install it on their netbooks. In a world dominated by Microsoft, only Google and Intel had the cash and influence to convince them to preinstall something else than Windows. We decided to distribute our system on the Internet. It had been tried with Linux before, but we thought OS installation is a pain. To be successful we had to create the most easy OS installer: Jolicloud Express. I think we did a good job, people love the “Just go for a coffee and come back later, we will take care of everything” message they get when they install the product for the first time.

How we entered mainstream

Initially designed for netbooks, Joli OS became soon the cool OS to try. Most alpha geeks would install it on their secondary device and enjoy the fact that most of the apps they need are in fact web apps. Joli OS felt like a smaller Mac just for the web, it’s why it has been a tremendous success:

More than 500 000 machines have been installed with it.
18% of our users even installed it on two machines or more.
130K users installed Jolicloud as a Chrome app to access their desktop, making it the fastest non game app to reach the top 20.

When the first iPad started to appear, our early users started giving their “joli” devices to their private circle. It had a huge impact in our demographics: parents, wife, kids would start playing with our OS. To address this new demographics, we introduced more game and education resources in our app center.

With the ability to recycle even older computers we also started to attract a new type of demographics: schools, governments, non profits, enterprises which can't afford to renew their existing computers with new devices or tablets.

See how this school turned 500 computers to Jolicloud and how kids love us

How we discovered we had build a brand

We asked our early adopters why they would recommend us to their friends and family:

1. Simple installation
2. Great choice of apps and services
3. Freedom to do what they want (unlike Chrome OS, people can use their hard drive and add applications like Skype)
4. No learning curve (as easy as an iPhone)
5. Reliable (especially the very reactive support on Twitter and Facebook)
6. Open source

If they liked the OS so much, why would they stop using Joli OS devices?

Almost all of them answered they had switched to tablets and they had no netbooks anymore. They also told us that they had a great opinion about what we were doing and they kept recommending us to their friends and family. They also said they would love to see Jolicloud being present on the new devices they use now.

I was blown away.

Follow your users

This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned in the platform business: the most valuable asset is not the technology we have built but your users.

People are not loyal to devices, but they are loyal to brands they respect. And it’s our job to address all the devices they will use.

This is why for the last 4 months we have been working on building a whole new category of service. We call it internally “the cloud companion” and we are already using the product internally.

We will release it this fall and it will be available as an app on iOS, Android and of course in HTML5. We should open the private beta to some testers this summer.

Can’t wait to have your feedback!

I have also posted on my blog here :
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