International Download-Giant: An Interview with Softonic’s CEO Emilio Moreno
Softonic is one of the world’s largest internet portals. It currently achieves an Alexa rank 148 of the most popular websites. We’ve recently been able to speak with Emilio Moreno, who’s one of the two directors of the company. He’s been working in the telecommunications industry for almost 10 years, before he changed to the Barcelona-based company. Our interview could only cover some aspects as time was limited. So we asked Moreno about his views on the advantages and disadvantages of open source software, Windows 8, the side effects of the European economic crisis and last, but not least, the widespread software piracy in Spain. Moreno gave an impressive example of at least one of the possible reasons why Softonic has been voted “Best Place To Work” in Spain for the last five consecutive years. He’s just as friendly as can be and stays cool no matter what…
Lars Sobiraj: Mr. Moreno, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Emilio Moreno: Well, my name is Emilio Moreno. I’m passionate about technology, I’m 39 years old, married and I have two children. I started studying industrial engineering and electronic engineering but my passion for the internet made me look for a job in that sector. I still have to finish a few courses to get my degree. I’ve been working in different companies since 1996, but they have all been related to technology and the internet sector.
Lars Sobiraj: What are you doing in your spare time in case the power fails and you can’t use any electronic device?
Emilio Moreno: I would first use up all the battery power on my iPhone, iPad and laptop. When that’s done, I’d read a good book, or two, or even three. I love to read, especially fiction and business related books. I try to read as much as I can when I’m not spending time at work or with my family.
Lars Sobiraj: What makes a manager successful nowadays? The handling of staff members, having visions and the courage to make them real? Or what is it?
Emilio Moreno: This is a very generic question and I’m afraid the answer has to be generic as well since there is so much literature on the subject with theoretical and practical approaches. In my opinion, the key element is to have leadership capabilities and inspire the people that surround you; not just the ones that report directly to you, but everybody else as well.
To do so, you must rely on firm values: honesty, credibility, the desire to improve, being transparent… You build a team upon these values and you lead it based on goals and objectives, may they be your own or inherited from the organization. When it comes to managing people and tasks, it’s important to use tools and work methodologies.
So it all comes down to three blocks: an interpersonal leadership based on values, theoretical and practical knowledge of the tools and methodologies of managing people and goals, and a vision as well as a common goal to achieve as a team.
Lars Sobiraj: Microsoft recently released Windows 8. Is that really the cutting edge of operating systems? What sort of OS are you using at home and at your workplace? And why?
Emilio Moreno: Microsoft has indeed achieved a great innovation with Windows 8. The first numbers seem to indicate that the market has acknowledged it as such. But, even if it didn’t, there are a lot of elements in Windows 8 that are a radical evolution on the user interface. These elements represent a similar change to the one that happened from Windows 3.x to Windows 95.
About the OS: I use Windows 7 at work, Linux as a server at home and an iMac and a MacBook Air for my wife and me.
There are several reasons for this: at work, Windows 7 is a solid and firm option for any company that wants to make the jump from Windows XP or subsequent systems. The stability and support as well as the small change for the users, generate a very low TCO (total cost of ownership), a relevant improvement in performance and less maintenance for the IT teams. It’s a strong option and it works.
Linux at home (as a server for files, printers, mail, etc.) covers the small needs we have. Besides, we have it for “historical” reasons, I started with Slackware many years ago and I’ve always had Linux at hand with different distributions: Gentoo, Ubuntu, Slack…
Finally, the Macs entered our home three years ago and they have been a good discovery, since we have always had a Windows environment. We use Macs because they work, they are intuitive, easy and I don’t have to dedicate time to their maintenance and optimization.
Lars Sobiraj: Some people say that Windows became so successful, because it’s been pirated so often since it’s been developed. The student who used an illegal copy in the 80s later preferred that operating system at his work place. What do you think: How huge are the damages for the producers of operating systems through piracy?
Emilio Moreno: Even though the piracy argument has always been there in this type of reflections, for me it has to do mostly with the product. Starting with Windows 3.x, even MS-DOS (from the 3.x version), these were really good operating systems with a wide range of software available, including games, that made computing come closer to regular users outside the working environment.
This, plus a good operating system and a good application ecosystem are the basis of growth.
Piracy may be a factor that helps to spread an OS, but from my point of view, it has nothing to do with the reason why Windows and Microsoft are successful. The basis is a good product.
About the damage made by piracy, I think I’m not the most adequate person to assess the issue. There are studies made by the BSA or software authors that give figures on the damage, based on the number of non-original copies that circulate. It is evident that these figures, exact or not, do demonstrate that piracy affects software production, but I cannot say to what measure. The legislation has to protect the rights of the software authors on one hand. On the other hand, it has to make sure that the rights of the users are respected when they consume and use software.
Lars Sobiraj: The copyright in Spain is quite slack, even using a p2p-client or operating a torrent-website often doesn’t get punished. Do you think the laws in your country will soon change?
Emilio Moreno: Here at Softonic, we’ve always worked hard to offer the best and most varied software catalog. (We currently offer more than 160,000 programs available in more than ten languages.) Given that we’re the benchmark portal for software downloads and that P2P protocols are completely legal, we believe we have the obligation to make this software available to our users.
This type of program makes file sharing easier, and it’s obvious that as we can’t control how our users utilize software once they’ve downloaded it from our site, they bear the burden of responsibility for how it is subsequently used. What we can control is the software we offer on our site, and I can assure you that all of the content offered by Softonic is legal.
Lars Sobiraj: What do you think is the best way for distributing commercial software? Do you prefer free versions with limited options? Or rather limiting the time you may use the software?
Emilio Moreno: This is a good question, for which I don’t have an answer. There are more than 200,000 shareware products in the world, many have functionality limits and others have time limits. At the end, the best way to distribute each of them is the one that generates the highest number of sales on the mid-term. This can be easily determined by software authors, but I’m sure each product is different.
Each software developer can easily test both distribution models and see the results. The only way to maximize the results for each product is to conduct tests, such as any other A/B test that can be done over the internet, to try and improve the results, until they can find the best solution.
Lars Sobiraj: More and more programs are spread for example with a GPL- or MPL-license. What’s your opinion about open source software?
Emilio Moreno: Without a doubt, there are multiple open source products that are part of our daily technology use. The authors of these products have decided to distribute them with these licenses, creating – at least in some cases – a business model around support and consulting services to help users with their products.
In many cases, these programs allow users to choose between several alternatives and as long as these options exist, it’s the user who benefits from it.
When it comes to companies, bugs and security holes are always an issue when speaking of open source software. However, there is no guarantee that an open source program has more or less bugs or security holes than a commercial program: It depends on each company.
There are open source programs that implement on their development quality control methodologies and commercial programs that don’t do it, and vice versa. Even though it’s more common to hear that a commercial product has more quality than an open source one, it depends on each program and each company. One of the biggest advantages of this model is giving the user (may it be a company or an individual) the opportunity to test and choose the best option for them.
Lars Sobiraj: Speaking of fixing and avoiding security holes inside programs: Is a big community of free time developers better (take Mozilla for example) than paid associates?
Emilio Moreno: Why should it be? A good developer writes great code, it doesn’t matter if he works for a commercial or an open source product. Again, as I commented earlier, it will depend on what that team of programmers is dedicated to, how they prioritize the bugs or security holes, etc.
Lars Sobiraj: What do you think about the office suite Apache OpenOffice?
Emilio Moreno: The truth is since I’m not using Linux at the moment as my desktop operating system, I haven’t used OpenOffice.org again. For this reason, I cannot give an opinion on the state of the suite. I do remember that back in the day it was a very good alternative to MS Office (except for the intensive professional use of Excel). Anyway, I consider that I can’t give an opinion on this matter since it has been more than 8 years ago that I last put my hands on it.
Lars Sobiraj: Do you think with Libre Office and Apache OpenOffice we need two competing free office suites? Does that make sense to you?
Emilio Moreno: Why should it be limited to one? At the end, diversity and the possibility to choose are the things that deliver the best service to the user. A benefit to the user is the fact that he can choose an operating system, the architecture and the software he wishes without being tied to only one alterative.
From a developer’s point of view, the existence of forks (or, generalizing, different open applications with identical functions) reflects the reality of teams of developers that pursue different goals or how they work to reach them using different paths. This is but a reflection of the current social reality.
Lars Sobiraj: Your company is located in Barcelona in the heart of Spain, somewhere in the middle of the financial crisis. What’s the trend? Has your company been affected by the banking crisis since 2008? What’s the current situation and how could the future look like?
Emilio Moreno: Clearly we are facing a complicated economic environment, and of course inside Softonic we are not unrelated to the situation of the country. Despite the current economic situation in which we live in, in Softonic we continue to grow each year. This is thanks to the fact that since the beginning we’ve maintained a clear commitment to the internationalization of our business. At present time, Softonic is available in 10 languages, and for that reason, we don’t depend entirely on the domestic market. We are a completely consolidated business and we are growing on a business level, as well as on our team of professionals and the number of users. The key element to continue being a market leader is the fact of having a diversified business model, with a great international weight and a high growth potential.
Our plan for the future is focused on consolidating our leadership; continue growing on the markets where we are present, continue to offer new services that improve the user experience and maintaining our internationalization strategy.
Lars Sobiraj: What sort of innovations can we expect from Softonic in the future?
Emilio Moreno: Softonic is currently available in ten languages (English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Polish, Dutch, and Japanese), and the company has always had a strong conviction for internationalization.
In line with this internationalization strategy, we recently have implemented three new versions of Softonic in Korean, Turkish, and Swedish. For the moment, however, these versions are only local language adaptations designed for the purpose of testing these markets. This is a logical move that allows us to evaluate the potential of new markets before investing heavily in them.
Softonic has offices in San Francisco, Shanghai and Tokyo, so in 2013 we will also work on our consolidation in the USA and in Asia.
I can tell you that at the end of December, Softonic launched the German version of its Windows application, which previously had only been available in English and Spanish.
Additionally, some weeks ago we’ve launched Softonic Developer Center, a platform where software authors and companies have a set of tools available with everything they need to publish, manage, distribute and advertise their software on Softonic.
Another thing I want to point out is the work we’ve been doing in Softonic for quite some time now, giving content lots of importance. We are the world’s most complete software guide and we work hard to be available on any device and platform on the market.
Furthermore, we will keep working to continue to be a ´Best Place to Work´, which we’ve been in Spain for the past 5 years. We even got to be within the best 25 companies to work for in Europe in the year 2011.
We will continue to hopefully stay the market leader in the sector. At the moment, we are number one. If you look at our closest competitor: according to the current Alexa ranking, Softonic.com is ranked 148 and Download.com from CNET is 190. Last, but not least, we will try hard to get to the maximum number of users through the highest number of devices and platforms available. So, stay tuned…
Lars Sobiraj: Thank you for taking the time for this interview and sharing your passion with us. We wish you the best of luck and success for all your future endeavors.
The interview was first published on the German tech blog Basic Thinking yesterday.