Mike Volpi's trek from Cisco to Joost

Once considered the heir apparent to the CEO spot at Cisco, Volpi talks about what attracted him to the top spot at video start-up Joost.

Mike Volpi was looking for Internet adventure when he left Cisco Systems some months ago, and he seems to have found it.

On Tuesday, the Internet video start-up Joost announced that Volpi, a 13-year Cisco veteran and star player, would be taking on the role as chief executive officer.

Volpi, who left Cisco in February, held several key roles during his tenure with the networking giant. In his last job at Cisco he led the company's service provider organization and was responsible for developing and selling Cisco's next-generation Internet Protocol equipment. He also helped transition products from the $6.9 billion acquisition of Scientific-Atlanta--now called Scientific Atlanta--into Cisco's product line.

Before that, Volpi led Cisco's acquisition strategy. And between 1994 and 2001, he oversaw 75 acquisitions.

At one time he was considered a likely successor to Cisco's current CEO, John Chambers. But now, the 40-year-old Volpi is branching out on his own.

Volpi's choice to take a job with Joost is no surprise given his close ties with Joost's founders, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom. Friis and Zennstrom had also founded Skype, where Volpi has served on the board of directors.

On his second day of work at Joost, Volpi took time to chat with CNET News.com about why he took the job at Joost, what the company's prospects are for the future, and how he plans to change how people watch TV.

Q: What have you been doing since you left Cisco in February? You didn't take much time off to relax.
Volpi: My intent when I left Cisco was not to take time off and relax but to take some time to look around for something I wanted to do next. And this just came in through the side door. I was hoping I'd find something by the end of the year. But it turns out that I knew the founders of Joost from being on the board of Skype. And a week after I left Cisco, they called and asked if I wanted to get more involved with Joost.

I worked for a large multinational company already, and I wouldn't have come here if that's what I wanted to do. I think if we do things right, Joost could grow into a large viable organization on its own.

When I looked at the idea and vision behind the company and the timing of the market, I got excited. Then I went and visited all the different teams around the world. And I just thought that they had a fantastic team and a great idea.

I still went through the process of looking at a variety of other companies. I knew I wanted to do something that had to do with the Internet being a delivery vehicle for content. And I talked to a lot of people about the business and all the research really validated what I was thinking about Joost.

Of course, I traveled a little with the family, but in the meantime I found myself a job. Sometimes in life things come along. They may be a few months off, but I figured what the heck.

What specifically attracted you to Joost? Was it simply because you knew Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, the founders of the company, from your dealings with Skype?
Volpi: Without a doubt, personal relationships and mutual respect definitely played a role. But when I studied the issue of delivering professional-grade video--not the clips or user-generated stuff that is already all over the Internet, but professional-grade video--there were three pieces that needed to come together.

First, you have to make a great experience for the user. That means making it a good visual experience with low latency, no jitter, etc. And the second thing is you need a method by which content owners can manage the content, so that you aren't letting just anyone throw out content. You need to be able to manage the content from a digital-rights perspective as well as be able to target users with programming in different geographies, for example. The third thing was having an advertising platform that advertisers could use to create new kinds of advertisements.

And all three were well represented in the company. There's already been so much written about Joost because of its founders, but we also have a lot of people from MTV and the advertising world. We also have a very good bunch of technologists from the open-source community. Sometimes that gets a little bit lost, but it's very important.

Google's YouTube is the big Internet video play right now. Why does the world need Joost when YouTube is already out there?
Volpi: Joost is very different from YouTube. If you look at the market segment YouTube addresses, it's people who watch video clips--maybe it's of their family or their pets or events that happen on the news or whatever. Viewers will gladly watch a short-segment clip of not very high-quality video on a small-screen format if it's this kind of user-generated content.

But Joost is different. You're not opening a browser or going to a Web page to view Joost videos. It's a software application that takes over the entire screen of your PC, and you can watch 15-minute, 20-minute or 30-minute high-quality programs. This is licensed programming, so none of it is user-generated.

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