Pro-privacy search engine Qwant announces more executive changes – to “shift focus on monetization” – TechCrunch

Other senior management changes have been announced at pro-privacy French search engine Qwant.

Chairman and co-founder Eric Leandri (pictured above) will transition from an operational to a strategic role on January 15, the company announced today – while current deputy managing director of sales and marketing, Jean-Claude Ghinozzi, is promoted to president.

Leandri will step down as chairman on January 15, although he won’t leave the company entirely, but will instead transition to chairing a strategy and science committee – where he says he will focus on technology and the “strategic vision”.

This committee will work with a new governance board, also announced today, which will be chaired by Antoine Troesch, chief investment officer of investor Qwant Banque des Territoires, according to the PR.

Meanwhile, Mozilla veteran Tristan Nitot — who was only promoted to a new CEO role at Qwant in September — returns to his former role as vice president of advocacy. Although Leandri told us that Nitot would retain the spokesperson component of the CEO position, leaving Ghinozzi to focus on monetization – which he says is now Qwant’s top priority.

“[Nitot] is now executive vice president of communications and media,” Leandri told TechCrunch. “He must take care of the defense of the interests of the company. Because of my departure he will now have to represent Qwant in [the media]. He will be the voice of Qwant. But that position won’t give him enough space and time to be the company’s full-time CEO – doing both is quite impossible. I’ve been doing this for years… but it’s very complicated.

“We will now have to focus a lot on monetization and on our core business…to create a real advertising platform,” he added, explaining the latest round of executive restructuring. “It requires having someone in charge of doing this monetization process – this Qwant-scale execution process.”

Ghinozzi will be in charge of developing a “new phase” for the search engine so that it can expand its activities in Europe, Leandri also said, adding: “For my part, I am in charge of the strategy and the technology, and I am a member of the board.”

The search engine company is also announcing that it is closing a new round of funding to support infrastructure and scaling – including receiving more funding from existing backers Banque des Territoires and internet giant. Axel Springer edition – saying she expects this to be finalized next month.

Leandri would not provide details on the size of the ride today, but the French news site Release puts it at 10 million euros, citing a government source. (According to other reports in the French mediaQwant loses tens of millions of euros per year.)

The co-founder of Qwant made “very good announcements”, according to him, to come on the front of the growth of users in France, linked to the passage of new civil companies to the search engine. But again, he declined to publicly confirm any details at this stage, saying the news would be confirmed in about a week.

ReleaseThe report says this confirms that the French state will move forward with making Qwant the administration’s default search engine, which will give its product a (likely) boost of millions of regular users. and potentially unlock access to more government funding.

The decision of the French administration is part of a broader desire for digital sovereignty in order to avoid being too dependent on foreign technological giants. However, in recent months doubts had been cast over the government’s plan to wholesale switch from Google’s search engine to the local search alternative – after local media raised questions on the quality of Qwant’s search results.

The government conducted its own technical audit of Qwant’s search engine. But, according to Liberation – which says it obtained an internal memo from the government earlier this month – the change will continue and should be completed by the end of April.

Qwant has faced intense press scrutiny in its turf in recent months, with reports in French media suggesting the company has faced a revenue crisis – after its privacy-friendly search engine generated lower-than-expected revenue last year.

On this, Leandri told us that Qwant’s problem boils down to a lack of ad inventory, saying it would be Ghinozzi’s job to tackle this issue by ensuring he can further monetize impressions. current it generates, such as focusing on showing more ads versus buying. -related research, while continuing to uphold its fundamental privacy/non-tracking promise to users.

Last year the company focused on building search engine infrastructure to prepare for user growth in Europe, he suggested, meaning it was spending less time monetizing user searches.

“We started to refocus on monetization in November and December,” he said. “So we have lost a few months in terms of monetization… Now we have started to accelerate our monetization phase and now we have to improve it even more in purchases, for example.”

Leandri says Qwant has already seen “a really good ramp-up”, having turned its attention to monetization in the past two months – but says bolstering ad inventory, including signing up more ad partners and running its own ads will now be “the focus of the company.”

“For example, today out of 100 queries, we were at some point in the year at 20 ads, or only 20% coverage,” he told us, noting that some “iPhone 11” searches performed via Qwant resulted in no ads served to users. lately. “We need to move to 30% – 40%… We need to improve shopping queries, bringing in new customers. We need to do all of those things.

“At the moment we have signed with Havas and Publicis in France for Europe, but we need to announce more partners and start adding our own ads, our own shopping ads, our own technology for ads. is the new goal.

Additionally, there have also been a number of reports in the French media that have alleged human resource issues within Qwant. Articles — like this one by Next hit — reported at length on claims by some employees that Leandri’s management style created a toxic work culture in which staff were subjected to verbal abuse, threats and intimidation.

Qwant disputes these reports, but it’s worth noting that the co-founder is stepping back from an operational role at a time when he and the company are facing questions over a wave of negative national press, and when investors are also invited to invest in new financing. as a key strategic customer (the French government) examines the product and the company.

The health of workplace culture at tech companies and high-pressure startups has received increasing attention in recent years, as workplace expectations have evolved with generations and technologies. Digital media have encouraged greater openness and provided outlets for people who feel unfairly treated to make their grievances more widely known.

Among the major tech industry scandals in recent years, Uber is publicly accused of having a sexist and intimidating work culture by a former engineer — and, most recently, travel startup Away, whose CEO resigned in December after an explosive press report exposing a toxic culture.