Viber boss rose to CEO from bakeshop beginnings believing in big dreams

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 11 2019 11:43 AM

Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua. Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

SINGAPORE—Djamel Agaoua checks the Viber app on his phone around after every 10 minutes for updates on the messaging platform that he now leads.

Coming from a family of bakers, the 50-year-old French CEO recalled how believing in his dreams pushed him to make a name for himself, and eventually become the big boss of one of the biggest communications apps in the world.

“Believe in your dreams. My father was a baker so it was not written that I would be CEO one day, not even of a small company,” he told ABS-CBN News with a chuckle.

“Sometimes, you don’t believe in your dreams so you don’t put yourself in a condition to achieve those dreams,” he said.

Agaoua, an economics engineer by profession and the youngest in a brood of 4, said his dream of leading a company was no easy feat as he had to support his parents since he was the only one with a college degree.

“I didn’t come from a rich family so I had to support my parents…But growing up, our bakery store didn’t earn that much so they needed some support,” he said.

Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua shows a feature in the messaging app. Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Agaoua said he had always wanted to put up his own firm, drawing inspiration from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple’s late boss Steve Jobs.

“At the time Bill Gates was creating his company and Steve Jobs was creating Apple and I was really impressed by those guys and I wanted to start a venture but I couldn’t find the right idea,” he said.

“It was a difficult journey of course, but being an entrepreneur pushed you take some risk and to try to push it further and further,” he said.

After finishing school for free in France, Agaoua worked for a consultancy firm for about 8 years before co-founding AChatPro, a company that offers information technology services.

Agaoua went on to become an investor and board member in several other startups, explaining that the direction he is taking is his way of paying it forward after having businessmen invest in his projects in the past.

“Now, today, I’m an investor and support kids that have projects. The only way to make that happen is to knock on all the doors and try to find people who can make [your dream] happen for you,” he said.

For breadwinners dreaming of putting up their own company or making a name for themselves in the corporate world, Agaoue advises them to find people willing to invest in their ideas.

“They have to support their family of course, but the way I did it is that I convinced people that have money to support me and to invest in my businesses and it’s the only way,” he said.

Now, Agaoua continues to lead Viber, 2 years since he was tapped to head the messaging platform. Agaoua took the helm of Viber in 2017, just 2 years after the messaging platform was bought by Japanese international group Rakuten.

As Viber’s leader, Agaoua explained that he wants the company to put data privacy as its top priority as he emphasized the need to provide users with an alternative from Facebook’s Messenger.

“We think that it’s very important that there’s an alternative to this, a real one not an opportunistic one—one that is based on a very clear strategy…We are here to make business, to offer service that makes sense first of all, that works fast, well, and respects it promises and be able to monetize,” he said.

“I’m not saying that we’re gonna beat Facebook or be the winner at the end. These are not my words, this is not our philosophy,” he said.