Jan de Roos

WoodWing's New CEO Wants To Push Publishing's Boundaries

7 minute read
David Roe avatar

On Feb. 1, WoodWing Software appointed Jan de Roos, a seasoned entrepreneur with a background in publishing and technology, to succeed outgoing CEO Roel-Jan Mouw.

The multi-channel publishing and digital asset management (DAM) software provider experienced significant revenue growth under Mouw's leadership, repositioning itself to ride the current digitization wave and expanding its global footprint with customers in more than 66 countries.

Founded in 2000 in Zaandam in the Netherlands, WoodWing was the first company to fully commit to the Adobe InDesign and InCopy platform and, as such, developed a range of productivity and efficiency-enhancing plug-ins for the platforms.

The company counts some of the world's larges media companies among its customers, including Time, Sky and Forbes, as well as other notable brands like Delta.

How Do You Innovate in a Traditional Company?

With de Roos, WoodWing gains a CEO with both traditional and digital publishing backgrounds, as well as substantial management experience.

To find out more about de Roos and what lies ahead for WoodWing we caught up with him in the Netherlands.

David Roe: What did you do before WoodWing?

Jan de Roos: Well I’ve been described as a seasoned leader and it’s always nice to hear people say that about you. Seriously, though, I studied computer science, so I have a long time connection with technology even if it is a long time ago.

After that, I started out as an interim manager and spent a lot of time moving around during my first years of working, not just in technology, but in the publishing industry too, and principally the media.

I did that for 10 years, after which I became the CEO of one of the leading publishing businesses in the Benelux (countries). I was CEO there for 13 years.

Roe: What did you learn?

de Roos: I have seen a lot of changes with digital media and learned the importance of keeping your legacy alive in the digital world when you have been working in the traditional world of books, magazines and newspapers.

I also realized there were limitations to working in a large company. There are advantages too like working with experts, and having expert people all around you. I understood I preferred to be an entrepreneur.

Roe: How did you arrive at WoodWing?

de Roos: I decided to look around and see what was out there. I knew WoodWing, and I had also been a customer [of WoodWing] with a publishing company so I knew the company from the customer side. I also knew the shareholders quite well.

So, they decided that I would be a good choice to lead WoodWing. 

It worked for everyone. I have a media background and I know what the strategies of media companies are right now. I have also a background in technology and innovation and that kind of thing.

Roe: WoodWing works with many publishers. How are publishers dealing with digital transformation?

de Roos: Traditional publishing houses have a legacy they need to hold onto. Keep in mind there was a time when they were the leading source of information for society.

There was television of course, but newspapers were important and they had the largest pool of journalists. From this position, they [traditional publishers) had to work out how to move forward [in the digital age].

It was clear a long time ago that the digital move was coming. I understood that and I really liked the idea as it gave the potential to broaden the position of these traditional companies. Subscriptions were going down — I lived in country where subscriptions were the main source of attracting readers.

But the audience [for traditional publishing] was growing older and the younger people growing up were not attracted to existing brands. Losing your importance as a brand and how to handle that was a real challenge.

Changing that but keeping the legacy alive is a real struggle. A lot of those companies [traditional media companies] are not agile enough to adapt to that change especially with advertising moving to the internet.

Roe: What should traditional companies do?

de Roos: It was very difficult in these circumstances to understand how to innovate in a traditional company and a lot of companies have a problem with that. I don’t really have an answer for that. I don’t think there is an answer.

A lot of traditional companies are still having a problem. I’m not sure why. I just thought that everyone would move, or want to move. But in fact, they still have the same questions. 

The problem for these companies, I think, is that there is a whole bunch of digital products out there like Instagram, YouTube, any of the social media networks — that people can turn to straight away and that’s what young people are doing. How do you respond to that? That said, the move to digital is much slower than I ever thought it would be.

Learning Opportunities

WoodWing Expands Its Horizons

Roe: So what should these organizations be doing?

de Roos: The most important thing for these companies is how to make money with the content they have. That’s really the issue.

For a company like WoodWing then, it is important that we understand the digital strategy of the top 25 or 30 percent of media companies in that world and that when companies start talking about strategy, that we are part of that discussion.

We need to be there when they identify the needs of today, but also the needs in the next three to five years so that we are delivering products.

Roe: Where does WoodWing fit in?

de Roos: We are in a place where we can help companies that are in a difficult situation with their content. We can help them organize it and think we are good at it. Technology is always a challenge, it is always about change.

Traditionally we had a strong position in magazine and print. We are in the middle of a transition right now where we are delivering multichannel products that reuse content in defined channels. In a few months, we will deliver a new product with additional features that will make this possible.

We are positioned with the traditional media companies and not very often with the innovative media companies. We are aiming to operate somewhere in the middle. In other words, we want to operate between large companies that have a lot of people and difficult and complex processes as well the distribution of content to multichannel, and smaller innovative digital companies.

We are already heavily involved in DAM and the publishing areas, but in the coming years we want to be also be at the table in enterprises that are involved in digital publishing when they start developing strategies. 

We don’t want to limit ourselves to publishing, but want to work with wider media companies and marketing agencies where our products fit very well.

Roe: Why is Digital Asset Management so important now?

de Roos: I think it’s because there is a lot of content that must be published and must be organized. If you are working in a company that has 200 people creating content every day it really is a challenge to organize it.

People don’t really realize that content has a value. It is created by people, and you want to reuse it because of its value.

Everyone is a publisher now. So, when you try to look at companies trying to work with content today, it’s crazy. People need to have enterprise tools that are accessible to everyone, that can connect with all the people in the enterprise and with customers. DAM systems are making it so much easier to do that.

Growing Its US Presence

Roe: Last year WoodWing reported 22 percent growth in the US.

de Roos: I think the US market has huge potential for European companies, if you know the way the game is played in the US. It’s completely different.

The culture is easier to access and to scale. It’s important though that you have the right people around you, and you also need to have a product that meets the needs of big American companies.

That is what we are working on. It’s getting the right scale to get everything done in the US. Now, we think we have the right people and the right products.