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If you can't beat 'em, rebrand – StudiVZ & Co. to become Poolworks Written by Nina Fowler on 12. June 2012

Stefanie Waehlert

VZ Netzwerke, the operator behind once-hot German social networking site StudiVZ, has announced a complete rebuild under the name Poolworks. The move follows last week’s confirmation by VZ Netzwerke and owner Holtzbrinck Digital that a “major restructuring” is underway with about 25 staff laid off and all IT staff moved into Devbliss, a new IT subsidiary of Holtzbrinck.
Stefanie Waehlert
The group, led by CEO Stefanie Waehlert (pictured), will refocus on what is currently SchülerVZ, a youth-only social network for students aged between 10 and 21. SchülerVZ will be renamed IDPool and “expanded in several stages to an educational offering” – in other words, a learning platform, which is a niche not currently occupied by rival Facebook. Meanwhile, the future of former flagship StudiVZ (a broader social network for students) and MeinVZ (a sister network to StudiVZ for those not in study) is uncertain. Both will reportedly remain open while “further options” are evaluated.

Holtzbrinck’s missed opportunity

Holtzbrinck Digital bought StudiVZ (founded in 2005) in January 2007 for around €85 million and turned down an opportunity to sell to rival Facebook in early 2008. While the group still claims 16 million users across its networks, visitor numbers have declined significantly over the last few years. According to the Informationsgemeinschaft zur Feststellung der Verbreitung von Werbeträgern e.V. (IVW), last September there were 104.5m visits – almost 20 per cent fewer than in August and about 70 per cent fewer than in the previous year. Last December, there were 77 million visits; in March this year, 53 million.
A large part of StudiVZ’s decline in Germany is due to the global rise of Facebook as a social network market leader (check out Vincenzo Cosenza’s just-published map of world social networks for the few countries still holding out). Facebook is currently working to boost user numbers further via new mechanisms to target kids aged 13 and under, which could include linking a child’s Facebook account to their parent’s account.
Holtzbrinck Digital is the internet holding company of German media and publishing giant Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH and also provides funds to independent venture capital firm Holtzbrinck Ventures (backers of Groupon, Zalando, Delivery Hero, Wooga, DaWanda and Westwing, among others).

Holtzbrinck Digital

For related reading, check out:
Is StudiVZ – Holtzbrinck’s once-proud “German Facebook” – on the brink of collapse?
Facebook likes Berlin startups – the city’s coolest brands get on the Open Graph brandwagon
Westwing secures $50m deal led by Summit Partners to push international appeal