Co-founder of Violet
B orn c. 1962, in Beirut, Lebanon. Education: Studied linguistics.
Addresses: Office—Violet, 18 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 75011 Paris, France.
B egan career with Minitel, the France Telecom proto-Internet service, 1983; co-founder, FranceNet/Fluxus (an Internet service provider), 1994; sold FranceNet/Fluxus to British Telecom, 2001; co-founder of Ozone and Violet, 2002.
R afi Haladjian is one of the founders of Violet, the Paris-based company that makes the innovative Nabaztag “smart-home” device. The Nabaz-tag is an appealing white plastic rabbit that connects to the home’s wireless system. It can receive text messages from outside the home or be programmed to announce commands, among its myriad of uses. “It’s more like a living creature than an appliance,” Haladjian told Thomas Jackson of Forbes Life. “People become emotionally attached to it.”
The “Nabaztag” brand name is in homage to Haladjian’s Armenian heritage as the Armenian word for “rabbit.” He was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and his family moved to France when he was a teenager. For a time, he studied linguistics, and began his career in the telecommunications field in 1983 during the Minitel era. A joint venture of Britain and France’s state-owned telephone monopolies, Minitel was a pre-Internet online service that became immensely successful in France thanks to the fact that France Telecom gave out its terminals— consisting of a monitor, keyboard, and telephone modem—for free. The Minitel revolution helped pave the way for future online service providers like Compuserve and America Online in the era before the World Wide Web.
Around 1994, Haladjian became involved in the startup FranceNet, the Internet service provider (ISP) for the country. Its name was changed to Fluxus in 2000, and it was sold to British Telecom a year later. With the money from the deal, “I was wondering what to do next,” Haladjian told Hrag Vartanian in an article for AGBU magazine—the organ of the Armenian General Benevolent Union— that appeared on the Armeniapedia.org Web site. “Then I found that the internet wasn’t the last step in the evolution of the way we use things to access networks. In my opinion, pervasive networks and smart objects were the next step.”
Haladjian began two ventures: one was Ozone, whose ultimate goal was to loop Paris into Europe’s wireless internet (Wi-Fi) network. Ozone kept its infrastructure-building costs low by soliciting residents to let them allow rooftop access for the wireless towers in exchange for free wireless service. Violet was the second company that Haladjian co-founded, and its mission was to develop new ways to capitalize on this Wi-Fi service. Its first product was the Dal, a computerized lamp launched in 2004 that would become the predecessor of the Nabaztag bunny. It connected to the home or office wireless network, and could be programmed to blink different colors related to various functions; for example, if stock market trading was tumbling that day, the Dal flashed a certain color. It sold for about $937, however, and failed to catch on with early-adapter consumers.
The idea for the Nabaztag “bunny” was entirely accidental. “I just happened to have a toy rabbit on my desk, and my cofounders and I thought, ‘What if we stuffed it with Wi-Fi?’” Haladjian recounted about Violet’s next product in an interview with Fast Company writer David Lidsky. Once Haladjian and his business partner, Olivier Mével, realized the genius of using a bunny as their flagship product, they went ahead with the prototype. A rabbit has multiple associations, Haladjian explained to Varta-nian, such as “a smart rabbit like Bugs Bunny, a sexy rabbit like the Playboy bunny or the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.” They also decided to use the Armenian word for rabbit, rationalizing that many successful high-tech items bore foreign names, like the Tamagotchi virtual pet from Japan.
The Nabaztag bunny caught on quickly after its launch in June of 2005 in France, partly because of its much lower price than the Dal lamp. The initial shipment from the factory in Shenzhen, China, was 4,800 and it sold out in Paris stores less than two weeks later. Another shipment, double that amount, also sold out. The product was launched in Britain later that summer, and was tested by Charles Arthur, a journalist for the Guardian. Arthur found some fault with the device, including the fact that the cartoon-like, ten-inch bunny is irresistible to very small children. Arthur said that his one-year-old son pulled out the ears that serve as the Nabaz-tag wireless antenna, “an indignity it suffered in immobile silence, though once the ears were reat-tached it slowly whirled them back into place, guaranteeing the process would be repeated.” Arthur also criticized what he found was “the impenetrability of its colour-coded blinking,” asserting that the Nabaztag’s “lack of text gave it the air of an object from the anti-literate world of Fahrenheit 451,” referring the 1951 science-fiction novel in which all books were banned by a totalitarian state.
Haladjian saw the Nabaztag as the next stage in the long-awaited smart home, in which everyday tasks could be programmed automatically by a series of devices connected to a network. “Your alarm clock, coffee maker, and heater should all adjust in a syn- chronized manner to the time at which you want to get up,” he explained to International Herald Tribune journalist Thomas Crampton. “The ultimate goal is to link all devices within a home and even a city for your convenience.”
A second-generation version of the Nabaztag was launched in the United States in the fall of 2007 as the Nabaztag/tag. One of the new features was the inclusion of programmable ID tags—similar to the fuel-station keychain icons that automatically record one’s purchase at the pump—which could be used by a child coming home from school; waving the tag would send a text message to a parent at work alerting them to the fact the youngster was safely at home. He and Mével also planned to make the Na-baztag code open-source, thus available to users who were also software programmers so that they could come up with their own features. As Halad-jian told Crampton in the International Herald Tribune interview, “my customers will direct this journey.”
Fast Company, December 19, 2007.
Forbes Life, December 11, 2006, p. 87.
Guardian (London, England), May 18, 2006, p. 4.
International Herald Tribune, July 18, 2005, p. 8.
New York Times, December 6, 2006.
Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia), August 14, 2006.
“Rafi Haladjian,” Armeniapedia.org, http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Rafi_Haladjian (February 11, 2008).