Skype Out

My friend @David asked me to revisit the post I wrote about Skype spinning out of eBay back in the spring of 2009 in the wake of the news that Skype is headed into the hands of Microsoft. David quotes this part of that April 2009 post:

But the best thing about this is getting the asset back into the hands of the entrepreneurs who created it and built it. We all saw what happened at Apple when Jobs took back the reins of the company and I suspect Niklas and Janus would not be thinking about this if they didn’t have a strong strategic plan for Skype.

I’ve said this many times on this blog and I’ll say it again. Big companies mostly mess up entrepreneurial companies when they buy them and it really is best that companies like Skype stay independant and run by their founders if that is possible. And it looks like that might be possible with Skype. That makes me happy.

We all know that Niklas and Janus were unsuccessful with their bid for Skype. And it is entirely possible that Microsoft will not end up owning Skype. There are plenty of rumors that don't actually come to pass.

But it is equally clear that Skype is very likely headed toward some form of corporate ownership. And my hope that Skype could stay independent will not come to pass.

When Niklas and Janus failed to conclude their attempted purchase of Skype, it traded into the hands of Silver Lake Partners and a group of other investors. This investor group initially tried to keep Skype independent by virtue of an initial public offering. Skype filed to go public last year but the offering never came.

In the past six months, something changed at Skype and now we see the end game is a sale to another corporate owner. We can speculate on what those changes were. Maybe the public market was not that receptive to the offering. Maybe the company was having difficulty growing its revenues as fast as the public markets wanted. Maybe the investors lost confidence in the management's ability to continue to build and grow Skype as an independent company. Whatever the reasons, Skype's experiment with being independent is over and I am disappointed.

We use Skype every day in our office. It is our videoconferencing system and increasingly our phone system. It works amazingly well. Recent UI changes to the new client have been frustrating. On a Skype conference call yesterday, we were all lamenting the loss of the old client where we knew where everything was. Skype brought VOIP to the masses and I'm very certain that someday we will all be communicating by voice and video over IP, maybe via Skype, maybe be other services. It is the future for sure.

I'm not particularly inspired by the idea that Microsoft will do something great with Skype. But I do think they are a better corporate owner than eBay. The second acquisition of Skype isn't likely to change our daily usage of the service. But it may be an inspiration to VOIP entrepreneurs everywhere to think big and create new services that can someday be as big or bigger than Skype. And that's a good thing.