Over the weekend, the NY Times revealed that the dynamic duo of Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis may be about to buy Skype back again. When they sold it to Ebay in 2005 for what eventually amounted to $3.1B, it had 53M users. Now, they hope to buy it back for around $1B when it has 405M users. Om Malik says Ebay should take the offer, and I tend to agree – it’s time for Ebay to admit they aren’t the right owner and never were. You have to hand it to Zennstrom and Friis, they sold high and might soon buy back low. Perhaps this is the turning point for them, where they see value in the running of a business rather than in creating it. Or perhaps it is just that Joost is looking less and less disruptive, whereas Skype now has the scale to really do something and little real competition. If it happens, the question then will become: just what do they intend to do with it?
It is important to remember that while these guys drive a hard bargain, they only work on things they have a vision for. They aren’t private equity guys, if they do it it won’t be about immediate cash flows – it will be about transforming it into something new. The twinkle in the eye of every VoIP dreamer back in 2004 and 2005 was that VoIP wasn’t just a cheaper way to talk. Rather, there was a revolution coming that revolved around new services and greater integration and voice as we knew it would soon be an antique. So far? Other than a few neat ideas that haven’t caught fire, it’s mainly just cheaper. All the service innovations have come on cell phones, and the arrival of Skype on the iPhone is probably very much related to why its founders are pondering a return.
All those neat new things people can do with VoIP they could only do when sitting at their computer, and that was inherently limiting. But unlike video, which really would kill cell networks if allowed in quantity, VoIP uses little bandwidth – DT’s protestations not withstanding. Bottom line? VoIP + Skype = Disruption. The real thing this time. Maybe.
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