Om Malik has made a lot of outstanding points in this post about Skype in a slightly critical manner.
The last few days I've been spending a lot of time talking to past, current and very closely aligned Skype people. The assembly and assimilation of facts isn't pretty.
First a well seasoned investment banker, from a very prestigious firm, shared with me some shareholder percentages over a glass of wine. Basically Niklas and Janus walked away with a majority of the stock and a boatload of Euros, while Index Ventures and DFJ were in for roughly 13 percent combined of the loot with the rest scattered amongst the few. The savvy banker also confirmed that the Estonian programmers got very little.
Another closely aligned advisor to Skype continues to shake his head in wonderment at they way things are being done and how many, if not almost all of the successful aspects of Skype's culture are being dismantled by eBay's leadership team. There is this almost Borg like eBayization of Skype in process and it's starting to resonate in whispers that are being heard, so while it's needed in some ways to grow the asset, I don't think two and a half months of observation is enough time to figure out what made it work, even if the whole process of buying Skype started back in May when one of Meg's top level aides issued a memo to key staff to learn and gather as much as they can about VoIP and Skype.
Then there's Skype London. Some claim new faces are about Marketing themselves to prove their mettle, not about what got Skype to the top of the heap. Comments from internal folks, or recently departed, echo and revolve around terms like "power hungry," "control" and "micro management." They also talk moan and groan about confusion and lack of clarity, a wonderment sometimes of whose in charge. Some USA Skype employees don't even know when key folks leave the company, and have resorted to reading the blogs to keep up on internal company efforts. That's not good
Then there is the recent software releases. Word is Skype rushed the Windows XP Video client out too soon citing internal disagreement on the roadmap. Others talk about the now current sound affects versus what was already in place. My personal experience with the Mac client shows that it takes longer to load and while it has a better looking interface, the sound effects are a step back, not forward even if the addition of management of Skype Forward is. What is the saying about two pounds of crap in a one pound sack. Well you get the idea.
So lets add up what's happening:
1. Disgruntled programmers who are likely ready to bolt
2. A disfunctional, cross cultural chasm being formed between eBay's team and Skype's
3. Software that's not as good as what it replaces, with sizzle, not steak being hyped
4. Media agreements that don't have any teeth and that get broken at will
5. A basic growing undercurrent in the technology, investment and user sectors about just what's going on.
eBay's more experienced managers better get a handle on what they bought fast, not try and force their culture too quickly onto Skype. Meg Whitman and company also need to require that Nicklas to get his butt to the USA, regardless of his prior DoJ issues. That song has been played to death and it's time he takes his lumps and deals with the matter once and for all. You can't run a global business like Skype by remote control with flights to London, and that's what eBay is doing right now. Maybe the programming side, but not the business side, and clearly by the recent hiccups, not the marketing side.
It's also more and more apparent to me that Skype is an eBay company, not only an investment. That means the leadership team needs to be here, all together, for at least six to nine months solidly in order for real integration to occur. Conference calls, chats and exchanges of documents will only go so far. And if not corrected the investment will not meet the earnout levels that are expected. And that won't be good for anyone.
If this doesn't all happen, Skype will be the thing that was. The company de jour, not a company that was built to last.