A Primer for Skype’s Direction -A Backgrounder

To steal a theme from one of the parties in our current Ontario provincial election – Leadership Counts! It has been apparent to many of us who follow Skype that Skype needs to renew its vision, its values and its directions. Providing the necessary leadership awaits the new CEO. In the meantime let’s take a look at what Skype and its new CEO has to build on.

The past eighteen months with Skype Journal have given me the opportunity to meet many levels of the Skype team from tech support, development and quality control personnel through to Partner Program managers, Product Line Managers and a couple of Vice Presidents. They are all energetic, enthusiastic employees who want to see Skype succeed, who want to be participants driving a communications revolution but they are crying for leadership with a vision, leadership that can leverage and uncover the full potential of the Skype team members, leadership that can establish values and point Skype towards a sustainably successful business model.

Just as importantly many third party partners have made extensive investments to develop offerings and services that enhance the Skype conversation, especially in business. One of the more enjoyable experiences with Skype Journal has been the opportunity to meet at length with many of these partners and absorb their passion and enthusiasm for supporting Skype and its potential.

I should also mention that 13 years ago I was a member of the management team of a NASDAQ-listed company that successfully turned around the company at the time. I see many parallels for Skype. When I look around Skype I see the foundation and infrastructure from which an appropriately experienced CEO can build for success..

Skype has five primary assets:

  • A brand name, Skype, associated with low-cost worldwide Internet-based telephony
  • A keen, energetic and enthusiastic team of business managers, administrators, developers, program managers, product managers who want to be part of the real time conversation revolution.
  • New products in development (have no idea what they are but there have to be reasons for the beta testers meetings in Prague recently and all those developers working in Talinn and elsewhere).
  • Passionate business partnerships leveraging Skype as a platform for extended services development.
  • A range of licensed hardware platforms that provide a seamless, transparent migration path from legacy PSTN to Skype

Within the Skype ecosystem can be found three core business groups:

  • Skype’s core real time conversation infrastructure enabling voice, chat, text messaging, presence, video, group chat and calling services such as voice mail, call forwarding, call transfer, multi-party conference calls
  • Skype hardware platforms: hardware devices that facilitate use of Skype, including several PC-Free devices that very effectively replace traditional telephone hardware. Some even have the potential to make the migration to Skype transparent, seamless and fail-safe.
  • Skype Developer Partner offerings and services that truly leverage Skype’s core infrastructure to bring enterprise level business processes to the small-medium entrepreneur. Think collaboration tools, call centers, conversation archiving, large scale conference calling. Think developer tools,. mashups, and "Skype as a platform".

If one aspect of Skype became clear during my judging of the Mashup Competition it was Skype’s clear lack of effective marketing to recruit users. Viral marketing can only take a business so far; going from 200 million to 1 billion users requires focus, very public visibility, user education and marketing discipline. At this point it is not a case of not having the technology and tools for real time conversations, it is a matter of educating business managers and consumers with what they can do with Skype. It is not a matter of offering "free" long distance; it is a matter of delivering value-add by enhancing real time conversations for more effective personal and business communications.

Over the next few days I will talk about the opportunities for Skype; in the interim some recommended reading:

  • Voice 2.0 Manifesto: where is the real business opportunity with Voice over IP technology?
  • Skype Partners Answer Jeff’s Call for Innovation in Voice Services
  • On Being a Skype Software Business Partner
  • Why VoIP Innovation Died with Skype Stuart Henshall, a Founder of Skype Journal provides his reflections on eBay’s stewardship of Skype. In conclusion Stuart has articulated the criteria he sees as critical for the new CEO:
  • Visibility: The new CEO will / must be very visible. They will either hold or lose the confidence of remaining developers. Learning to talk Skype will be a problem. Skype is less than four years old. As there are no internal candidates finding someone that can talk Skype (not as telephony) is a major challenge.
  • Guts: They will have to be a hard ass on the numbers. Skype is already in a price war, it’s time to take home the advantage while creating new value which will take some imagination and real pressure on the organization. That’s may or may not be a problem for eBay. Depending on the "agreement" it will have an impact on the new CEO, their flexibility, and the time given to finish the job that Niklas started
  • Beliefs: They have to have deep seated beliefs. Winning in this world will not come from quantitative research; rather it needs a higher level of experimentation, more transparency, and the building or a real open community. Skype is closed. Skype must be opened up. Few candidates will know how to do this.
  • Facilitate: Skype still learning has a young team and some good old fashioned recognition and encouragement is required. Skype cannot grow bigger without growing responsibilities of those that are there today. Any new CEO must know how to put in place an accelerated listening program.
  • London: the Red Herring choice. Should the new CEO simply move the company to Estonia? Politics and autocratic rule have still to be overcome. There are always hard choices to be made. Marketing is the first area to address. Adding to the marketing team will help to re-shape it without killing the gems that remain. Eg User Design.
  • Product Acumen: Skype wins or loses not based on the US, rather on India, China, Brazil in the longer term. It cannot win at all without a mobile strategy, in fact a Presence, View, Talk, Text, or Post strategy. Communications is multi-modal today and multiple devices. Skype has understood this better than most; however is yet to press the advantage home. New competitors are also increasingly everywhere… It is not the IM clients, or the telecoms anymore. Facebook and Google remain the real challenges.
  • Power of Three: Does he/she say bullshit? eBay appears to be incapable of integrating communications into their selling process. How much management attention and time will eBay require of the new CEO? Anything over 10% and we know that nothing will change.

Tags: Skype, Skype CEO, Skype leadership, Voice 2.0 Manifesto, Stuart Henshall, eBay, Alec Saunders, Skype Developer Program, Skype hardware

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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