Skype Developer Program in Flux III: Going Forward

An interview with Sten Tamkivi, GM Skype e-Commerce and Skype Estonia

As part of Skype’s current restructuring, Skype recently made some changes in the Skype Developer Team, moving its primary location from London’s business office to the Skype Development office in Tallinn. Recently I had the opportunity to interview Sten Tamkivi, Skype’s GM for Development and c-Commerce about these changes and the role he sees for the Skype Developer Program. But first to put the interview in context:

  • In March 2007 the Skype Developer Program was transferred to be under Sten’s direction
  • In the e-commerce role, Sten is responsible for Skype Prime, SkypeFind and SkypeCasts.
  • He is also responsible for managing and coordinating all Skype’s development activities.
  • It has been acknowledged by both Sten in this interview, as well as by Peeter and Antoine at the Skype Developer event in New York, that Lenn Pryor’s era had driven the launch phase of the program and Paul Amery’s leadership had put infrastructure into the program.

Note that, while I have put the following in a Q&A format, I have attempted to summarize the key points in our discussion as we covered the many topics.

Q: What precipitated the recent changes in the Skype Developer Program?

A: Basically we are seeing Skype transition from simply providing a client with communication services into a platform provider from which partners can build out their own unique offerings. We are seeing this not only in offerings from Skype Developer Partners but also in technology licensing relationships such as the recently launched inclusion of Skype for voice calls from MySpace’s IM client. With this change in focus and as we developed our plans in the overall review of Skype’s activities, we realized that we need to have closer and more spontaneous communications between the Developer Program management and the Skype Developer team.

As we expand the API’s to include support for both Mac OS and Linux and evolve with web services API’s, we need closer coordination of what is requested from our developer partner base (and user base) when setting our development priorities and assigning resources to the various projects. To quote: "Demands have changed to provide developers with the tools they need" from simply building features and tools as perceived by the developer team.

From a Roadmap and planning perspective, we want the SDP team to work more closely with the developer teams in Estonia such that the teams can, for instance, devise and release a feature and, at the same time, provide any appropriate related API’s for developers. While we have ideas from both the developer partners and members of our development team, priority will go to ideas that "delight the users".

Q: Currently it appears that the main players on the SDP team are Peeter "Walli" Mõtshüla and Antoine Bertout. What are their respective roles?

A: Walli will be responsible for providing the technical guidance and coordinating the product roadmap. It is for this reason we felt it was important that he go to New York on short notice and get some face time with the developer partners. (Ed. In New York Walli emphasized that he is the Interim Manager of the Developer Program and that Sten has yet to decide on the staffing requirements for the SDP in Estonia going forward.)

Antoine will be working out of London as the Partner Relations Manager acting as the primary interface between the SDP team, the Skype business team in London and the Developer Partners. As Antoine had spent several months last year (2006) working in Tallinn prior to going to London, he is quite familiar with many members of the developer teams here in Tallinn..

Q: How important is the Skype Developer Partner program in light of these changes?

A: Up to now Skype has largely been adopted and spread virally by users "coming to us". Skype itself has been easy to set up and providing low cost communications around the world; that made it spread virally.

But now we need to go "where the people are" and find customers who are outside our traditional user base. Also Skype has not been in the enterprise business space and is not equipped to address that space.

Skype needs its Partners who can provide the level of support, service level agreements, on-site training and other infrastructure required to become a viable business tool. Our Partners have an :"immediate" focus on enterprise needs so we need to open up to those [Partners] who are working directly with enterprises.

Q: Is there a focus on revenue generation via the Developer Program? For instance, we have seen PamFax integrate with all aspects of the Skype Extras Manager: software download, digital rights management and the transaction engine.

A: When I took over the SDP in March I wanted to take the pressure off short term revenue generation and focus more on the longer term developer needs for tools, documentation and generally providing developers with the information they need to get their products completed.

Given the apparent contradiction of longer term needs and quarterly revenue pressures, we took the approach of listening to developers, taking back that information and incorporating it into the product roadmap. Attempting to share revenue would shift the focus away from our longer term goal of providing a complete platform for developers. We want to be in a position of having the toolkit that enables the developers to generate revenues and, hopefully be profitable.

Q: At the New York Developer event it became clear that the Skype Developer Program’s target market is developers, not end users. Yet, one of the questions raised was what is Skype doing to build brand awareness in North America where it does not have the market penetration levels seen in Europe and Asia?

A: [At this point, Skype’s PR offered up two points: (i) Skype does take quarterly surveys of ":unaided brand awareness" in the U.S.; the results have been increasing quarter by quarter and (ii) in 2007 the number of US-based account registrations has increased significantly (as evidenced by looking at the few numbers eBay does release in its quarterly report).]

In addition Skype will be participating at more conferences and industry events; for starters we will be at CES and MacWorld in January.

Q: Over the past year we have seen viral demand for SDK’s for Facebook and the iPhone (for which a formal SDK is only forthcoming in early 2008). What does Skype propose to do to catalyze viral adoption and use of the Skype SDKs?

A: In today’s Web 2.0/Voice 2.0 world one thought that I am trying to get across to our developer projects is the following thinking. As opposed to launching our own specific business-case-architected functionality first and then later attaching API’s, we should be more open about what, when and in which order we expose (API’s). In many cases it is very hard to imagine exact use cases for what we are exposing to the developer ecosystem. Many times it is only after publishing API’s that we start to see mashups and applications that we never imagined. We constantly see new types of applications and new user segments popping up that we could not imagine previously.

The number one way we see to create developer excitement and enthusiasm is to open up as much as possible for cross platform development across both clients and the web. We need to make sure developers know about that. We need to make sure developers have excellent documentation and have a community to support their activities when they are prototyping and developing new ideas and concepts.

Q; So, in summary ….

A: We want Partners to know:

  • there is no loss of focus for the Developer Program; the focus has not gone away
  • the developer community is extremely important for us
  • organizational changes happen
  • we are grateful for the efforts of Paul, Lester and Caitlin and the results they achieved
  • there is never a good time to make changes

To provide a benchmark reference point going forward, the take-aways from this interview include:

  • Skype is moving from simply providing conversation services infrastructure to licensing technology platforms at two levels:

    • licensing the basic Skype conversation infrastructure: voice, IM, video
    • licensing, through the SDP and via the SDK, Skype embedded into third party applications
  • Partners are the key link to offering enterprise and business process solutions to the Partners’ target markets.
  • The SDP program’s emphasis going forward will be on more communication and interaction with the developer community to provide the tools they need to develop their services and products.
  • There will be a stronger emphasis on support for Mac OS X and Linux as well as web services.
  • Priorities will be set with more recognition of input from the developer community

Tags: Skype, Skype Developer Program, Sten Tamkivi, Skype Partners, Tags: Lenn Pryor, Paul Amery

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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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