Skype Journal Interviews Josh Silverman: The Way Ahead – Platform and Partners

This is the fourth in a series of posts resulting from an interview a week ago Friday with Josh Silverman, Skype’s recently appointed President. In this post we talk about directions for the Skype platform and partner programs.

When I first attended a Skype developer event in June 2006, there was lots of enthusiasm for the Skype partner program and for its integration into various third party applications and service offerings. Several of the feature requests, such as call transfer and access to the voice stream, that had come to the surface by the time of this event, have since been implemented. In December 2006 Skype announced the Skype Extras program for which there are over 100 offerings available, mostly for the consumer user but the list also includes about ten in the small-to-medium business space. Most importantly, partners have been asking not only for a platform roadmap but also for execution on that roadmap.Skype Extras included a publishing and transaction platform, yet to date, only PamConsult has taken full advantage of these feature for its well received (and award winning) PamFax offering. On the other hand, OnState has been able to figure out how to provide a friction-free full services program for its call center customer base. However, over the past eight months market visibility of any significance for the entire Skype partner program has just not been there. Yet we see “Skype access” continue to be built into various platforms such as Ribbit and Voxeo. Skype Certification exists for only seventeen offerings. InnerPass has received Skype Certification two weeks ago (review). At IT Expo last week in Los Angeles I came across several service providers and application developers who wanted to have a Skype presence in their offerings.

On the hardware side there have been many innovative offerings; I have experienced many of them. As confirmed by 3 executives at last Thursday’s Mobilize 08 event, the Skypephone has met with phenomenal acceptance in the nine countries serviced by 3. Yet several hardware partners have drifted away to the point where we only see limited visibility for Philips, GE and IPevo dual mode (Skype and landline) phones and a few accessory products, such as the FreeTalk Wireless Stereo Headset, from InStoreSolutions (who largely address the European market). Beyond the Skype Store availability, WalMart is carrying Skype hardware in the U.S. (and I found some at Fry’s in Sunnyvale this past Saturday).

Frankly, sorting out its platform strategy and partner relationships, and giving them appropriate visibility, is perhaps one of the biggest challenges that Josh and his team face in sustaining Skype’s presence in the IP-based conversation space. In our interview with Josh it became quite apparent that these issues have not missed Josh’s scrutiny leading up to the business reorganization we have been discussing in the various posts in this series:

SJ: In your interview with Om Malik yesterday you mentioned as one of your key growth initiatives “Skype as a platform, embedding Skype as the conversation infrastructure for devices and services”. Tell use more:

JS: We’re incredibly lucky that almost everyone in the world wants to do something with us. That’s fortunate because we need to be everywhere. For Skype to be successful and to fulfill its full potential we need to be part of every device and every communications experience. and we can’t do that on our own .so we need a really robust platform that allows us to be part of other people’s experiences or devices and allow other people to be part of us. We all recognize that we have a long way to get from where we are today to there. With the relatively small program we have and small investment we have made we have 15,000 partners who have signed up for our program today. I think that’s a great indication that if we really invest behind this we can do something magical.

SJ: What would that future platform look like?

JS: What we want to do is lay out a set of principles around the platform that say:

  • we want people to be able to incorporate Skype into their experience.
  • It should be the full Skype stack of functionality
  • it should include all of our feature set and not just hive off one piece or two pieces.
  • When you use Skype you should know you’re using Skype and
  • you should have a SkypeID which works across all of our experiences,

So somebody who wants to take Skype and build it into their experience but create a walled garden of “only within their experience” doesn’t build value for the greater ecosystem. If you start with Skype on one experience and then you go to another experience with another platform partner, you still need to be able to communicate. There needs to be one SkypeID that works everywhere and then it needs to hold true to some basic sense of brand principles around what the Skype brand should be. Beyond those principles we really want to allow people to innovate and use Skype and do what they will to extend the functionality for our users.

SJ: Has the architecture for this started?

JS: Right now we have created the job of GM of Platform; I hope to very soon name a GM of Platform. That person is going to have to really work on what does the architecture need to look like to support this, what are the API’s are going to be – reference UI’s, technical documentation – as well as evangelizing to the broader community forming some of our partnerships, so we have some work to do.

SJ: Is the job posted on your job board?

JS: Not yet, we have some candidates; but if there are folks in your community that are excited by this and we haven’t already filled this in the coming days [faded away but implication was to apply].

SJ: Is there a timeline?

JS: I don’t want to speculate too much. We do have a API [set] today, we do have lots of people working with the API’s so we have something to build from. I’m not an expert. I wouldn’t be able to lay out a timeline but we are going to get an expert who can lay out a timeline. … As with everything at Skype, we want to be fast but also make sure we do it well, in particular with a platform. It’s got to be well thought through so we support our partners really well. We know there’s a big responsibility in there and we take it seriously.

SJ: Would you be looking at getting the partners involved in helping designing that platform and getting some feedback on it?

JS:I think that would be essential. One of the things I’m pretty passionate about is always bringing the voice of the customer in early to anything we’re trying to do and I think that, for the platform, that would be absolutely essential.

SJ: What are you looking at to address ongoing partner communications issues with respect to the partner program?

JS: I take the partner program really seriously and we’re aware that we’ve not invested adequately behind it and want to do more. The first thing we are going to do is hire an experienced, capable leader of that organization who will pull together for me a plan for what resources do we need to invest in — engineering, partner support, evangelism, technical documentation — to make sure we build an organization that can support our partners robustly.

What I don’t want to do is over promise. Step one is, when you get somebody good in, lay out a plan and then when we’re ready to announce some more forward looking things we’ll do that.

Changes are not going to happen overnight when Skype is acquiring 300,000 new registrations per day and profitable. But, based on the strategy and principles outlined by Josh in this interview, going forward we should be looking to see within a three to six month timeframe:

  • Announcements of the appointment of two key senior executives who bring along experience in building platforms and partnerships
  • A platform architecture and developer roadmap
  • Revamped plans for Skype’s hardware and software partner programs

It will also be most interesting to see what forums or other means Skype provides for input into the platform architecture and developer roadmap strategy. Execution is everything, especially at this stage of Skype’s growth within the IP-based conversation space.

(For background on Skype’s partner program history check out: A Primer for Skype’s Direction – Skype’s Extras Gallery and Developer Partner Program. And for an example of what attracts developers to Skype as an ecosystem check out “On Spotlight: Don Kennedy AKA TheUberOverLord”.)

Next: Markets: Business and Geographical

About Jim Courtney

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

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