A fascinating article about and interview with Niklas Zennstrom, founder of Kazaa, Skype and a new internet TV venture, The Venice Project. Some highlights:
Zennstrom does not seem to have an outsized ego – until he talks about his ambitions for Skype. When he started it in 2003, he told Fortune, “There is multibillion dollars in potential in Skype. We’re not here to try to make some small business.”
“It’s the same plan,” he says now. “We have 136 million users. There aren’t many telephone companies that have more customers. We are still in growth mode. In terms of revenue per user, Verizon gets much more, but they also have much higher costs.”
“We didn’t plan to sell,” Zennstrom says. “We started a conversation with (eBay CEO) Meg Whitman because we thought we should work with eBay.” He actually thought eBay wouldn’t like Skype because a Skype voice connection could be a way for sellers and buyers to cut deals that eBay couldn’t track.
Whitman saw something else: a fast-growing business that might also help eBay users talk to each other and close transactions more easily, especially those that involve big-ticket items like cars. “We always seek to remove friction from e-commerce,” Whitman told USA TODAY soon after the Skype deal. “It leads to a better experience and an increase of velocity of trades.”
Whitman has been criticized for the deal by analysts and investors. She has not clearly shown how Skype helps the eBay site – though, on the flip side, it’s clear that eBay’s marketing muscle has helped Skype grow 122 percent in North America in 2006.
Zennstrom insists he’s happy with the marriage. “You never know how the chemistry will be, but it’s been really great,” he says. “Meg did not impose on us to do everything the eBay way.” He says he’s learning a lot about management from Whitman and other eBay executives.