Skype Founders Want To Buy VoIP Service Back From eBay

Zennstrom and Friis have reportedly been making the rounds of venture capitalists, trying to make the case for returning Skype to standalone status.

William Gardner

April 13, 2009

2 Min Read
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The most interesting eBay auction these days isn't even on the online auction company's listings of items for sale -- it's eBay's very own Skype VoIP calling unit.

The most recent potential bidders are Skype's founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, who sold Skype Technologies to eBay in September 2005 for $2.6 billion and later considerations. According to media reports, Zennstrom and Friis have been making the rounds of venture capitalists gauging their interest in bidding for Skype and returning it to standalone status.

EBay has said it won't comment on rumors, but The New York Times cited analysts who said that eBay would expect to obtain a price of at least $1.7 billion. Any negotiations could be complicated by an intellectual property dispute in which Zennstrom and Janus claim certain rights over eBay in peer-to-peer technologies.

A spin -of Skype by eBay wouldn't be entirely unexpected as, several months ago, eBay chief executive John Donahoe signaled the VoIP operation could be sold off if it didn't represent synergistic value for eBay's core businesses. When eBay acquired Skype, the online auction company had hopes Skype would be particularly useful in linking with the auction practice and its PayPal payments business.

Meg Whitman, eBay's chief executive at the time of the 2005 acquisition, summed up hopes for the acquisition by saying: "By combining the two leading ecommerce franchises, eBay and PayPal, with the leader in Internet voice communications, we will create an extraordinarily powerful environment for business on the Net."

Today Whitman is gone, exploring a run for the governorship of California, and the synergies never materialized, but Donahoe has noted that Skype standing alone is a successful and rapidly growing business with more than 405 million users. Skype recently announced it will market Session Initiation Protocol for smaller businesses in a move that will offer the inexpensive calling service to a new major market segment.

While Skype hasn't turned out as eBay originally planned, neither has Joost, the interactive online video company founded by Zennstrom and Friis. Late last year, Joost discontinued major software applications for its video service, although it said users can still watch videos online.

After Zennstrom left the eBay unit in October 2007, he said that eBay had overpaid for Skype. Now, if the reports about his interest in purchasing Skype are accurate, he may be looking to buy the VoIP unit back for a more equitable price.

Before they founded Skype, Zennstrom and Janus co-founded Kazaa, a popular peer-to-peer Internet file-sharing company.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the use of business software on smartphones. Download the report here (registration required).

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