Whitman Departs: What it Means to Skype

Meg Whitman was the person who put the Skype deal together at eBay and over the past year it has become apparent that Skype is not generating the revenue eBay hoped it would. In addition, in the last 12 months, there has been a lack of clear leadership at the Skype unit.

My day to day contacts are still at the company and product upgrades are still coming out mind you. It is at the top of the world’s largest communications software company that their is a vacuum.

One wonders why this is. What makes sense is for a strong evangelist to be at the helm of Skype promoting IP communications and helping to ink deal after deal in the pursuit of large profits.

But under Whitman this hasn’t happened. I give Meg Whitman a tremendous amount of credit. She is intelligent, eloquent and has done a great job with eBay and PayPal.

Skype however is another story and since Whitman will be voluntarily retiring this gives  a tremendous opportunity to her potential successor — John Donahue who heads up the auction business. Donahue can now start with a clean slate.

The two options for Donahue are to sell the company to someone like Google or to get a strong leader in place who will speak at industry events and be the strong leader the IP communications market certainly could use.

Either way, the laundry list of ideas I mentioned in this post still need to be brought to bear if eBay is really serious about getting this underperforming unit to generate higher profits. Some of these ideas are posted below:

1)      Enhance the social network capabilities: Skype currently is in a good position to expand into social networking via Facebook like features. They have added some community services but not enough to be taken seriously as a real social network. Some analysts place Facebook’s value at $100 billion. This is obviously an area the company should be going after more seriously.
2)      Show some ads: Let’s see if I understand the situation. You have over 5 million users on your service almost every moment of every day. You need to increase revenue. Your answer? Show no ads. If I were eBay I would be flashing product listings in front of Skype users as often as possible. If this doesn’t make sense, why not show Google ads like everyone else in the world? It is tough to see where this isn’t a $100 million/year revenue opportunity – this amount may seem high but think about how long people use Skype each day and consider you can flash new ads in front of users constantly. Moreover, probably $90 million would flow to the bottom line. eBay’s P/E ratio is currently about 40 so this amount of earnings could translate into about $3.6 billion in market capitalization. Not showing ads is something I can’t conceivably understand.
3)      Enter the enterprise VoIP market: Cbeyond has a market cap of over a billion dollars and provides hosted communications to just a few cities in the US. Zennstrom first told the world at Internet Telephony Conference & Expo that Skype was very popular in the business space. Why was this never monetized in a formal manner?
4)      Provide paid recording capabilities: With the regulatory environment forcing so many companies to record phone calls and so many Skype users in the world, you have to offer a recording service to help those companies who need to capture Skype IM and voice calls within their organizations. My revenue estimate? $25-$100 million/year.
5)      Skype trunking: This technology is one of the most intriguing around – allowing companies to communicate with branch offices, customers and home workers at a low cost. I feel going forward every company should take advantage of SIP trunking and Skype trunking. Skype knows this. So the question I feel compelled to ask is why would they do not work more closely with partners such as VoSKY and actually market Skype trunking products to customers in a more serious way. VoSKY is doing a good job but why is there not a multimillion dollar Skype ad budget behind VoSKY and others? Why leave the success of this massive market in the hands of partners when you can ensure the rapid success of this burgeoning new space yourself? The reason may be that Skype was built as a viral platform and they except this to be the only way to sell. Ditto for eBay. Guess what? Companies like Avaya, Cisco, Dialogic and Quintum sell telecom equipment and/or gateways and they have to market to customers. To be serious in the business space, Skype needs to start a serious partner program where they fund the marketing of companies which help their own paid services increase.
6)      Go after the PBX vendors: If I am a PBX vendor I would be looking for Skype interoperability as a differentiator. Still, I have yet to see an ad touting PBX vendor’s Skype Interop. Why?
7)      Charge for something beyond just connecting to the PSTN: Charge for conferencing, enhanced video, the ability to get new features first, for the ability to use the service without having to see ads, etc.
8)      Partner with media companies: Work with content providers and stream programming via the Skype client. Make money through subscriptions and ads.
9)      Take on the world’s biggest auction houses with Skype video enabled live auctions. If eBay can pull off selling cars, it can pull this off as well.
10) Embrace Skype: I have a weird question. Companies all over the world are integrating their customer service departments with gateways allowing callers to use Skype to call in. Isn’t it odd that PayPal doesn’t accept Skype phone calls? If you want companies to integrate with Skype – which will obviously increase revenue – doesn’t it make sense to lead by example?
11) Embrace enterprise video: Video is enjoying resurgence and Skype has a well-known brand name and has a pretty good video solution. What about offering a video plan for businesses which will be cheaper than existing solutions on the market but priced high enough to generate real revenue?

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