Skype's new owners must ring up profit

OBSERVERS are questioning the $2.75bn (&pound;1.7bn) valuation placed on Skype, the free computer-to-computer video and voice call operator, which has so far failed to wow investors despite taking a generation by storm.<br /><br />The service first emerged from its garage roots in 2003, and has been under the arguably careless ownership of eBay since 2005. But a consortium of private investors, including London firm Index Ventures, clearly believes it is worth the price tag.<br /><br />The first thing that the new owners will inherit is a legal battle in the UK courts over ownership of the technology that powers Skype. That action is being taken against Joltid, a firm founded by Skype&rsquo;s founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis.<br /><br />A loss here would be catastrophic for Skype, but the fact that a group of long-term technology investors are not put off could be seen as a positive sign for the firm.<br /><br />The Scandinavian duo sold Skype to eBay in 2005 for $3.1bn. eBay hoped to use the technology to allow bidders on its burgeoning auction site to interact via Skype rather than just email. Unfortunately, its users were unconvinced.<br /><br />eBay&rsquo;s time at the helm of Skype was not completely fruitless. Analysts estimate that the operation contributed $170m in profit in the second quarter of this year.<br /><br />Skype&rsquo;s new owners will be focused on taking this momentum forward and monetising the service&rsquo;s 480m registered users. To do this it must focus on expanding its paying customer base and taking its telephone services to big businesses.<br /><br />If it does, it is possible that Skype&rsquo;s potential could be nurtured far better under new management than it was as an add-on to eBay.<br /><br /><strong>MIKE VOLPI</strong><br /><strong>PARTNER INDEX VENTURES</strong><br /><br />LONDON-based Index Ventures, one of the consortium of investors which agreed to buy a majority stake in Skype, is a venture capital firm active in technology, biotech and cleantech, investing since 1996.<br /><br />It was one of the original investors in Skype, exiting in 2005 when the firm was bought by eBay. It also recently exited, the social music platform that was acquired by CBS.<br /><br />The firm also has offices in Geneva and Jersey, and focuses on investments from seed through growth stage companies.<br /><br />The team at Index is led by partner Mike Volpi, who joined the firm in July to look after the communications, media and technology sectors. He was previously the chief executive of internet video delivery firm Joost, where he remains chairman.<br /><br />&ldquo;In 2004, we recognised Skype&rsquo;s potential as a global telecommunications leader and we&rsquo;ve been captivated by the business since we first invested,&rdquo; he commented yesterday.<br /><br />&ldquo;eBay has continued to foster Skype&rsquo;s growth as the internet voice and video communication leader. We are delighted to join this all-star team of professionals and investors in the next chapter of the Skype adventure.&rdquo;<br /><br />Volpi began his career at Hewlett Packard, before moving to Cisco Systems where he was senior vice president and general manager of the Routing and Service Provider Technology Group.