April 18, 2009

Skype, Ebay, IPO’s and iPhones: Business Strategy in motion

As a spectator, is it easy to see business strategy as it is implemented?




Maybe not.


IT-wise, I’ve noticed that Skype has been “in the news” a lot lately, almost as much as Twitter. Heck even Oprah’s Twittering now… but I digress.


Anyway, I’ll get to the point. Here’s a rough chronology of the recent events that I allude to:


a)       Skype Launches iPhone application

b)      Rumours of Skype founders interest in purchasing the firm back from Ebay

c)      Ebay announces that Skype will undergo an IPO in 2010


So what… you may say? Well, I can’t argue with that, but from a business strategy perspective, I feel it’s an interesting case-study. Here’s why…


First of all, Skype has over 400 million users. That’s Facebook x2. That’s powerful scale.


The Skype app for iPhone, will allow all of those users to make phone-calls over wireless broadband or as David Gelles of the Financial Times puts it:


“The application will allow iPhone users to make free Skype-to-Skype calls from any wi-fi zone, call landlines or mobile phones at a low rate, and use Skype’s instant messaging features.


Other device makers are sure to follow, but in the meantime, perhaps we should rename the iPhone, and call it the “iP hone”? J


Nonetheless, somewhat clever word-games aside, the potential of the Skype app on the iPhone and other mobile devices is potentially devastating to the business models of Mobile telecom network owners, but it’s a huge potential boon to Skype itself.


Shortly after the Skype on iPhone announcement, rumours began circulating that the founders of Skype (Niklas Zennstrom & Janus Friis) were working to acquire the firm back from Ebay with the help of private equity firms. Quickly on the heels of this rumour, came the official announcement from Ebay that Skype would be put-up for an IPO in 2010.


So what gives here? Can we draw any conclusions from these events?


From a strategic standpoint it would seem that Ebay is doing its utmost to “shop Skype around’ to potential suitors, while simultaneously attempting to maximize its perceived value, which if true, makes good business sense.


The LA Times blog had this to say:

“…analysts speculate that the announcement of a public offering has another motive: It's acting as a for-sale sign for Skype, hoping to get some Internet giants in on the bidding. "Otherwise, why announce an IPO now for something that’s a year away?" said James Mitchell, an analyst at Goldman Sachs.”

These events do raise a question in my mind though.


Is the rumour of the founders’ renewed interest in the firm legitimate or is it a part of the pre-sale PR campaign orchestrated by Ebay?


Have we glimpsed Ebay’s subtle strategy here?




Maybe not.


Either way, perhaps the crew over at Google is now considering its newest acquisition target… 

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