三级成人视频Howard Hartenbaum is one of a few people to have what was once a rare and sought-after asset: a Skype username that is simply his first name: “howard”.
Back in 2003, Hartenbaum was living in Luxembourg and working for the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Draper Richards. He was trying to get hold of Niklas Zennström, then known as the brains behind the file-sharing application Kazaa.
It was not an easy task. Kazaa三级成人视频, which at peak times was responsible for 40pc of internet traffic, had become a global sensation, used by millions to download mp3s for free, and the record industry was trying to sue Zennström for billions.
A contact in Stockholm eventually put the two in touch. But when Hartenbaum eventually got hold of his man, Zennström said he was working on something new. He and business partner Janus Friis had an idea even bigger than Kazaa: an internet phone call service that would bypass the telecoms network that charged usurious rates for long-distance calls.
“They were kind of the bad boys who had gone after the Recording Industry Association and then they were going to do the same to the telcos, which was another industry that everybody hates,” says Hartenbaum.
Hartenbaum flew to Sweden, and over two days and nights, they sketched out a business plan. After shaking hands, he wired an initial investment to their bank account before anything had been signed.
三级成人视频As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world, forcing us to stay indoors and avoid others, video calling has exploded.
Video calls on in countries hardest hit by the virus. Houseparty and Google Hangouts have shot up the app charts. Zoom has become the service of choice for everything from government meetings to virtual pub quizzes, growing from 10m to 200m daily users in three months.
Yet Skype is nowhere to be seen.
In a parallel universe, Skype could have been all of these, a video chat app to rule them all. Instead the company, which has been owned by Microsoft since 2011, has become something of an also-ran, right at the opportune moment for the technology it pioneered.
三级成人视频“It’s just a sad story of a great brand,” says Mark Tluszcz of venture capital firm Mangrove Partners, who alongside Hartenbaum was the first outside investor in Skype, and user number seven. “When people say ‘Hey I’ll Skype you’, I’m like: ‘I don’t even use it any more’.”
Skype did not start as a video conferencing service: its original motivation was free voice calls. It did not come up with the idea, but it made it work better than anyone else. “It was the first product my mother could install,” says Tluszcz. “Skype just had that [experience of] download it, install it, and it works.”
三级成人视频As one of the first to sign up to Skype, Hartenbaum got his pick of usernames. So did his whole family. Since this makes it easy for strangers to stumble across their profiles, it has led to some strange encounters in the years since: Hartenbaum says he gets dozens of friend requests each time he logs in; his daughters have had marriage proposals.
However, when his family groups together for video calls, they now use Apple’s FaceTime instead. “It’s just so well integrated and easy to use,” says Hartenbaum, now a partner at Silicon Valley fund August Capital.
三级成人视频Calls took place over peer-to-peer networks, meaning they were routed through users’ computers, instead of a central server, making them more reliable and cheaper to operate.
Video calls followed, and the company became its own verb, as in, “Let’s Skype”, the holy grail for tech companies.
三级成人视频In 2004, Eileen Burbidge, now a venture capitalist and the Treasury’s fintech envoy, moved to the UK to work at Skype’s London office. Back then, its operations were split between London and the Estonian capital Tallinn. She says the company, as with many start-ups, was characterised by all-nighters and quick decisions.
三级成人视频The night before Skype launched a paid version that would allow users to call phone numbers in foreign countries, Burbidge was manually entering rates for each country into a spreadsheet. “Administratively, it was hardly the best-run company,” Burbidge says. “But there was a camaraderie and team dynamic which everyone was fully behind and motivated by.”
三级成人视频It only took until 2005 for potential buyers to come calling. Skype became the subject of a bidding war between Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and eBay, which was won by the auctions website. The marriage of an ecommerce site and an internet communication service was not an obvious one, but Meg Whitman, eBay’s chief executive at the time, was terrified of losing out to Google, which had recently entered the online shopping business. In the end, eBay paid $3.1bn.
三级成人视频Whitman's idea was that buyers and sellers, many of them international, would need some way to communicate, in the same way that PayPal, bought by eBay a year earlier, handled payments. It was a loose theory even at the time. “They made up this thing called the power of three, which was payments, commerce and voice and we had no idea what that even meant,” says Hartenbaum.
Soon, Zennström and Friis, Skype’s founders, left. “That’s the bit where Skype started losing its rudder,” Tluszcz says. “When you decide to sell, you have sold part of your soul.”
Skype’s ownership would change twice over the next six years. In 2009, eBay sold Skype to a consortium including Silicon Valley investment fund Silver Lake and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Two years later, Microsoft paid $8.5bn for it.
三级成人视频It was a substantial sum - Microsoft’s biggest until 2016’s $26bn takeover of LinkedIn - but even in 2011, Skype was still a market leader. It had been among the first to launch an iPhone app, even when most people did not yet own smartphones. That would soon change.
三级成人视频The rise of WhatsApp meant the international messages and phone calls that Skype had been founded on moved elsewhere. Apple’s FaceTime took video calling, at least on the iPhone. Meanwhile, Microsoft made an ill-fated gamble on the success of its Windows Phone software, hampering Skype’s success on smartphones.
三级成人视频While Skype had been very much a product for consumers in its early days, after various redesigns under Microsoft it seemed unclear whether that was still the case. “Microsoft didn’t put the A-team on it,” says Hartenbaum.
Burbidge has a simple explanation for Skype's decline: “What really helped the service to take off and what made it such a success was its fundamental call quality, and how well it simply worked in 2004 and 2005,” she says. “I don’t think the subsequent corporate owners were able to maintain that level of product and call quality.”
三级成人视频During the pandemic, Microsoft has pushed a different program, the feature-packed Teams app that it launched in 2016, which has built upon some of Skype’s technologies. The company says Skype’s daily users have risen 70 per cent month on month to 40m, around a fifth of Zoom’s. A spokesman said that Skype “will remain a great option for customers... we see Teams as an all-in-one hub for your work and life”.
Meanwhile, Skype’s original team have become the foundation of London’s tech scene. Zennström founded the venture capital firm Atomico, while Friis and Ahti Heinla, an early employee, launched delivery robot company Starship. Taavet Hinrikus, another employee, runs fintech app Transferwise; early investor Index Ventures is now a venture capital powerhouse.
Still, given Skype’s head start, the rise of Zoom cannot help but feel like a missed opportunity, especially since the latter’s success is largely down to simply being easy to use, and working reliably - Skype’s hallmarks in its early days.
Hartenbaum says he turned down the opportunity to invest in Zoom early on: “That cost me personally a few hundred million dollars,” he says. “Skype was just one button and it was easy to use, and it got more and more complex to the point where it’s unusable. Zoom hopefully won’t make that same mistake.”