Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Skype's $8.5 Billion Pay Day -- Did SightSpeed Sell Too Early?

Skype is now in Microsoft's hands, of course, or a cool $8.5 billion. Good deal for MSFT? Bad deal? TechCruch reported that Microsoft's bid was $4.5 billion greater than the next highest bidder -- Google. So, from a pure price tag perspective, the deal my not make sense. But, here's the deal -- Skype is untouchable from a global communications and brand perspective. And, video chat is now front and center for Skype in its efforts to monetize the ubiquitous service in a big way ... and, we continue to be early in the ultimate video communications opportunity. So, the deal ultimately may prove to be smart. Very smart. (Here is Gigaom's perspective about Microsoft's rationale.)

Some of you may recall that, prior to Sorenson Media, I had the good fortune to serve as CEO of consumer video chat leader SightSpeed. We were a true David v. the Skype Goliath. Yes, we offered the undisputed best and highest quality consumer video chat technology and service. Yes, our P2P technology was superior to Skyp'e problematic and accident-prone "super node" P2P technology. Yes, we innovated, while Skype video chat lagged (as one example, Skype added multi-party video chat literally years after we introduced that key functionality). But, Skype, of course, was Skype -- plain and simple. They had hundreds of millions of registered users -- we had a team of 30. And, we also had a tiny fraction of the war chest available to Skype.

In the second half of 2008, blue chip global CE company Logitech came calling to buy us out. Yes, we knew it was still early in the consumer video chat game -- the vast majority of pundits still were doubters (by the way, where are they now?) -- yet, we had been at this video chat thing for a while and the offer was a strong one and would ensure an extremely positive return on all involved (investors, employees). So, we sold to Logitech in November 2008 for $30 million.

Looking back -- and given Skype's $8.5 billion price tag -- did SightSpeed sell too early? Here are my answers to that question:

(1) you can't look back and live your life/think that way -- anytime you make a significant positive return (and multiple) for your investors and for your team (which we did), you should be happy. It ain't easy to do it -- the vast majority don't. Enjoy it.

(2) we closed our deal -- with healthy multiples for our investors and team -- in November 2008. Think about that for a second. Does that ring a bell? November 2008 was POST crash -- THE worst economic conditions in 75 years since the Great Depression! The bottom had just fallen out in the month before. Yet, we got the deal done -- during a time when no deals were getting done unless they were fire sales. I am extremely proud of this feat -- and the end result.

(3) everyone made money! Not only did our investors enjoy a healthy return on their investment, every single full-time employee made meaningful money as a result of the deal!

(4) virtually everyone retained their jobs and transitioned into Logitech -- this was no slash and burn acquisition. So, the human factor was extremely positive here in all respects.

Again, I am very proud that the end result was extremely positive all the way around for all involved. It was a great team -- and most of them are still at Logitech now nearly 3 years later. That is extremely rare.

So, do I have any regrets about our $30 million price tag in the face of Skype's billions?

No way. SightSpeed did many great things -- it created a lasting legacy (it is the foundation for the Logitech Vid service, among other things). And, everyone involved did well under anyone's definition of doing well. So, perhaps we sold a bit early -- after all, the video chat revolution has really taken off since November 2008 (hey doubters, look at video chat everywhere -- including mobile!).

But, then again, perhaps we did not ... The tech world is littered with roadkill from VC-backed companies that held on too long ....

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