订阅

多平台阅读

微信订阅

杂志

申请纸刊赠阅

订阅每日电邮

移动应用

投资理财

为何我们的Skype投资大获成功?

Ben Horowitz 2011年05月13日

Skype的一位董事回顾过去两年,并分析为何今日微软愿斥资85亿美元收购Skype。

    2009年年中我们创立Andreessen Horowitz后不久,就和Silver Lake Partners、Canada Pension Plan Investment Board的合作伙伴一起,以略高于20亿美元的价格从eBay手中购入了Skype多数股股权。这项投资给我们带来了极大的争议。马克和我作为天使投资者,一宗交易即投资了我们3亿美元新基金中的5,000万美元,这让很多人感到意外。虽然符合我们“投资不分阶段”的策略,但这的确是基金成立初期很大的一笔交易。让事情更热闹的是其他投资者和记者也普遍批评这次收购。《纽约时报》(New York Times)的乔•诺塞拉就写道:

    “本周我遇到的很多华尔街人士及众多电信专家都对Skype的售价感到震惊,这不仅仅是因为我们处于经济衰退之中。”

    有关争议日前终于结束了,微软(Microsoft)宣布以85亿美元收购Skype——距离我们从eBay手中购入仅18个月。

再看当年

    让我们重新审视最初的决定以及为何投资大获成功。当时人们对我们的批评集中于两点:

    1. Ebay可能没有Skype的相关知识产权。当时,Skype创始人尼可拉斯•曾斯特罗姆和贾纳斯•弗里斯对Skype提起了知识产权诉讼。很多人猜测这两位创始人会通过诉讼让Skype关门大吉,投资者将一无所有。这使得Skype理论上缺乏可买性。正如诺塞拉所写:

    “因此,Skype交易令人不解的地方在于:为何成功竞购者愿意为一家可能因诉讼而关门大吉的公司支付如此高的价格?一种可能是他们有钢铁般的神经,另一种可能则是他们知道一些不为外人所知的东西。”

    2. 技术变迁可能令Skype逐渐失宠。虽然Skype赢得了最初的互联网电话之战,但他们依赖的是传统的、庞大的台式电脑用户群。从技术角度,当时不可能推出高质量的客户端或手机端产品,但这种情况不会持续。很多观察人士坚信随着全球不可避免地转向客户端和手机端产品,Skype将被远远落在后面。

    对于像Skype这样复杂的公司,投资者会基于同一个事实得出不同的结论。就此项收购而言,我们获得的数据和其他人都一样,但我们对Skype创始人及雇员的评价要远高于怀疑论者和否定者。我们坚信我们能与创始人合作,而非对立。而且,我们相信Skype令人赞叹的工程师团队在开创了Skype服务、深具原创精神的东欧软件奇才的带领下,能与任何人竞争并获胜。

    特别是,我们当时相信,作为当代两位杰出的科技创业者,尼可拉斯和贾纳斯希望看到Skype大获成功,并会尽其所能实现这一点。因此,我们并不认为其他投资者担心的危机情境——即创始人将通过诉讼让公司关门大吉——具有现实可能性。根据创始人的动机,我们感觉得快速了结知识产权诉讼。双方都希望致力于提升Skype的竞争力,不能浪费时间为知识产权所有权争吵不休。

    在这一点上我们做得非常正确。在快速了结诉讼案后,两位创始人旺盛的精力、精辟的洞见和杰出的知识才能为公司贡献颇多。而且,我们的确需要他们,因为很快我们就面临了来自谷歌(Google)和苹果(Apple)的全面正面挑战。

当巨头发起挑战

    谷歌直接发起挑战:提供一款免费产品,与Skype的美国付费产品竞争;提供一款大幅打折的产品,与Skype的国际产品竞争。随后,谷歌向其庞大的Gmail用户群大力推广这些廉价产品,迫使每个Gmail用户在进入邮箱前都要观看谷歌的互联网电话广告。这些努力的结果如何?自从谷歌推出这些新产品以来,Skype的新用户数量和用量呈现加速增长,现已达到:

    • *每日新注册用户 500,000

    • *1.70亿连接用户

    • *Skype平台上同时在线交流的用户数达到3000万

    • *2010年语音和视频通话时间达到2,090亿分钟

    在手机领域,苹果在iPhone中内嵌了视频通话功能,使其Facetime成为了iPhone用户的默认应用。这对iPhone手机上的Skype使用有怎样的影响?自从苹果发布Facetime 以来,已有5,000万用户下载了Skype的iPhone应用软件。

    回顾来看,人们很容易低估Skype工程师团队的质量以及Skype的网络效应力量。当我们从eBay手中买下该公司时,很多人认为就像很多被收购的科技公司一样,Skype的技术天才也会流失。我们通过研究发现,Skype有一群深具使命感的核心工程师。在公司被eBay收购后,他们留了下来,全心全意希望将Skype打造成未来的通信公司。过去十年,这个团队不断推出突破性的技术,从极具弹性、可伸缩的对等网络,到通过更优的编解码实现音质的大幅提高。在这个过程中,Skype在大多数重要领域的创新技术都超越了竞争对手。再加之以其强大的网络效应(视频通话服务如果没人用,能有多少价值呢?),Skype成为了一个令人生畏的竞争对手。

明智之举,微软

    今天,我要向一个老对手——微软脱帽致意。通过收购Skype,微软在移动市场的竞争力大为提升,并成为互联网语音和视频通信市场的显著领先者。更重要的是,微软获得了一个由杰出的托尼•贝特斯率领、可与任何人竞争的团队。

    本文作者Ben Horowitz是风险资本公司Andreessen Horowitz的联合创始人及一般合伙人。该公司旨在通过天使投资,满足当今科技型创业者对大笔融资的需求。目前,Ben还在Okta、Nicira、Proferi和Skype的董事会任职。 

    Shortly after we started Andreessen Horowitz in mid-2009, we, along with our partners at Silver Lake Partners and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, bought majority ownership of Skype from eBay for slightly more than $2 billion. The investment generated a tremendous amount of controversy for us. Marc and I were known as angel investors, so investing $50 million of our new $300 million fund in one deal surprised people. While consistent with our stage-agnostic strategy, it was a very big deal very early on in the fund. To make matters more exciting, other investors and writers broadly criticized the deal. Joe Nocera of the New York Times wrote:

    "Many people on Wall Street—and a number of telecommunications experts I spoke to this week—were stunned by the price Skype sold for, and not just because we're in the middle of a recession."

    That controversy ended this morning when Microsoft announced that it was buying Skype for $8.5 billion -- 18 months after we bought it from eBay.

What it looked like back then

    Let's look back at the original decision and see why it turned out well. At the time, people criticized us for two primary reasons:

    1. Ebay might not have owned Skype's underlying intellectual property. Skype's founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, held an IP claim against Skype. Many speculated that the founders would use their claim to shut down Skype and leave investors with nothing. This made the company theoretically impossible to buy. As Nocera wrote:

    "And so, the mystery of the Skype deal: why were the winning bidders willing to pay so a high price for a company whose very existence could be threatened by this lawsuit? One possibility is that they have nerves of steel. The other is that they know something nobody else does."

    2. The shifting technology landscape would tilt the playing field away from Skype. While Skype won the original Internet telephony wars, they did so with a classic fat desktop client. From a technology standpoint, at the time, it was impossible to field a high-quality web client or mobile product, but that time wouldn't last. Many observers believed that as the world inevitably transitioned to mobile and web, Skype would be left in the dust.

    With a company as complex as Skype, investors draw different conclusions about the same facts. In this case we had the same data as everybody else, but we had a radically higher opinion of Skype's founders and employees than the doubters and naysayers. We believed that we could work with, rather than against, the founders. And we believed that Skype's amazing engineering team, led by the original Eastern European software wizards who created the service, could compete and win against anybody.

    We specifically thought that Niklas and Janus, two of the preeminent technology entrepreneurs of our time, wanted Skype to be a huge success and would do everything in their power to make that happen. As a result, we did not think the doomsday scenario that greatly concerned other investors—that the founders would attempt to shut down the company through the courts—was an actual possibility. Based on the founders' motivations, we felt that we'd quickly settle the IP litigation. Both sides wanted to get on with the business of making Skype more competitive and could not afford to waste time bickering about IP ownership.

    We couldn't have been more right about that. After quickly settling the litigation, both founders immediately made major contributions to the business through their energy, insight, and intellectual prowess. And boy did we need them to do that, because we soon faced full frontal assaults from the both Google and Apple.

When giants attack

    In a direct attack, Google offered a free competitor to Skype's US paid product and a heavily discounted competitor to Skype's international product. Google then aggressively promoted these cheap products to their enormous Gmail user base by forcing every Gmail user to view Google's Internet telephony advertisement before allowing them to access their email. What was the result of this effort? Skype new users and usage growth has accelerated since Google's launch, culminating in:

    • *500,000 new registered users per day

    • *170 million connected users

    • *30 million users communicating on the Skype platform concurrently

    • *209 billion voice and video minutes in 2010

    On the mobile front, Apple built video calling right into the iPhone, making their Facetime product the default offering for iPhone users. How did that impact Skype's usage on the iPhone? 50 million users have downloaded Skype's iPhone product since the release of Apple's Facetime.

    In retrospect, it was easy for people to underestimate the quality of the Skype engineering team and the power of Skype's network effect. When we bought the company from eBay, many thought that Skype, like so many acquired technology companies, had lost its technical talent. Through our research, we found that Skype had a core group of engineers who were completely dedicated to the mission. They stayed through the eBay acquisition and were hugely determined to make Skype the communications company of the future. Over the past decade, this team consistently introduced groundbreaking technologies ranging from highly resilient and scalable peer-to-peer networking to radically higher sound quality through dramatically superior codecs. In doing so, Skype out-innovated the competition in the most important areas. When combined with its powerful network effect—how valuable is a video calling service if there is nobody to call?—Skype became a formidable competitor.

Smart move, Microsoft

    Today, I tip my hat to an old rival, Microsoft. By acquiring Skype, Microsoft becomes a much stronger player in mobile and the clear market leader in Internet voice and video communications. More importantly, Microsoft gets a team, ably led by the exceptional Tony Bates, that can compete with anyone.

    Ben Horowitz is co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm created to support the needs of today's technology-focused entrepreneurs through angel investments to large scale funding. Ben currently serves on the board of Okta, Nicira, Proferi and Skype.

我来点评

相关稿件

  最新文章

最新文章:

500强情报中心

财富专栏