I remember when eBay bought Skype for that staggering $3.1 billion and scratching my head, wondering what the connection was.
I remember talking to CEO Meg Whitman soon after the deal was announced, listening to her tell me that Skype would make as much sense and be as important to eBay as PayPal was. I remember nodding, listening. And I remember still scratching my head.
Today, investors are scratching their collective heads: eBay de-valuing theSkype asset by 46% or about $1.6 billion. Executives are leaving the internet phone-calling service even as millions around the world continue to sign up for it. Skype boasts over 220 million users around the world; yet fewer than 5% of consumers in the U.S. acknowledge using the net for free phone calls.
The technology may indeed be ahead of its time; and eBay may have indeed been rolling the dice that tech-savvy bidders and buyers would want to communicate with each other by voice, on the net, during their transactions.
That was always a big stretch to me. The fact is, people online have a kind of interpersonal detachment, preferring email and text messaging to actual voice calls. I don't know why that quasi-anonymity is so compelling, but it is. Always has been. And of all companies, eBay should have recognized that.
It is anathema to me how the company could write a check that big for a property generating so little cash flow. But once the transaction was completed, it's amazing to me that eBay could not figure out a way to better monetize an entity with a quarter of a billion users.
Eyeballs can be overrated though. Didn't we go through this during the last boom? Isn't that a lesson we all learned back then? EBay got caught up in all that again. A company that should have known better. It tried to "will" Skype's success by forcing together ingredients that just wouldn't mix. Or haven't mixed yet.
And all the while, execs all the way up to Whitman herself espoused the virtues of this deal by comparing it to PayPal. Quarter to quarter, PayPal performs and that deal was a stroke of genius. To borrow a phrase: I know Paypal. I've followed PayPal. Paypal is eBay's friend. Skype is no PayPal.
I applaud the bold gamble by eBay to try to come up with new ways to grow. But the Skype deal has come up craps.
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