The Skype Mafia: Who Are They And Where Are They Now?
Skype is widely regarded as one of the most successful tech companies to come out of Europe, but who are the people that built the company and where are they now?
They’ve got their fingers in lots of pies, including a venture capital fund with over $1 billion at its disposal and an autonomous robot startup that’s delivering takeaways to people in the U.K. and California.
The so-called Skype Mafia is a sprawling beast involving dozens of people, but there are a few names that really stand out.
Founded in the early 2000s, Skype was bought by eBay in 2005 for $2.6 billion. The deal saw founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis pocket approximately $390 million each. At the time, it was not only the biggest exit in European tech, but also the largest tech exit globally since the dot-com crash.
The history around the deal makes for interesting reading. Zennström and Friis retained ownership of some of Skype’s technology, which proved vital when relations between eBay and Skype soured. The European entrepreneurs sued eBay for misusing their IP, leading Google and Microsoft to think twice about buying the company off eBay. They alleged that some of their code, which they retained the copyright for, was being used in Skype without their permission.
In 2009, eBay sold 70% of Skype for $2.75 billion to an investor group called Silver Lake that included some of Skype’s cofounders. EBay and Silver Lake then sold it onto Microsoft for $8.5 billion in 2011, with Silver Lake being the clear winner in the deal.
After speaking with multiple ex-Skype employees and people with close links to company, Forbes has identified ten of the most influential and successful people within the Skype mafia.
1. Niklas Zennström, Skype Cofounder and CEO
The series of acquisitions made a lot of Skype’s early employees millionaires, but ex-Skype CEO and cofounder Niklas Zennström netted the lion’s share.
Forbes estimated in 2015 that Zennström—who also cofounded peer-to-peer file-sharing service and Napster rival Kazaa—had a net worth of around $900 million.
A keen yachtsman, the 53-year-old Swedish entrepreneur used some of his Skype profits to build racing yachts that have won major races such as the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. He also reportedly sails for around 90 days a year.
Some of his Skype proceeds went into setting up his own venture capital fund, Atomico, in London’s Mayfair district. Just outside the Atomico office, Rolls Royces and Bentleys drop off wealthy shoppers on the doorsteps of swanky stores like Louis Vuitton and Belstaff.
Set up in 2006, Atomico is investing over $1.5 billion into early-stage technology startups across a range of industries. Zennström set it up because he wanted to build the VC he couldn’t find when he was raising for Skype in Europe. The fund has backed dozens of businesses, and big wins to date include Supercell (stake sold to SoftBank), Xobni (acquired by Yahoo) and Klarna, which is now valued at over $5 billion.....MUCH MORE
Tall and composed, Zennström is particularly keen to back sustainable businesses that have the potential to mitigate the impact of climate change. Atomico has backed a German startup called Lilium, for example, which is developing a small electric flying vehicle that could help to cut emissions and reduce congestion. And more recently the fund backed a digital agriculture firm that examines weather, soil and field data to help farmers determine potential yield-limiting factors.
2. Janus Friis, Skype Cofounder....
The inspiration, from 2014:
"The PayPal Mafia: Who are they and where are Silicon Valley's richest group of men now?" (EBAY; TSLA; LNKD; FB)
And the knock-off, from 2018:
The Stanford Bitcoin Mafia