Facebook is not at war with Google as both companies would like to think. It is really suffering more from guerrilla attacks from a set of small players that hit Facebook one functionality at a time. WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, Quora, Path, Tango, Tumblr, Pinterest, Viber, Voxer, LinkedIn and even its own Instagram all chip away from Facebook. It’s the club of companies that are better than Facebook “at something” . And Facebook’s attempt to bury them all with a Facebook phone didn’t work out. Facebook has a billion users but these are many of the same users who more and more prefer the specialty formats of other platforms. While in Smartphones themselves the battle may be only between iPhone 5 vs Samsung IV, when it comes to apps people are much more picky. Facebook is losing dominance by the week to focused niche players.
For most people Facebook Swiss Knife approach is good, but given a choice, a tool set is better. What is Facebook to do? They are lucky enough to be sitting on a cash pile and it is a public company worth over $50bn. They have to do what Google has been doing for years. Buy, buy and buy. Instagram was a good start. Buy first and figure out how to monetize later, learn from Google’s acquisition of Youtube which for years was as struggle and now is a star.
Everyone says that Facebook fights privacy because they grow by making you and everyone else, very public. And that part is obvious, if they don’t encourage you to be less private they have no network. But there is a countertrend to that and that is post IPO monetization. Now that Facebook got 1 billion people to share their intimate and mostly irrelevant moments they hope to make money by you being so desperate for the attention that you got used to having that you start paying NOT to be private. In order to achieve this Facebook is now making you less popular, or more private against your will.
So the new Facebook, the post IPO “have to meet the next quarter numbers” Facebook, is paradoxically more private, unless you pay of course. But if you don’t pay, less is disclosed about you to others because those who pay increasingly crowd you out. And paradoxically a new privacy will be achieved.
I just paid $38 to Facebook to promote a post I wrote in Spanish about the iPad Mini and Surface. I did it because I find the business model kind of absurd but want to understand what the rationale behind this is. I also did it because I was surprised the price was $38, like the failed IPO price. You would imagine that Facebook would have given up on charging $38 for anything and I wanted to see what I would get for $38.
I still think that Facebook should offer a $5 per month no ads version of its service. I dislike the fact that Facebook gives me the service for free and is always trying to think how to milk me as a user an activity for which it has an incentive to invade my privacy in all sorts of way. Especially in trying to make me as public as possible to sell me as a product to others. Facebook’s ads are so irrelevant, so much worse than those of Google, so irritating.
And there is the language issue as well. I hope FB realizes that my post is in Spanish and does not spam everyone who reads in English with it. I know this sounds absurd and it is so easy to recognize languages. SpotRadio and RadioMe, apps that I developed for Android do this very well on the fly and for many languages at the same time. But Facebook frequently shows me ads that encourage me to learn Spanish. So how aware is Facebook of who I am? It also frequently shows me great looking women with no friends in common with me to befriend and ads for all sorts of ways of meet women even though I am happily married and said I found those ads offensive.
This was surprising, I was speaking at a conference in Zurich and somebody from the audience came up with this video of Mark Zuckerberg and I in 2008. That was superkind of this person, to shoot this video I mean. You can see how Mark Zuckerberg was going around the world promoting Facebook, this was the Spanish launch at it took place at a theatre I owned in Madrid called Teatro Lara. The video starts in Spanish and I speak, then switches to English and Mark speaks.
My investors at Fon include most of the people and companies that were involved in the recent sale of Skype. At Fon we have eBay, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom personally as investors and board members, Mike Volpi personally as an investor and board member, Danny Rimer as a board member and Index Ventures as an investor, and Marc Andreessen as an investor. So for me to talk about Skype after the recent dispute for the control of this company could be dangerous. But there´s no need to be concerned. This post is not about my opinions on what just happened at Skype as those are irrelevant here. Personally I think that Janus, Niklas, Mike, Danny and Marc are all awesome guys, amazing investors and board members. So what I will speak about is how I see the future of Skype and the dangers it may face and the opportunities it may have.
Before getting started I would like to say that I have been a user of Skype from the very beginning, from way before I actually met and became partners with Janus and Niklas, that I think that Skype is a remarkable product that is way ahead of the competition and that while not yet a highly profitable company, Skype has certainly been a gift to humanity. Now having sent my thank you note, let’s talk business.
Most communication on Skype as we all know, is totally free, only occasional calls to non Skype parties are the ones that generate the $740 million revenue run rate that allows Skype to make a living. The rest is love. And those revenues are under threat from three rivals.
The first one is called Facebook. While my friends inside Facebook have not disclosed anything to me, I think it is obvious that Facebook will soon have its own Skype. And what´s amazing about Facebook is that even though its pictures apps is mediocre in comparison to Flickr, its email pales in comparison to Gmail and its chat is way worse than that of Skype (no file attachments, no this, no this no that), the growth of those apps in Facebook is explosive. While I have been in Skype since 2004, on a recent check I had around 30 people I knew on Skype and 144 on Facebook chat. When Facebook incorporates a Skype like product, how many people will go on using Skype? Facebook is getting so big that soon there will be no Facebook Out. The threat that was Skype’s threat, namely how do you make money if everyone is on Skype and there is no Skype Out, is now being transferred to Facebook. But the thing is that Facebook, another gift to humanity, has a different business model, advertising, and they could really hurt Skype.
The second threat to Skype is flat rate pricing from telcos around the world. Why would anyone use Skype Out if they have an all you can eat tariff on their phone? And all you can eat tariffs are more and more frequent. In Europe all ADSL plans come with flat rates to all fixed lines, and in USA flat plans to fixed and mobile plans are more and more common. There are also community plans like calling anyone on AT&T for free that turns AT&T mobile into a Skype. It is remarkable that these plans are available to visitors such as myself and my family. We are six and when we go to USA everyone gets a phone with an AT&T card and we all call each other for free on prepaid! And telcos have one big advantage and that is that you don’t need a computer to make a phone call
The third threat is Google Voice. Google voice is interesting because it came out of the Google Talk fiasco and it shows how relentless Google is when it gets its mind set on something (disclosure Google is also an investor in Fon). What Google Voice is doing with the free phone calls attacks the very livelihood of Skype and that is Skype out. And the integration with Gmail and Gmail contacts is amazing. Skype is weak at that, it has no email. Google first copied Skype with Gtalk and it took off but not really. Google Voice is the second derivative of the Skype attack, and is going well. The $50 million acquisition of Grand Central that resulted in Google Voice stands up there with the acquisition of Keyhole that resulted in Google Earth as two of the best M&A moves of Google so far.
So considering that Skype is under attack from Facebook, the largest telcos in the world and Google how can it be a good business to buy Skype?
Well the key here for the new investors in Skype is not whether Skype will rule the world but whether it will be worth more than what the investors paid for it. And after giving you the cons here are some arguments and strategies in favor of the acquisition.
Skype is simple. Michael Arrington and all of Silicon Valley may find Google Voice amazing but is the average global citizen ready to use it? Massively use it? You download Skype, you find your friends on Skype, you talk. And if you don’t find them you Skype out. And when you talk you can also do video. I LOVE video calls on Skype. I used to use them for people I really cared about, relatives, close friends. Now I even do business calls on video with Skype. It just gives you more of a sense of what is going through the other person´s mind. And Skype is the leader on video quality. So simplicity plus video may be a good way to beat flat plans from telcos and avoid being Tivoed. If the video services can migrate to mobile phones Skype is on to something.
Skype can include advertising. If Gmail reads your emails and places ads why can´t Skype do the same thing on their chat or even their voice channels? How far are we from systems that listen to what you say and just as you finish saying “let´s go to Ibiza for the weekend” they start showing you cheap flights to Ibiza. Gmail proved that if you give people a great service they don’t care if you spy on them. That could be an enormous revenue source. So far Google has been kind to Skype even including it in the Google pack. Maybe a Google deal for advertising is in the making.
Facebook is not the only community in the world, there is Linked In, Xing and other business networks. Those “business types” work best with Skype. I believe that as Facebook squeezes everybody in its quest to Microsoft the world (Mark Zuckerberg told me that Microsoft is his model) a few Apples will emerge. Skype could be one of them. Apple has a tiny fraction of the PC market, Dell dwarfs it in revenues. But Apple dominates the over $1000 PC segment. Skype could position itself as the communicator of choice for businesses. And that has tremendous value.
The Eye-Fi Card looks and acts like a standard SDHC memory card (up to 2GB) that you can easily plug into your digital camera, but it’s actually a great WiFi gadget that automatically transfers your photos and videos to the Web and your computer, as soon as your camera gets in range of a WiFi router like a Fonera.
When your pics and videos are uploaded they can be automatically shared on around 20 photo and video sharing services including Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Photobucket and Youtube. When your computer is turned on your pics are are downloaded to a folder on your computer or directly into iPhoto if you are on a Mac.
Adding WiFi to your camera makes a lot of sense, as it lets you forget about the annoying downloading and uploading procedures necessary to put your pictures and videos on the Internet. Our own Fonera 2.0 will let you achieve the same results, but will work with any digital camera and any memory card. You’ll soon be able to plug your camera to an USB port on the Fonera 2.0 and your pics and videos will be automatically uploaded to Flickr and Youtube. No need to boot up your PC and waste time with forms and endless uploads, the Fonera 2.0 will take care of it for you. But the Fonera 2.0 is not just about uploading pictures and videos to the Web, it will also help you manage your storage, backup and downloading activities, thanks to a USB port and a selection of plugins developed by the community.