Everybody’s heard of the PayPal mafia — the cohort of entrepreneurs who graduated from the payments service when it was bought by eBay and have since left their mark across dozens of Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and many more.
But was it entirely unique?
Skype has plenty of similarities to PayPal— not just in the fact that it is broad, disruptive brand that sold to eBay, but also because it has an alumni network of its own to boast about.
True, Skype’s graduating class haven’t made as much of an impact as PayPal’s, and there are a few possible reasons for this. First, most of the ripples that have rolled out from Skype have been concentrated on Europe, rather than inside the Bay Area bubble: that means they’ve got less coverage and less investment to bank on. Second, many of those who made their names at Skype went on to become investors rather than having another crack at running their own businesses — partly to step into that selfsame equity gap.
Most importantly, though, is the fact that the profit from Skype deal was less distributed than PayPal’s. While Skype’s exit was nearly twice as large, the lion’s share of the proceeds went to its investors and founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. The share pool for employees was, I’m told, measly by Silicon Valley standards — which meant the graduates, in turn, had less of their own to spread around.
Still, that has not stopped those who worked on Skype from going on to become an incredibly active and busy group. Maybe it’s not a full-blown cosa nostra, but it’s a small family at the very least.
The ringmaster of Skype’s circus, Swede Zennström is now the CEO of Atomico, a London-based VC that has investments in the likes of Rovio, Fon, Jawbone, Silk and more. He enriched himself twice over with Skype, after buying back a slice of it when Silver Lake Partners acquired 65 percent of the company from eBay and promptly flipped it to Microsoft for $8.5 billion
Skype’s other co-founder, Friis was also in on the buyback. These days his relationship with Zennström is not as tight as in the past, and he has concentrated his efforts on Rdio and now Vdio, where he has taken a number of former Skypers including Malthe Sigurdsson and Stephanie Robesky.
TOIVO ANNUS, AHTI HEINLA, PRIIT KASESALU, JAAN TALLINN
A quartet of Estonian engineers who formed Ambient Sound Investments after leaving Skype. They do not run the fund directly, but it has been an extremely active investor with interesting moves into companies like Blip.tv and Senseg. Annus has been an active investor in his own right too.
Another with many connections to the group. Adamson (a veteran of ICQ and AOL) was in charge of desktop products at Skype at the time of the eBay acquisition, and went on to be entrepreneur in residence at Atomico. From there, he helped launch Rdio and is currently the company’s COO.
Left Skype before the eBay acquisition, but went on to work at Ambient Sound and led some investments including academic software firm Mendeley. After looking to strike out on her own, she ended up forming a London-based seed investment fund, Passion Capital with former QXL executives Stefan Glaenzer and Robert Dighero.
Credited as Skype’s first employee, Hinrikus — who had worked with Zenstrom Friis in the past — now runs the London-based currency exchange startup Transferwise. On top of that he is also an angel investor who participated in seed rounds for the likes of Tweetdeck and CheckThis. He also acts as an advisor for Ambient Sound.
SHIN IWATA, CARLOS PIRES, KELLY POON, GEOFFREY PRENTICE, HIRO TAMURA
This group of former Skype executives are now working for Atomico, helping to expand its remit into new territories such as Japan, Brazil and China.
Once the COO of Skype, Jackson — who worked alongside Zennstrom at Swedish telco/ISP Tele2 — is now an incredibly active investor on the European scene, popping up all over the place. He’s a partner with Mangrove Capital, which has a portfolio including Rdio, OpenX and Seatwave. He often invests alongside Atomico.
Not a core member of the Skype team, having joined at the same time as the eBay acquisition, but previously founded one of the companies that became Lovefilm, Europe’s rival to Netflix and later sold to Amazon. These days he’s one of Europe’s top investors with Index Ventures, often working alongside Atomico and other Skype alums — although it’s not always been an easy relationship.
Of course, this is just a handful of people who worked on Skype: there are many others who currently work in less visible roles or went through the Skype later in its life. Here a few of those who are less well-known but still claim links to Skype.
Worked on mobile strategy at Skype, joining shortly before the eBay acquisition. Now runs social media aggregation startup Memolane.
Left Skype in 2007 after three years to join Stardoll (founding CTO? Spotify’s Daniel Ek) and has since gone on to found social network Duego, which is live in Poland, Russia and Latin America.
Founded genealogy site Kindo, which was later bought by Israeli powerhouse MyHeritage — a company backed by Skype investor Index Ventures. Now working on Saltside, a webapp studio.
Another Tele2 old-timer who joined Skype later on, Oberg has gone on to found the curation tool Remby.