Static On Skype, Zennstrom Quits

Niklas Zennstrom has resigned as CEO of Skype, but will become non-executive chairman of the company’s board. Michael van Swaaij, eBay’s (EBAY) chief strategy officer, has been appointed interim CEO until a replacement is found.

eBay also announced that it has paid EUR 375 million (approximately $530 million) to settle all of its future obligations under the earn-out agreement signed with certain Skype shareholders when eBay acquired Skype in 2005.

Clearly, Skype’s master plan wasn’t working, and revenue targets that were supposed to determine the earnouts weren’t met. So instead of a billion-dollar-plus earnout, Zennstrom and co-founder Janus Friis will have to settle for $530 million. Boo-hoo.

eBay is going to take an impairment charge of around $1.43 billion. eBay had bought Skype in 2005 for roughly $4 billion — $2.6 billion up front, with the rest as an earnout.

One expensive Skype adventure, don’t you think? The outcome shouldn’t come as a surprise; we have been reporting on the chaos at Skype for months. eBay clearly botched up this deal. For Niklas this is a good time to go — he has a growing portfolio of companies he has invested in via his fund, Atomico. He tried to fix things at Skype after he took back control in December 2006, but things haven’t worked out according to plan.

Interestingly, Skype’s President VP of operations, Michael Jackson, wasn’t tapped as the CEO or even as acting CEO. He is the man who has been running the shop for a long time. Why not? Is it because he is going to leave as well, and start a company of his own…a new play in the mobile payments arena, perhaps?

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