Skype is one of the many things I have come across in my career in technology where I have been forced to open mouth and insert foot. When the service was first gaining traction the best I could muster was a half-hearted yawn as I tried it out and saw it as yet another instant messenger application.
During the past couple of years however, I’ve used Skype when travelling internationally and it has really come into its own. From easy video calls with my wife, to low-cost phone calls to keep business moving in the right direction from half a world away, it really is a great tool for the road warrior or anyone that needs to keep in touch with people all over the world. eBay certainly was seeing these benefits translating into a sea of greenbacks when they paid $2.6 billion to buy Skype back in 2005. Four years later, eBay still stands by its acquisition, but reading between the lines of the noncommittal press releases it seems eBay still can’t seem to figure out what to do with Skype, or why it paid so much.
I would imagine several of those folks that promoted and orchestrated the deal on the eBay side are kicking themselves in the rear, and have come to regret this purchase. After all, despite Skype’s imminent usefulness to certain applications, it seems totally unrelated to eBay’s core auction business. Therein lies the rub. Seemingly every day another technical innovation pops up on the horizon, and in an overzealous move to snatch it up before a competitor, we sometimes forget to see if that sparking gem of technical wizardry is really relevant to our business. There is a delicate balance between sitting back and becoming the last company on the block to get a telephone system versus jumping headlong after a new technology or practice. If you find discussions focusing on speed, sound and fury more than business benefit, return on investment and due diligence, perhaps it is time to put on your sunglasses, turn away from the flash and glitter, and perform a gut check to see if your pursuing a legitimate business opportunity, or being swayed by the bright, shiny, new, and quite possibly irrelevant.