It’s no secret that Skype has major ambitions for its enterprise business. When the VoIP company filed to go public, Skype publicly stated that it plans on adding enterprise products to its suite to help build additional revenues. And in a move that was clearly not a coincidence, Skype recently brought on Tony Bates, who ran the enterprise group at Cisco, as CEO.
I recently spoke with Skype’s General Manager and Vice President of Enterprise, David Gurle, for an exclusive interview about the future of Skype for Businesses.
There are two major parts of Skype’s enterprise strategy: a business to business solution and a business to consumer product. In terms of the business to business suite of products, Skype is already offering businesses Skype Connect, which is a way for employees to make domestic and international calls using regular office telephones. Two weeks ago, Skype announced a partnership with telephony company Avaya to offer their customers Skype Connect. The company also recently launched the Skype Channel Partner Program which allows partners in the United States to sell endorsed IT support for Skype’s enterprise products.
While Skype seems to be steadily shoring up these partnerships with existing B2B products, there is a tremendous opportunity in offering Skype products for businesses to communicate with consumers. Gurle says that the company is could develop a number of customized, industry-centric B2C products for enterprise companies. For example, Skype will soon be offering businesses a way to establish Skype-powered virtual video call centers, allowing enterprise customers to talk to their own customers across multiple devices, platforms, geographies, and more.
For each industry, there is a different video calling application. Another customer, a large financial institution that Gurle declined to name, wanted a custom Skype application to enable service representatives to use video calling to communicate with customers around the world. The client wanted representatives to be able to form a more emotional connection with customers with face-to-face interaction over Skype.
Gurle is working with an education company to develop a Skype technology that will help teachers and students learn over a realtime video connection. The hospitality market is also a potential revenue stream for Skype. The company is helping hotel chains provide business travelers with the ability to use high-quality Skype video calling for personal and business communications from their rooms.
While Gurle declined to name the current number of enterprise customers using its business products, he did say that Skype’s “sweet spot” is small to medium sized enterprises with a few thousand employees.
In terms of competition, Gurle seems optimistic about Skype’s chances against Cisco and others. “We are smaller and can innovate faster than out competitors,” says Gurle. “We can react to a client’s needs in a way that very few other companies can.” One aspect of Skype that Gurle feels is a differentiating factor when it comes to competing with other companies is the fact that Skype’s technology has gained significant traction with consumers, making it easy for any enterprise to implement the technology with both employees and customers, since they are likely to already be familiar with how it works.
Skype, which is averaging 124 million users a month worldwide, stated in its recent IPO filing that users made 95 billion minutes of voice and video calls during the first half of 2010, with 40 percent of those minutes using video technology. The company recently landed a deal with Facebook, which should only expand its userbase.
When I asked him about Skype’s future, Gule says it is in creating a one-click solution to allow you to reach a partner, friend, manager, employee, or business contact from any platform.
As Skype prepares to ramp up its enterprise strategy, Gurle is looking to add talent in engineering, sales and marketing. He plans to hire “several dozen” employees in the next few months. Gurle, who joined Skype in January of this year, was actually based in Singapore until April, when he moved his team to Skype’s offices in Silicon Valley. He says that not only is there a greater talent pool on the West Coast, but Skype is targeting enterprise opportunities in the United States.
But can Skype build an enterprise-focused business around its technology that can rival the business model of Cisco and others? While at Cisco, Bates was responsible for 80 percent of Cisco’s business, which amounts to $20 billion in revenue (and 55 percent of Cisco’s profits). Currently, Skype is on track to pass $1 billion in revenues next year, so the company still has a steep hill to climb when it comes to making that kind of money.