For startups transparency is transformative

Startup founders and company leaders are the ones who define its culture. By being open and transparent, they build a company with a healthy and a positive outlook. On the flip side, culture of fear and hiding erodes trust and proves to be counterproductive.

For eBay, the Bet on Skype Pays Off. Finally!

eBay can finally breathe a sigh of relief about its ill-fated Skype acquisition, now that Microsoft has bought the company for $8.5 billion. A back of the envelope calculation shows that eBay might have made a 40 percent profit on its Skype adventure. Here’s how.

Ex-Skype CEO Josh Silverman Joins Greylock as EIR

Josh Silverman, who till recently was the CEO of Skype, is joining venture firm Greylock Partners as an executive-in-residence. Silverman is viewed as someone who brought stability to Skype during a tumultuous time, right after both Skype founders quit the company.

Josh Silverman: How Video Changes Everything

Whether it’s a clip of “Tajik Jimmy” putting Bollywood soundtracks to shame, catching a friend’s wedding eight time zones away or working “side by side” with coworkers in another country, it’s all video. And it’s changing the way we communicate with one another.

Video technology has become so ubiquitous that we rarely pause to think of the potential implications, both hopeful and sinister. I’ll focus on the sweeter side of its progress.

Take Skype. You could view video calls as a natural upgrade to wideband visuals from narrowband voice conversations. But we believe there’s more to it than just a richer conversation. Voice calls, after all, tend to be transactional: You tell me this; I’ll tell you that. Bye! It can be a difficult way to communicate and we often get little out of it beyond efficient information exchange.

By the way, I’m not dissing voice for the sake of it. I happen to agree with whomever said that radio is television for the mind. But in terms of having a conversation, voice and video are two rather different species.

With video, people are suddenly present without having to be in the same room as one another. The encounter, by extension, is no longer merely transactional. When my friend in Ann Arbor, Mich., turned 40, I joined the party from London over video. The distance between us evaporated — a benefit voice calls cannot deliver. A similar thing happens by way of the permanent live video wall that joins up our offices in Tallinn and Prague: An Estonian engineer’s desk is right next to that of her team member in the Czech Republic.

Video changes the whole nature of “being there” to something between audio and physical presence. (3D holographic video that other companies and researchers are working on makes the experience even more immersive, if not yet affordable.) In other words, a live video conversation is not just a voice call with pictures. It’s not just a milestone in the evolution of the Internet. It’s an entirely different way of communicating.

For hundreds of thousands of years, people have shared meaning through language. Its form has evolved from oral to visual and, for the past few thousand years, written. Yet until the 20th century, true conversations were tied to a shared place or shifted by time (letters). Even then, only being together with someone allowed for rich, full interaction to bloom. Live video conversations are changing all that, combining the oral, visual and written traditions into virtual presence.

Ironically, all this progress means that we can finally return to the basics — stuff that’s worked for eons (but hasn’t transcended place or time). Or, as the Institute for the Future puts it, we’re seeing the “emergence of a new digitally-mediated oral society.” At the very least, real-time video is getting us closer to where the communication medium itself becomes almost invisible, letting people themselves be the platform.

It’s easy to slip into hyperbole. So take it with a pinch of salt when I talk about entering a place of virtual presence that mimics tangible reality, saves time and deletes distance through live video links. Take it with a pinch of salt, too, when IFTF says this new oral society creates a new public sphere. Let’s not forget that it’s still early days. But video already allows Skype users to transcend place and time, whether on the desktop or on a Skype-enabled TV, and some 4 percent of all international calling minutes are now video calling minutes, on Skype. If nothing else, we’ll see a global human video mesh that anyone can tap into, irrespective of location or device. And even that would be pretty cool.

Video is not only an entirely different way of communicating, but a really important one.

Josh Silverman is CEO of Skype.

Apple Speaks: Schiller Defends App Store Approval Process

In what BusinessWeek is describing as “his first extensive interview on the subject,” Phil Schiller, everyone’s favorite Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing for Apple (s aapl), has defended Apple’s application approval process.

I’ve read through it a few times, and I’d hardly call it “extensive.” I think it’s more accurately described as “PR spin” more than anything else. Schiller’s opening salvo is actually an advertisement.

We’ve built a store for the most part that people can trust. You and your family and friends can download applications from the store, and for the most part they do what you’d expect, and they get onto your phone, and you get billed appropriately, and it all just works.

It’s obviously going to transmit good vibes to the majority of BusinessWeek readers (who likely weren’t even aware of an application approval process in the first place, never mind a problem with it) but it’s unlikely to smooth the feathers of frustrated, angry developers. See, Mr. Schiller not only defended the approval process, but said that developers actually like it. Read More about Apple Speaks: Schiller Defends App Store Approval Process

Skype CEO Outlines Platform Ambitions, Hiring Plans

s010_ga_c03.jpgSkype, with its spinout from eBay (s EBAY) complete and its legal troubles with founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis settled, is looking to the future, where it wants to become a ubiquitous real-time communications platform. And that means thinking about the next-generation Skype architecture and hiring a lot of smart people, CEO Josh Silverman said in a conversation earlier today. Read More about Skype CEO Outlines Platform Ambitions, Hiring Plans

Skype’s Growth Starts to Slow

skyperevenueseBay (s EBAY) today turned in a lukewarm performance for the fourth quarter of 2008, posting sales of $2.04 billion vs. an average forecast of $2.12 billion. Earnings per share were a penny better than expected, at 40 cents a share. Amidst all this doom and gloom, it was nice to see Skype, their communications division, show some signs of growth. The big question now is: How long can Skype continue to grow — and keep bringing in much-needed revenues for its parent? Read More about Skype’s Growth Starts to Slow