Online auction house eBay on Sept. 1, sold a 65 per cent stake in Skype to an investment consortium in a deal that valued the internet telephony group at $2.75bn.
The American dotcom group will receive $1.9bn in cash and a further $125m loan. The valuation placed on Skype is roughly comparable to what eBay spent buying the business in 2005.
However, eBay will in effect make a profit on the deal because it slashed the value of the business two years after it was bought as it became increasingly obvious that it had little strategic fit.
Buying Skype almost exactly four years ago, at a time when it was one of the hottest names on the start-up scene, was one of the more bizarre experiments of Meg Whitman, eBay’s then chief executive who floated the auctioneer.
Founded in 2003 by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the entrepreneurs behind filesharing service Kazaa who then went on to launch online TV service Joost, Skype uses internet connections to make calls at greatly reduced cost.
When eBay bought the business it had revenues of only $7m. Last year it generated $551m from its 405 million registered users.
When Ms. Whitman retired last year, eBay launched a review of the business, eventually settling on a flotation in 2010. Yesterday, however, her replacement John Donahoe admitted that a sale of the business offered a more attractive exit than the public markets.
“We’ve acted decisively on a deal that delivers a high valuation, gives us significant cash up front and lets us retain a meaningful minority stake with talented partners,” said Mr. Donahoe.
The consortium buying the stake is made up of private investment group Silver Lake; UK firm Index Ventures, which was an early investor in Skype; Andreessen Horowitz, a recently launched venture capital firm led by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and long-time collaborator Ben Horowitz who more recently have put cash into companies such as Facebook and Twitter; and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB).
The sale leaves unresolved a legal dispute with Joltid, a company owned by Skype’s original founders, which actually has the licence to use the technology. It alleges that eBay broke the terms of the licence and has threatened to end it, causing eBay to ask a UK court to clarify the situation. The issue is due to be heard next year but without that licence Skype may actually be worthless unless its owners pay hefty licence fees to keep it going.