Wall Street Journal | January 6, 2011 | Lorreta Chao
Not long after Mark Zuckerberg paid visits to some of China’s biggest tech companies, another tech tycoon, Skype and Kazaa co-founder Niklas Zennström, is making the rounds as well. But unlike the young Facebook chief, Mr. Zennström is no stranger to the complexities of China’s market.
The 44-year-old Swede, who along with co-founder Janus Friis currently owns a 14% stake in Skype and sits on the company’s board, is in Beijing this week meeting with executives from Baidu, Alibaba Group, Lenovo, China Mobile and others. His visit happens to come in the wake of a media frenzy over Chinese government talk of a crackdown on voice-over-Internet-protocol, or VoIP, phone services—which some outlets interpreted as being aimed at Skype, even though there’s no evidence that Skype is the target and the company says it continues to operate as normal.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Zennström didn’t wade into the speculation over Skype’s fate in China. But he argued that VoIP services like Skype shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the legacy telecommunications industry. People “are not making fewer phone calls. As a matter of fact there are more phone calls made every year,” he said. “Communication is increasing.”
In addition, he pointed out, calls made from Skype to regular telephones are handled by traditional telecom operators, who are paid for the connections and therefore earn revenue from Skype. (This is true in China, too).
According to Mr. Zennström, Chinese users were some of the earliest adopters of Skype, founded in 2003. In the company’s early days, China had more Skype users than any other nation, he said. “It was happening organically,” he said, in part because lots of Chinese users had family members abroad.
But while his meetings in China also include a stop at the offices of Tom Online, the company that operates Skype in China, Mr. Zennström said the purpose of his visit this time isn’t related to Skype. Rather, he said, he’s in China to learn about the current state of the local market and explore possible partnerships between Chinese firms and startups funded by his London-based venture capital firm, Atomico, where he is CEO. Atomico launched its second fund last year, a $165 million fund focusing primarily on early stage tech companies in Europe.