Whenever I read about the Facebook Marketplace and see accounts of millions of Facebook users buying and selling goods among their connections, I cannot help thinking about the eBay Skype mistake. Had eBay kept Skype and had they known how to use it, they might have by now become the social commerce platform that the Facebook-Messenger combo is aspiring to be.
In 2005 when eBay’s CEO Meg Whitman decided to buy Skype, many shook their heads in disbelief. Analysts had no clue what eBay would need Skype for and the check she had to write to acquire the unprofitable Estonian startup was considered too high.
From today’s perspective this decision makes perfect sense. Ever since its humble beginnings eBay has drawn its strength from its community. Amazon sellers don’t hang around together to chat – eBay sellers will use every possible venue to exchange their opinions, be it eBay’s own forum or a LinkedIn group. To leverage the strength of their community by giving it a new tool was an ingenious idea to attach eBay sellers and buyers to the platform and drive adoption. eBay could have become a part of the Skype app, allowing Skype users to buy and sell goods while holding a conversation. It could have also included Skype in the eBay platform so that sellers’ customer service reps handle buyers’ queries via live chat or even calls without ever having to leave eBay. It could have become the ultimate place for social networking just as it was, back in 2005, the preferred destination for selling and buying goods.
None of this ever happened. eBay’s executives didn’t seem to have an idea as to why they bought Skype in the first place or what they were supposed to do with it. It has become a very expensive toy that they readily got rid off in 2009. The acquisition of Skype and its later sale have become synonimous with eBay’s decline and lack of vision.
Think about these same executives now as they have to watch sellers and buyers bleeding from their platform to buy and sell via Facebook and Messenger thus bringing to life the dream that Meg Whitman had and buried when she first bought and sold Skype years ago.