All Is Forgiven: "It's a Clean Slate," Says Andreessen About Lawsuit-Mad Skype Co-Founders
Silicon Valley legend and now VC Marc Andreessen was making the interview rounds after the settlement between the litigation-addled co-founders of Skype and all the various people they were suing was announced this morning.
He has been tight-lipped until now, due to the morass of lawsuits.
But, as Andreessen told BoomTown in a phone interview about the aggressive legal tactics of Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis that resulted in them finally seizing a stake in the Internet telephony giant by suing him and many other Silicon Valley players:
“We did not take it personally. It’s a clean sheet of paper.”
Well, it is actually a torn, stained and very worn out piece of paper, due to all the various machinations, but bygones!
Andreessen–who knows a thing or two about legal tussles, if you recall Netscape-Microsoft (MSFT)–said the real point is that it is time to focus on the business of Skype rather than fighting over who controls Skype.
“It’s really good to have everyone lined up and rowing in the same direction. We have to capitalize on the opportunity, because Skype is poised for a new wave of growth,” said Andreessen. “They have an amazing head of steam, because the logical way for voice and video communications to be conducted will be over the Web.”
Thus, Zennström and Friis now join the winning buyout group, Silver Lake Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, along with eBay, in owning Skype.
But Index Ventures, which was in, is–as Heidi Klum might say–out!
Under the terms of the agreement, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis will take a 14 percent stake in the company they founded and then sold to eBay (EBAY), which will include an undisclosed investment by them.
I reported yesterday that the total was 13 percent–10 percent for the rights to key Skype technology held by the co-founders and the option to invest $83 million for three percent more.
In exchange, the pair will give Skype software essential to its operation and drop their various lawsuits against eBay and Skype’s buyers.
As for Zennström and Friis’s egregious use of the courts to grab their 14 percent stake in Skype, litigation they waged after losing their bid to buy Skype back from eBay, Andreessen was being very politic.
“We love working with aggressive founders and are in favor of founders being involved in their companies,” he said. “Great founders are not known for being shy and reserved. Look at Bill Gates. It’s not a question of personality, but of accomplishment.”
Noting that he had not worked with the pair before, Andreessen (pictured here) said, “We have a lot of respect for them. We think they’re geniuses.”
But, I queried, would he have used such tactics?
“It’s not a book club, it’s a super-serious, high-stakes game,” said Andreessen. “I don’t know; I’ve not been in the situation they’re in. If your goal in life is to avoid drama, this is probably the wrong industry for you.”
Perhaps, but I told him that I doubted even a battle-hardened entrepreneur like Andreessen would use the courts in such a manner to achieve business goals.
To each his own, said Andreessen!
“One of our investing mottos is that we invest in strength, not lack of weakness,” he said. “The question is how big is the opportunity.”
And, apparently, it is big enough to overlook all the drama that has gone on.
Andreessen said he expects to be more involved at Skype–which, with his $50 million investment, is the biggest deal in his $300 million fund–than other board members, noting different directors have different roles.
It’s a big board of 23, as I had previously reported. Zennström and Friis are each getting a seat.
“We are going to be helpful,” Andreessen said about his fund’s role at Skype. “We’re a company picker, looking for those that have the greatest potential.”
Andreessen, ever the diplomat, made sure to add that that also means doing business with Index, the member of his Skype consortium that departed as Friis and Zennström (pictured here) entered, due to stark tensions between the two sides.
“I have a lot of respect for [Index partners Danny Rimer and Mike Volpi] and expect to work with them a lot in the future,” said Andreessen. “In fact, I am talking to them today about two other deals.”
In other words, in Silicon Valley, the big wheel just keeps on turning.