Interview: the future of Skype

Mike Bartlett, Skype's Director of Product Development for Windows
Mike Bartlett, Skype's Director of Product Development for Windows

TechRadar caught up for an in-depth chat about all things Skype-related this week, with Mike Bartlett, Skype's Director of Product Management for Windows.

Mike, an affable and laid-back South African, gave us the full run-down of what Skype has in store for later this year and for the longer term, offering an exclusive glimpse into the future of VoIP telephony.

TechRadar: Hi Mike, before we get into discussing present and future projects and Skype products, can you give us the quick potted history of the company?

Mike Bartlett: Well, I think fundamentally that Skype co-founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis had a very simple vision, which was to enable people to very easily make free calls over the internet. The key to their success, and Skype's initial success, was that, out of the box, it just worked. You didn't need to sit for hours tweaking firewall settings and configuring this, that and the other. All you did was install Skype, set up your Skype name and you were right there, ready to go.

TechRadar: What about other similar products around prior to Skype's launch?

Mike Bartlett: Well, you had stuff like NetMeeting many years ago, which never seemed to work. I was an ex-programmer and I could never make it work properly. So that's where I think Skype came in and changed the game.

TechRadar: Skype is now pretty well established amongst technophiles. What do you think were the key strategies in establishing Skype and getting it to where it is today?

Mike Bartlett: I think the basic value proposition of it. Just the offer to 'call people for free' initially was what helped start it. There was no SkypeOut or anything like that, originally.

Also, the execution from the original team that started Skype – which was an incredibly smart, committed team. I remember when I first started here three years ago and you walked in and hit this wave of noise and enthusiasm. I've never worked with such a group of smart and committed people before. Getting the right people to build the product was key.

Second to that was then opening up Skype by offering SkypeIn and SkypeOut which allowed you to call people who weren't Skype users on their existing mobile or land-line numbers. Certainly, the uptake on those paid services has been fantastic, as our revenues show! A lot of people don't even use Skype to make free calls. They come to us for the value that our paid services offer.

Also, by nature, Skype is a viral product. If you get started and you want to talk to other people for free, then you have to get those other people on your contact list. So someone who might be an early adopter will get Skype and it goes from there. You can just look at myself as a good example – when I got Skype around four years ago, before I joined, to stay in touch with my parents in South Africa. They are not early adopters, but they installed Skype as soon as I did. So it's just that natural viral model – the fact that you need people to talk to on your contact list, has fuelled the success.

TechRadar: What are your user figures right now?

Mike Bartlett: 338 million registered users, 54% year-on-year growth from July last year. So still pretty strong!

TechRadar: What else do you do in terms of marketing Skype?

Mike Bartlett: Well, we don't do very much in the way of 'above the line' marketing. Probably the most above the line thing I've ever seen was down to the recent partnership with 3 – when I remember getting on a train and being faced with hundreds of Skype logos looking at me from the back covers of the free sheet newspapers! But 'viral' is still the main reason for our growth.

Adam Hartley