Who Invented Skype?

By Fred Decker

Internet connectivity is available almost everywhere in the world in one form or another, and thanks to Skype, that means voice communication is equally ubiquitous. The program, available on all major computer operating systems as well as on mobile devices, was the brainchild of Scandinavian entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. Zennstrom, a Swede, and Friis, a Dane, met while working for Swedish telephone company Tele2.

The Early Years

In 1999, Zennstrom and Friis were given the task of launching an online portal for their employer. They recruited a group of Estonian programmers, who completed the job in record time. When the portal failed, Zennstrom and Friis kept the same group together for a venture of their own. They created a peer-to-peer file-sharing program called Kazaa, which they'd intended to be the legitimate counterpart to piracy-centric Napster. Unfortunately for them, the music and film industries wanted no part of the service and responded with a constant barrage of legal actions.

The Skype Breakthrough

Zennstrom and Friis wanted to find a use for Kazaa's technology that would involve less litigation, and they hit on the idea of using distributed, peer-to-peer technology to convey telephone calls rather than movies and songs. The result was Skype, launched in 2003. The service garnered 10,000 users on its first day and over a million in just months. Auction portal eBay purchased the service in 2005. That marriage of cultures was never successful, and in 2011, tech giant Microsoft purchased the company from eBay. Founders Zennstrom and Friis, and their original quartet of Estonian programmers, remain active in the tech industry.