Estonia’s IT talent quit Skype to set up their own companies

While in its early days, Skype was attracting information technology professionals as a magnet, its attraction has been eroding recently.

Over the last few years at least 50 key employees of Skype have left the company, according to Sten Tamkivi, who managed Skype in Estonia between 2007 and 2012.

Tamkivi has mapped the so-called Skype mafia, i.e., successful Estonian IT and startup entrepreneurs who have used Skype as their springboard.

This includes former founders of Skype, key employees, advisers and other people who have contributed to the company’s success, but are no longer employed by it.

“Skype mafia”

Some of the best-known members of the Skype mafia are its four Estonian developers Jaan Tallinn, Priit Kasesalu, Toivo Annus and Ahti Heinla, who set up investment company Ambient Sound Investment (ASI) in 2003.

The company was minority shareholder of Skype until 2005 when ASI sold its holding to eBay. Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011.

Today ASI is an investment company with assets of around 100 million euros.

Jaan Tallinn, for instance, invested in DeepMind that Google acquired for 400 million euros in early 2013.

Taavi Hinrikus, one of the first employees of Skype, set up TransferWise, an online money transfer business startup, that is making ways worldwide and recently attracted investment from Sir Richard Branson.

Hinrikus has said that the experience he got from Skype helped him to avoid several mistakes with Transferwise.

Other startups that have been set up by former Skype employees include Fleep, Vitalfields, GrabCad, Edicy and CrushPad.

All successful Estonian startups based on Skype

Andrus Järg, who manages Skype’s Estonian unit since August 2013, says that very many Estonian startups that have become successful in the world are directly or indirectly related to Skype.

“In other words, Skype has created a whole generation with successful startup entrepreneurs. It’s very important for the whole Estonian IT sector that these people who have proven their abilities are not lost for Estonia,” he adds.

Regarding the staff turnover in Skype, Järg also said that it was normal and that the company’s staff had not been decreasing.

In 2012, for instance, Skype hired 94 people in Estonia, 20% of whom were foreigners.

Järg’s predecessor Tiit Paananen says that while before the acquisition of Skype by Microsoft, a third of Skype’s development business was in Estonia, the ratio is now about 20%.

Today, Skype is a unit of Microsoft and Skype Technologies OÜ in Estonia is one of the the development centres of Skype Group. Skype Technologies OÜ belongs to Skype Technologies S.a.r.l, registered in Luxembourg.

Skype Technologies OÜ employed 424 people in 2013.

Skype’s payroll expense totalled 27.6 million euros in 2012 which means that average wages in the company are about 4,700 euros.

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