Jonas Kjellberg, co-creator of Skype: A man who hates failure, but refuses to fear it.
Failure is a word you will hear over and over again from Jonas Kjellberg, who is, ironically, a very successful serial entrepreneur involved in companies such as Skype, iCloud or Zalando. Yet, he is never shy to admit that he is often wrong, has made terrible business decisions and many of his companies didn’t fare well.
He is refreshingly straightforward, entertaining and real, and one thing shines through his self-deprecating humor and honesty: this is a man who loves the thrill of disruption. After all, he once said: “I’m not afraid of losing and I want to change the game. I look at industries that make a lot of money and I wake up that morning and I think: how can I fuck up their business big time?”
Sounds cocky? We don’t think so. From the founding office of Skype, Jonas was instrumental to beating the seemingly unbeatable competition and generating 90 percent of their revenue stream by playing his favorite “zero game”.
HOW SKYPE BEAT TELCO GIGANTS
Jonas was told he was mad when he joined Skype as VP of Global Sales and MD. Back in 2003, the company was just a dream with a crazy competition – it was hard to imagine someone could face all the traditional telco giants of the world. “We had no money. We couldn’t mortgage our houses anymore. We were fighting the whole telco industry. We couldn’t afford marketing,” he admitted in a podcast with Tony Robbins.
Then came an idea of innovating in zeros. Skype knew they had to provide a free service to attract customers, but that meant minimizing costs that traditional telco companies couldn’t avoid. They didn’t need to invest in infrastructure: their customers already had internet. They have decided not to buy expensive servers, but rather used excess processing power in user’s computers. No money for marketing? No problem. Skype spread the word among contacts of their users who simply had to click on a button and confirm their satisfaction with the service. Customer service? Believing that it mostly makes customers angry anyway, they have decided it’s not necessary.
The company which struggled in the beginning completely rethought the traditional business model and after mere 2 years, Skype was sold to eBay for astonishing 2.6 billion USD.
When you think about it, it makes sense. As Jonas observed, Uber, Airbnb or even Google did also innovate in zeros: they built their empires on eliminating costs where it previously seemed impossible.
THE THRILL OF THE GAME
One success – or one failure – was never enough for Jonas. Among his many ventures, he invested in Rocket Internet, now an FSE-listed company, as well as Zalando, booming German e-commerce company. He was also the Chairman for iCloud, sold to Apple and Founder of Player:IO. And then there are numerous other projects, some of which simply didn’t interest customers. “I had a lot of successes, but I failed more than I won,“ he explains. „People say: embrace failure, but I hate failure. But you need to take risks, and when you do that, you sometimes fail. For me, it’s about embracing the risk. Failure is painful, but I am still willing to go there and try over and over again.“
STARTUPS, YOU NEED AN “I HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE” MINDSET
Clearly, one of biggest lessons learned from Jonas’ story is to go ahead and risk, even if you fail repeatedly. Grit is also crucial:“If you’re re-thinking an industry, you are also working against the existing, so you need to have a mindset of not having anything to lose and really have passion for winning.“
When starting a company, he thinks the magic can happen if you combine three simple factors: you need to build a good solution to a certain problem, make it attractive for users by finding their “delight” and innovate your cost structure. Another thing he believes in is pivoting. “Don’t stay too long with an existing idea. Good business is constantly changing, iterate it and move on,“ he concludes.
Want more words of advice and answers to your questions from a man who co-created Skype and led it its worldwide success? Meet him at FutureNow on October 24th together with the rest of amazing tech heads and innovators from all over the world.
Sources: Champions Speakers, BigSpeak, The Tony Robbins Podcast, Speaker’s Corner