As you probably know, Skype’s largest office is in Tallinn, Estonia. Whenever I visit, just before touching down at Tallinn airport, the plane passes Lake Ülemiste – home of the Ülemiste Elder, a mythological character who innocently asks passers-by whether the growing city has been completed. Apparently, the correct response is, “Not yet.” Imply the opposite, the legend goes, and the grumpy Elder will flood the city.
Skype, too, remains a work in progress. We’re a dynamic, fast-growing company that learns from a changing world and adjusts accordingly. For us to continue thriving, change cannot be a one-time thing. It has to be a way of life. Stagnation, the dismal alternative, requires no effort and creeps up silently. People tend to get stuck in their ways and companies are no different. When they get bigger, they get clumsier.
I’d rather avoid that last bit. So, in August we began evaluating our structure to make sure, really sure, that we don’t join the Clumsy Club.
Now, 2008 has been a very good year for us. Our growth rate has been terrific and I’m cautiously optimistic about healthy growth in 2009 as well. Obviously, anyone claiming to have a reliable crystal ball is either a fool or a gambler. We’re neither. So we cannot fully predict how much additional business will be heading our way because of the recession. As a five-year-old company, we simply haven’t lived through a downcycle before. But in difficult times, people tend to turn to value. And Skype represents value. We’re monitoring the market closely, but based on what we see at the moment, we plan to continue growing our team to help achieve Skype’s full potential.
Excited as we are about bringing new colleagues aboard, there’s more to reorganizing our structure for continued growth. Back in the summer, we set out to be smart about it. And transparent. And fair.
Which is why we held numerous workshops to gain input from the team on how our structure and ways of working need to change. Change that we hope will lead to sustained growth, better products and an even more empowering work life at Skype. One of the things we’re doing is to create smaller “companies” within the company: consumer-, business-, mobility-, and developer-focused business units vaccinated against shackles that curb innovation and risk-taking. Each new business unit is designed to emulate the feel of a start-up and to cultivate a deeper sense of ownership.
This is just a low-resolution snapshot from what’s a continual journey of change. There’s much more to it, of course. Replotting our roles, responsibilities and accountability takes time. While we think that we’ve done most things right, some won’t come through as intended. Tweaking them for a few months should make life at Skype work well for everybody.
Naturally, changes will be most meaningful to us on the inside. If you’re a Skype user, I hope you don’t care too much about our organizational plumbing. The pleasures and struggles of your own life are much too important for that. But here’s the thing. Our structural rethink isn’t about change for change’s sake. From day one, everything at Skype has boiled down to delighting the customer. With a bit of home improvement to support further growth and innovation, we’re just making sure it stays that way.
As for the Ülemiste Elder with flood fantasies… Sorry to disappoint you, old man.
Skype will always be a work in progress.