6 min read

First Decade of #SkypeMafia


On August 29th Skype is celebrating its birthday. As it did as a small European-rooted startup, so it does as a product in the portfolio of Microsoft. This time it is a round one, too: first 10 years. Sending the best wishes to all the friends who have built and are building Skype over these years, I figured it would be a good time to give in to an idea that has been in the back of my mind for a while: what would it look like if someone somehow visualized the impact of the company Niklas, Janus & a bunch of Estonian engineers started in 2003 to the broader startup ecosystem?

Let us define #SkypeMafia as a broad group of founders, key employees, investors, advisors and other notable contributors of Skype — people who can say thanks to this company’s existence for a lot of their experience, friendships, failures, partnerships, recoveries, financial standing — and even some marriages and kids. These are people whose post-Skype lives have been different not just for all these free video calls they got, but the long days and nights spent giving those to the entire world.

(As a side remark, I do know there are people who don’t like the “mafia”-word in this context, but since the 2007 Fortune story that brought the PayPal Mafia into mainstream limelight it has sort of stuck. And I personally like the way our industry can just disrupt even common language, taking ownership of, and redefining such a negatively loaded term at will and create new positive connotations.)

#SkypeMafia has not been documented well to date. There are no books or movies out there yet, as there are about some other  startup stories of similar impact. GigaOM took a stab at describing some connections last year, just scratching the surface. And some AngelList investors have been referenced like this.

To fill this void for the 10th birthday, I spent a few days scraping the public data sources (mainly LinkedIn, AngelList, Crunchbase and Facebook) to see what has #SkypeMafia been up to over this decade, in addition to changing the way people communicate. The result is a graph with about 200 nodes and over 350 edges between them.

I chose not to include information that I believe has been trusted to me in private. There is a meta-entity called “” as a catch-all for some people working on something new under the radar. is not a company and doesn’t mean these people all work with each other. It is rather an amorphous list of people who will probably share what and with whom exactly they are working on whenever they are ready.

This is what the result looks like:

NB! UPDATE 12/11/13: for some unknown reason, Scribd mis-identified the embedded graph files below as “copyright infringement” this morning. This is very annoying and I apologize. While they fix their error, you can get the PDF versions from GitHub repository here:


#SkypeMafia – Full Plot

Quick legend:

  • Blue is the colour of Skype and the original founding team, as well as three companies acquired and now part of Skype
  • Dots are people and grey lines show their working relationships with Skype and other companies
  • Red circles are startups and red lines the acts of founding them
  • Green circles are venture and private equity funds and green lines their investments
  • Dark red circles refer to more established companies somehow relevant for the picture

As the full plot obviously gets too crowded, I decided to isolate the most important one: which people coming out of Skype have founded a new business. The founders plot suggests the number is more than 36 to date:

#SkypeMafia – Founder Plot

And if there is one topic that never gets boring to research in startup ecosystems it is the flow of funds. This is what the money trail looks like between the investors seeding Skype in the early days, those coming out with the proceeds of its business success as the numerous co-operations between the investing parties on other projects:

#SkypeMafia – Funding Plot

I am sure I’ve missed many good people and probably a few startups still, and gotten several connecting edges missing or their classification wrong. Apologies to anyone hurt (or secretly happy?) for being unintentionally left out. Corrections and additions are welcome.

Because of the data completeness questions, I wouldn’t take any deeper quantified analytics of the graph too seriously – and the output from basic calculations are very much predictable. But for what it is worth,

  • nodes with highest indegree, or the most incoming #SkypeMafia connections (e.g founders, employees, investors) to are: Skype (102), Atomico (10), Ambient Sound Investments (9), Joost (9), Rdio (8), Transferwise (7), Fleep (6), GrabCAD (6)
  • nodes with highest outdegree (e.g most actively getting involved in building and funding other #SkypeMafia companies) are: Taavet Hinrikus (12), Toivo Annus (10), Atomico (9), Index Ventures (7), Janus Friis (7), Ott Kaukver (7), Ahti Heinla (6), Saul Klein (6), Yee Lee (6)
  • the nodes with the highest betweenness centrality (number of shortest paths between other #SkypeMafia nodes that have to pass this node to reach each other) are: Skype (517) and VC firms Atomico (61), Ambient Sound Investments (26), Index Ventures (25), ASI Private Equity (24), a16z (16) and DFJ (15)
  • Eigenvector centrality (relative authority score, á la PageRank) is highest for Skype, Rdio, Janus Friis, Atomico, Index Ventures, Niklas Zennström, Taavet Hinrikus, eBay, Toivo Annus, Ahti Heinla, Saul Klein, a16z, Ott Kaukver, Jaan Tallinn, Priit Kasesalu, etc – but the scores themselves vary minimally (~40 people in 0.10..0.12 range)
  • (Note 1: for professional investors, remember this is not about their entire portfolio, but the companies highlighted on plots above. Note 2: Omitted myself from these charts, as the data is probably unfairly complete).

If anyone wants to develop this further, play with analytics or build a visualisation of their own favourite startup mafia, I put the R script and source data on GitHub here.

Happy birthday, #SkypeMafia! Here’s to the next decade.

UPDATE 29/08/13: added 8 startups + related people, based on day 1 feedback. Thanks, and keep it coming.

UPDATE 30/08/13: v1.2. Another dozen entries, taking the summary stats to:

Number of people on the graph: 110

Number of ex-Skype startup founders: 54

Number of Skype-spawned startups: 50

Number of professional investors on the graph: 16

Number of individual angel investors: 31

Number of investments captured: 136

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