Everyone in Silicon Valley knows the story of Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, the Scandinavian duo who cofounded Skype.Except for this part: Friis and Zennström are no longer a duo.
We spoke to several prominent investors who had previously done business with the pair through Atomico, a venture-capital firm Friis and Zennström cofounded. None had any information to share about the split. Most weren’t aware it had even happened.
GigaOm recently mentioned that Zennström and Friis’s relationship was “not as tight as in the past.” But that seems to understate the significance of the rift.
One source said the two were “no longer on speaking terms.”
We learned about this when we mistakenly described Atomico as run by both Zennström and Friis in an article about a recent Atomico investment in Fab.com, the online retailer.
“I don’t know Janus,” Fab.com CEO Jason Goldberg told us.
Sofie Brange, a representative for Atomico’s PR firm, JKL, was emphatic in her request for a correction: “Janus Friis is NOT involved in Atomico.” (No, really: She actually used bold and all-caps in her email.)
Brange did not respond to subsequent questions, nor did she make Zennström available for a requested interview.
Friis and Zennström first worked together at Tele2, a European telco, in the ’90s. They then launched Kazaa, a file-sharing application, in 2001. Next came Skype, an Internet-calling app which drew on the same kind of peer-to-peer technology as Kazaa.
After selling Skype to eBay in 2005 for $3.1 billion, the two cofounded Atomico in 2006, as well as an online-video startup, Joost. They tussled with eBay after the company tried to sell Skype to a group of private investors, working their way into the deal through a legal settlement and thereby profiting again when Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011. Joost, meanwhile, was sold for a song.
As the Skype battle settled down, they raised a second fund of $165 million in 2010. Shortly afterwards, Atomico stopped describing itself as a venture fund cofounded by Zennström and Friis and started giving Zennström sole credit. In June 2010, an article about the funding of Rdio, an Internet radio service, mentioned Zennström, Friis, and Atomico separately as investors. By November 2010, Friis was no longer listed as part of Atomico’s “international network.”
Both Zennström and Friis have employed early Skype employees in their subsequent ventures. The LinkedIn profile of one of them, Chris Burton, gives some clue as to the exact timing. In August 2008, he joined Atomico from Skype. In May 2010, he began two jobs: a project manager role at Rdio, and a technology consultant gig for Janus Friis. He ended work at Atomico in June 2010. In February 2011, he started working at Vdio, an as-yet-unlaunched online-video startup founded by Friis.
After GigaOm reported the launch of Vdio last fall, a rep for Atomico wrote in to the publication to note that Zennström was not involved.
Friis’s website does not mention Atomico, displaying only the logos of Skype, Rdio, and Vdio. He did not respond to an email sent requesting comment.
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