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Skype

Skype needed to change from a bright young start-up, into a mature company. We helped them understand their role, embedding principles that would guide their activities. Before long, Microsoft had bought them for $8.6bn.

Skype were a rare kind of business when we met them in 2009 – they had 100 million users, but were yet to turn a profit.

They were a phenomenon; one of the most exciting new companies around, founded on an amazing product, and growing fast. Now they needed to get ready for a possible IPO, in a way that preserved their DNA – the ‘Skype spirit’ at their very core. And with this their rapid growth posed a challenge: how would they shift from a start-up to a mature company hiring hundreds of engineers across the world?

Their ever-widening range of products posed another challenge. They were regularly adding useful new features, yet users continued to know them for one thing only: free video calls. They needed to make sense of these features as a whole, in a way that would guide activity internally as well as help the user to understand their broader offer.

Distance: no obstacle

Up until now, Skype had viewed their role as 'enabling the world's conversations'. They had taken a huge piece out of the long-distance calling market and – unsurprisingly – this was their focus. We developed a role for them that identified more naturally the benefits of using Skype: 'doing things together, whenever you're apart'. This also pointed to the broader range of Skype products and features beyond free video calls – importantly, since these were the ones that would bring revenue.

At a time when we needed to understand how to help customers make sense of our widening product set, Wolff Olins came on board and quickly drove us to find what Skype is for.” Neil Stevens, Skype Vice President and General Manager, Products & Marketing

We also developed a set of principles to guide Skype's product development and marketing activity: 'Universal, Useful, Wonderful'. Most of the technology brands – Apple, Facebook and Google, among others – fulfilled one, maybe two, of Universal, Useful, Wonderful; but nobody could tick all three except Skype. Therefore every experience – if it was to be truly Skype – should be all three at the same time.

Planting seeds

Having defined what Skype was in the world for – and what should characterise a Skype experience – our focus shifted. By now we were Skype's trusted creative partner, working to make their new role and principles the jumping-off point for all activities. One week we would be taking workshops with senior executives, helping them to write value propositions. The next week we'd be in Tallinn helping engineers – who had their heads so deep in the product – to see what Universal, Useful and Wonderful meant for the work they were doing.

We helped Skype to simplify their offer, giving them a structure for how to think about – and how to name – products and features. Applying this framework to their revenue-generating features gave Skype immediately valuable results, with greatly increased uptake in some instances.

While much of our focus at this time was on helping Skype to change from within, we were also developing tangible assets – including a brand workbook and website – with the tools, know-how and guidance to keep things on course when we weren't around.

Do more together, more often

Over the duration of this project, Skype doubled their monthly active users, while also seeing a large increase in the activity of existing users – people were doing more with it, more often.

'Doing things together…’ has helped bind all our offerings and release vehicles in a way that doesn’t just help marketing, but drives action by engineering, product and exec teams. Their work and thinking continues to sit at the heart of our business today.” Neil Stevens, Vice President and General Manager, Products & Marketing

Skype now had a powerful idea, to drive their activities. And while their breathtaking growth continued, they were able to ensure that future hires could come on board and quickly understand what life at Skype was all about. Their future looked rosy – so rosy that Microsoft decided to buy them, for $8.6bn.