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First came the file-sharing software—KaZaA. This was followed by the Internet telephone service, Skype, and most recently, the Web video software, Joost. Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the duo behind all these innovations, seem determined to change the way we communicate.
Forty-year-old Niklas Zennström from Sweden and 30-year-old Janus Friis from Denmark are used to being in the news. In 2006, the duo won the Wharton Infosys Busines Transformation award and were rated by Time magazine as among the 100 most influential people. Of course, the world knows them better as the co-founders of KaZaA, Skype and, now, Joost—an interactive portal that podcasts TV and video shows on the Internet.
Niklas Zennström graduated with dual degrees in engineering physics and business administration from Uppsala University in Sweden. He began his career with the European telecom operator Tele2, before going on to become the CEO of the portal everyday.com, and was also responsible for the launch of Internet Service Provider (ISP) get2net. He later joined Janus Friis to lay the foundation for KaZaA, where he was CEO, till it was sold to Sharman Networks. He also founded Joltid, a software development company providing peer-to-peer networking solutions to other companies, and is one of the founders of Alnet (along with Friis), a company that provides secure peer-to-peer solutions. He and Friis are also synonymous with Skype, which was sold to eBay for US$ 2.6 billion in October 2005. Although presently active in many ventures, Zennström spends most of his time in a new company, Joost.
…and the tech-savvy Dane
He met Zennström while both were at Tele2. He later left Tele2 along with Zennström and launched KaZaA and later Skype, where both used FastTrack protocol technology that was designed by Friis. Since then, he and Zennström have set up Joltid, Alnet and their latest venture, Joost.
Although he shares most awards with Zennström, he has also received the famous IT-Prisen award in 2006 from the Danish IT industry and International Data Group.
The KaZaA episode notwithstanding, the duo soon embarked on their next venture, Skype, which became popular in no time at all. Zennström attributes the success of Skype to its being seen as “…a software business rather than as a telecom business.” The aim of Skype, Zennström said, “…was to make fixed line phones disappear.” The duo struck gold, with eBay forking out a fortune to buy Skype.
KaZaA, Skype and Joost are classic examples of disruptive Internet technologies, having overturned the existing dominant technology or product in the market. Both Zennström and Friis like to call themselves disruptive Internet technology entrepreneurs. KazaA, Skype and Joost are also examples of lower-end disruptive innovations that focus on mainstream customers, who are often ignored by established companies.
The power of P2P
Joost—the next stop for the dynamic duo
Joost is expected to deliver near-TV resolution images, turning a PC into an instant, on-demand TV without any need for an additional set-top box. News updates, discussion forums, show ratings, and multi-user chat sessions (often linked to the active stream/channel) would be made possible through the use of semi-transparent widget overlays. The program, developed and marketed using the earnings from the sale of Skype, will come with no price tag, in the typical Zennström-Friis tradition.
Work on Joost (codenamed The Venice Project) started in 2006, with a team of 150 developers from all over the world. Joost has already signed up with Warner music, Endemol and Ministry of Sound TV for its upcoming beta release. Paramount Pictures and MTV Networks are expected to join this year. Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis have no intention of being out of the news. Not yet.