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Skype to acquire phone app company Qik; Singaporeans lent a hand

Skype to acquire phone app company Qik; Singaporeans lent a hand

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Local NUS interns contributed to app development during their stints at Qik office in Silicon Valley.

By Terence Lee

Elisha Ong tests out the Qik app at the Yosemite National Park with his Russian colleague. Picture by ELISHA ONG.

FOR Elisha Ong, 24, the moment felt zen.

The Singaporean was in Yosemite National Park, California, making a video call to a Russian colleague in Moscow. Awakened by the cold at 5am in the morning last May, he wore thick layers of jackets, a beanie and headed out.

He showed his colleague around the Park, while the Russian showed Ong around his office.

“That moment displayed the tremendous power of video communications in breaking geographical and time boundaries,” he said in grandiose terms.

No big deal, you would say. But considering that Ong was the lead designer for Qik, which was the app he used to make the call, he had every right to feel ecstatic. It was his baby.

Today, he has another reason to feel like a proud father: Internet phone giant Skype has entered into an agreement to acquire Qik, which was also the name of the company he interned at together with five other NUS students. The deal, according to one source, is said to be worth over US$150 million (S$194 million).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong demonstrated Qik at the National Day Rally Speech in 2008.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong demonstrated Qik at the National Day Rally Speech in 2008.

“Skype and Qik share a common purpose of enriching communications with video, and the acquisition of Qik will help to accelerate our leadership in video by adding recording, sharing and storing capabilities to our product portfolio,” said Tony Bates, Skype CEO.The move was announced at the second day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Qik is a phone app for all major mobile platforms that allows live video streaming and video calls. From just 600,000 users at the beginning of last year, the figure has ballooned to more than 5 million.

While Ong was there, he led a team to redesign Qik’s user interface to incorporate video calling, then a new feature. He was also involved in marketing campaigns and overhauling the company website.

Scott Png, 23, the only one still in Silicon Valley, is a customer support specialist who resolves problems for querying users.

Both are a part of NUS’s Overseas Colleges programme, which has been sending students to Qik since 2008. Under the programme, NUS undergraduates get a chance to study entrepreneurship courses in locales like Beijing, Sweden and Bangalore, and of course, Silicon Valley. At the same time, they get valuable work experience at start-up companies.

Three others interns assisted in Qik’s social media campaign under the NUS-MDA Singapore Hollywood Attachment Programme. They are videographer Farkhan Salleh, 25; and social media specialists Liyana Sulaiman, 22, and Farhan Hamid, 24.

In their own ways, Singapore’s home-grown talents are already contributing to the success stories of technology companies abroad.

The challenge now is to replicate these same breakthroughs at home and egg on Singapore’s technopreneurs to create the next Big Thing.