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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Helio founder and CEO Sky Dayton has announced he's stepping down at the cell phone provider

Sky Dayton Pulls an Earthlink, Steps Down as Helio CEO

Helio founder and CEO Sky Dayton (pictured right) has announced he's stepping down at the cell phone provider. The serial entrepreneur and Earthlink founder isn't going far though -- Dayton is moving into the role of company chairman. Meanwhile, Wonhee Sull, Helio's former president and chief operating officer, is slated to take the reins as CEO.

Although it might set off alarms for those following the MVNO provider, Dayton is no stranger to switching hats. He made the exact same move at Earthlink two years into his role as CEO, turning over the day-to-day operations to Charles Betty right as the ISP hit its stride.

So, does this mean that Helio and its MVNO business model are finally quickening pace?

"Helio has reached a point in its development where I feel the timing is right for this change," Dayton said of the move. "As we have for the past three years, [Sull and I] will continue to define Helio's direction and future."


Helio: Earthlink-who? We Boost SK Telecom Now

Trying to predict how Earthlink's downturn will effect its investment in mobile virtual network operator Helio is almost like reading tea leaves. Many were convinced that Helio's layoffs were a byproduct of Earthlink's lackluster Q2 performance were related, but then that turned out to be false.

But we knew that someday Earthlink was going to drop the axe. Our suspicions were confirmed last week when Earthlink's dismal Q3 report included the following: "EarthLink will not be required to participate in future funding rounds [in Helio], and will retain a meaningful ownership stake. The definitive amended joint venture agreements are expected to be finalized in the near future."

SK Telecom, Earthlink's partner in the Helio venture, has since stepped up to the plate and committed up to $270 million, but we were still skeptical of the state of the union. We finally got the chance to chat with our Helio contact today, and here's the scoop from their end:

We directly benefit from SK Telecom's pipeline of innovation, all in addition to their financial backing. SK Telecom's earlier announcement of additional funding for Helio is a ringing endorsement of our business showing they see our continued growth as a positive sign and our tremendous potential as we continue to scale. While EarthLink remains an enthusiastic investor, Helio is in a position to remain well funded through this growth phase with the full backing of SK Telecom.

Or put simply -- SK Telecom is Helio's new sugar daddy. The expensive nature of the MVNO business model has already thinned a lot of Helio's competition, so this doesn't come as much of a surprise. However, we're curious to see how long SK Telecom can bring home the bacon on this pricey venture without Earthlink's financial support.

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