Yahoo Lessons

1. He not busy being born is busy dying. That which is high-flying today might crash tomorrow. Always be looking in the rearview mirror, especially in tech, where everybody has the tools and the barrier to entry is low.

2. Don’t take on an undoable task. Where does Marissa Mayer go from here? Probably home, to take care of her children. Everything can’t be saved. Despite the compensation and the accolades, you’re better off passing if it’s a Sisyphean task.

3. Do due diligence. As in the board should have found out that despite all the press, Ms. Mayer had been pushed aside at Google. There’s the media story and the real story and they frequently don’t align. Beware of the publicity hog, running the gauntlet of news is very different from running a company.

4. Know what you are. I’m not sure what Yahoo is, are you? Is it a content, search or e-mail company? And it’s not number one in any of those fields. Online, second best is not good enough, you’ve got to be primary in one profitable field or you die. For information we go to the source or to Facebook. Gmail is good enough, it superseded Yahoo mail. People don’t come back, when the tide turns you move on. Furthermore, Mayer fixed Yahoo Mail and ruined it.

5. Today’s breakthrough is tomorrow’s antique. Yahoo made sense of the web via curation. The concept of searching and getting the result you wanted instantly was a pipe dream. But once you could do that, search, you no longer needed the directory. And search today is so good, you rarely look past the first hit.

6. Machines do it better than humans. No one wants to hear this, it’s disturbing. But Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist is better than any hand-curated recommendations. And Amazon fired its editorial team when it found out computers recommended book titles better and got better financial results. Yahoo was a brand built on people in a world dominated by machines.

7. Beware the flip. Yahoo focused on content when all the money turned out to be in advertising. That’s why Google and Facebook dominate, they have the best advertising platforms. Mayer tried to catch up, it was too late.

8. Vision is everything. And usually the founder has the best one in tech. Kinda funny if you think about it, this has hurt music, there’s too much executive meddling. You’ve got to pick the best talent and invest in it. The Yahoo founders were the best people to run the company, it’s just that their vision was superseded, like hair bands in the eighties. Their replacements were a joke. Does anyone remember the Terry Semel era, when the Warner Brothers bigwig tried to turn Yahoo into a content platform? That’s like Michael Jordan trying to play baseball, only worse. More like an automobile designer trying to run the space program. They’re different worlds.

9. Lack of reinvestment will kill you. Yahoo skated too long on what was, Mayer tried to shift the emphasis to advertising, but it was too late.

10. Don’t take the check. David who? That’s right David Pogue, then one of America’s highest profile tech scribes, ensconced at the “New York Times,” jumped to Yahoo and was instantly forgotten. As for Katie Couric…one can argue her career was already in the dumper, but Yahoo did her no favors.

11. Don’t sell to the highest bidder, but the best fit. Tumblr was the new Facebook, a social media/blogging platform ready to eclipse Facebook and Twitter, remember when John Mayer jumped from Twitter to Tumblr saying that was where the action was? It isn’t anymore, Tumblr is moribund, great for porn, nearly useless for everything else.

12. Don’t sell out for short term money. Yahoo outsourced search to Bing. Got a check, but gave up its future. Furthermore, Bing is seen as second-rate and in-the-know surfers refrained from using Yahoo search. But this lesson is not limited solely to tech. Cities have outsourced/sold their parking meter business. And no one is happy. You balance the books today, you give up revenue tomorrow, and the for-profit enterprise jacks up rates and takes away rights, like the ability to park for free at night, and citizens are enraged. Judgment day comes, eventually. It came for Yahoo. But Marissa Mayer made triple digit millions in the interim, the company should have been sold eons ago.

13. Take the money. Microsoft offered so much, Yahoo said no. Don’t get emotionally attached, sometimes it’s right to sell, when you’ve run out of runway, and the people running Yahoo should have seen that they were gonna hit a wall. Kinda like Nokia. The Finnish icon sold its device business to Microsoft, it had already lost in smartphones, it’s nearly nonexistent now.

14. Deep pockets will overpay because they’re scared of the future. Not only Microsoft above, but Verizon, the highest bidder here and now the owner of the moribund AOL. Come on, Tim Armstrong couldn’t make his vision come true, remember Patch, and you hand him the keys? I guess in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, Armstrong knows more about ads than those running Verizon, so he got his way.

15. You can’t stand still. Verizon was known as the Mercedes-Benz of cell phone companies. It’s still the best, but its competitors are creeping up behind it. But, once again, the visionary/builder is long gone and the present management team is flailing. Suddenly Verizon, a company with too much cash, is in the content and advertising businesses? Give ’em credit, they’re moving forward, could work, but one would feel better about the company if it merged with one that was already a high-flier in the space. Verizon and Facebook, Verizon and Google… Then one plus one equals three, maybe. But adding the minuscule advertising footprints of AOL and Yahoo to a company that doesn’t do that? Kinda like adding Skrillex and Diplo to En Vogue.

16. Common decency counts. Showing up on time and giving respect is key when you’re the CEO. The stories of Marissa Mayer’s faux pas superseded her efforts to turn the company around.

17. Kick the tires first, spend later. Mayer spent so much on new hires so early, many of whom washed out, that she looked amateurish and tainted the company.

18. No one likes a downer. Our nation runs on optimism. The media wanted to believe Yahoo could be resuscitated, but sometimes a mercy killing is the best way to go.

 

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