Photo: Flickr/Yodel Anecdotal
Scott Thompson is the former Yahoo CEO who lost his job because he was fighting a proxy war with hedge fund manager Dan Loeb.Loeb’s key to victory was discovering that Thompson’s official bio listed a computer science degree that Thompson did not actually have.
These days, Thompson is working on new projects. He’s the CEO of a startup called ShopRunner, and, as of last week, a board member of another called Kabbage. Both companies are firmly rooted in the world of e-commerce and online transactions, where Thompson made his name as president of eBay’s PayPal.
Thompson did a bunch of press around the Kabbage announcement, and he agreed to talk to us on the phone about it.
So, what is Thompson like?
For starters: gutsy.
Like most media outlets, we were not very easy on him during those 10 days in May. When Thompson told the press his bio’s factual error was an “inadvertent mistake,” we called it “an outrageous and insufficient response.”
So, for Thompson to get on the phone with us is a testament to his character. He’s not a grudge-holder. He’s not afraid to get back on the horse.
The next thing you notice about Thompson is the Boston accent. He really does sound like a character from Cheers. It’s charming.
Thompson is a warm, friendly person. He’s one of those people who remember your name and use it a bunch – but not so much that you feel like he’s trying to sell you a car with broken seatbelts.
Thompson didn’t want to talk about Yahoo.
Trust us, we pressed him.
Even though everything happened a very short time ago, he describes it as a long time ago. He says it’s “history,” and that there’s no real reason for him to comment on the company or what happened to him.
The closest we got to getting him to say anything at all about his controversial few months with Yahoo was when we told him that we really wanted to hear what he thought of Dan Loeb.
He laughed at that for a good seven to eight seconds.
Count to eight seconds. A laugh that long must feel good.
By the way, he’s being smart.
There really is not much upside in him talking about his past. For one, he probably agreed to a clause about not saying anything in his lucrative exit package. For another, he’s got new companies to promote.
There’s Kabbage, which makes loans to small businesses using unconventional data to determine credit-worthiness. And there’s ShopRunner, which Thompson is running as CEO. ShopRunner is a standalone competitor to Amazon Prime. Consumers pay a subscription fee to get perks to a network of ecommerce sites.
One thing Thompson did share with us is a view of the opportunity he sees in mobile.
He says that ShopRunner’s clients get about 25 per cent of their traffic from mobile, but only a “tiny, tiny” percentage of that traffic is converting like it does from desktop.
He says there is a “fantastic opportunity” for any company that can get that traffic converting better. He says he doesn’t think anybody is going to figure out mobile advertising until that problem is solved, either.
Basically, his view is that the first company that solves the problem of turning mobile browsers to into mobile shoppers will win a huge percentage of the Internet’s e-commerce and advertising dollars.
Mobile is a problem (and an opportunity) for Yahoo, of course, but Thompson was very clear that his thoughts on the opportunity do not reflect anything to do with that company or what he was planning to do with it.