Marissa Mayer just made her second great move as Yahoo CEO: she warned shareholders that she might not return to them the $4 billion Yahoo is going to get selling its stake in Chinese Internet company Alibaba.
(The first brilliant move Mayer made was giving employees free food: an important recruiting tool in the Valley).
This is a very good decision because that $4 billion needs to be used strategically—–in a way that helps Yahoo grow its slowing business. (The whole operation depends on people checking Web-based email and then clicking on to other Yahoo Web pages with ads on them, and the trouble is that teens don’t use email and adults are checking their email not on the Web, but on their phones.)
Giving $4 billion to shareholders through a stock buyback or a one-time dividend is like giving a 3-year-old $5,000 instead of putting it toward her college tuition. The kid/shareholder will love you for it at first, but will forget about it eventually and the long-term outlook will grow dimmer.
Holding onto the $4 billion and eventually spending it in a way that will grow Yahoo’s core business—or a new core business—is a genius move: something Jeff Bezos would do.
If Mayer does keep the $4 billion, we bet she’ll spend a good chunk of it on buying some startups with talented people and monetizable products built for the mobile and social era.
- Quora: We hear Mayer wants to get out of Yahoo’s search deal with Microsoft and go after Google in search. Question and answer site Quora is really just a search engine for a user-built database of information about products and services.
- Yelp: Mayer tried to buy Yelp when she was at Google, but Yelp rejected the offer and went for an IPO. Now Mayer could have it again for maybe $3 billion. Deciding where to eat is something people do on their phones, and Yahoo is not nearly mobile enough yet. Yelp has all the right buzzwords; it’s social, mobile, and local.
- Vimeo: If Yahoo is going to be the Pepsi to Google’s Coca-Cola, it’ll need its version of YouTube, right? Over-the-top TV is coming, and there’s lots of brand advertising money ($80 billion/year?) to be made in it eventually.
- Pinterest: On Pinterest, users collect photos of products and categorize them. Other users then browse the site and click on these products to find out where they can buy them. That’s search! That’s commercial! That’ll cost Yahoo $3 billion or so.
Honorable mentions: Spotify, Hulu, Twitter (probably too expensive), and Foursquare (probably too small).
Contribute your own ideas below …
Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested the Alibaba sale would net Yahoo $7 billion. The number is closer to $4 billion.
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