A year ago, after a decade of mismanagement, Yahoo had been written off for dead.
Mention Yahoo in the company of 20-somethings, and they would look at you with a mixture of curiosity and pity. Yahoo? Wasn’t that a boring old web service that people used back in grandpa’s day?
No one wanted to say they worked for Yahoo (except me!).
No one wanted to be bought by Yahoo.
No one wanted to be caught using Yahoo.
Yahoo was just, well, lame.
In the year since CEO Marissa Mayer joined the company, however, there are wonderful signs that Yahoo’s long, depressing decline might be coming to an end. In fact, Yahoo may be in the early stages of what could ultimately be a historic turnaround.
Yahoo’s stock price, for example, has gone through the roof. This rocket ride has been propelled primarily by the company’s stake in a couple of Asian companies (most notably, Alibaba), but there’s also an early-stages-of-a-potential-turnaround premium in there, too.
Yahoo has also already become a place that talented engineering folks are excited to work. Through “acqui-hires” and other recruiting, Marissa Mayer and her team have begun to bring passion and excitement back to Yahoo’s product teams. By giving employees free food and gadgets, she has also brought Yahoo’s working environment and culture into line with those of other Valley leaders like Google and Facebook.
And then there are the promising signs on the product side.
It takes a long time to develop great digital products, especially when you’re starting with existing services that have been used by hundreds of millions of people for more than a decade. But, already, in the short year since Marissa Mayer took over, Yahoo has rolled out significant changes to Yahoo Mail (a critical product), Flickr (a photo-storage service), and the Yahoo home page. These products have already had an impact–increasing user engagement and helping Yahoo to once again become the biggest site in the United States (a title that it relinquished to Google five years ago.) With the bold acquisition of Tumblr, meanwhile, Mayer has vaulted Yahoo into the social-media and user-generated-content realm and brought Yahoo into the lives of the next generation of digital users.
In short, Yahoo has accomplished a remarkable amount in the past year.
Yes, the jury is still out on whether Marissa Mayer will prove to be a great CEO in addition to a great product leader (Great CEOs have to deliver on the business side, too, which Mayer has yet to prove she can do.) And, yes, it’s not clear yet that Yahoo’s signs of new life will ultimately bloom into a full-fledged turnaround. But it’s off to a great start.
So what is respected Silicon Valley journalist and investor Om Malik so grumpy about?
On Bloomberg TV the other night, Om continued a theme that he’s been pounding hard on Twitter in recent weeks–that, in the past year, Marissa Mayer and Yahoo have accomplished nothing.
“Yahoo hasn’t come out with any new product in the last six years that I’ve wanted to use,” Om complained, laying all of this at the feet of Ms. Mayer.
“Product-wise the company hasn’t done anything,” Om further explained. “It’s in the same place it was when she took over… She bought a lot of companies, she brought in a lot of people, but a little bit of sub-standard culture still persists… It’s nice to have features in Vogue. Let’s celebrate the success of the actual products and the actual company before you start putting the hype ahead.”
I admit that I’m biased–I work for Yahoo and have friends and colleagues at Yahoo and, as a nostalgic Yahoo fan from the 1990s, I’m hoping Yahoo succeeds. As a long-time Yahoo shareholder, I’m also not unhappy about the stock performance in the past year.
But even trying to look at the company objectively, I don’t understand why Om is constantly hating on the place.
These things take time, Om!
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he didn’t turn the place around in 12 months. Apple’s turnaround, like Priceline’s turnaround and the turnaround of every other company that has ever turned around, happened gradually. And the only tell-tale signs in the early days were the sorts of signs were seeing at Yahoo.
Yes, it’s far from certain that Yahoo will ever become a dynamic, beloved growth engine again.
But it’s off to a good start.
So, lighten up, Om! Give Yahoo a chance!
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