An Open Letter to Marissa


Hey @marissamayer,

It’s become a great tradition around this blog. We’ve gone through several bouts of know-it-allness here when it comes to Yahoo’s fortunes, and we’ve structured little lists of things to do for Yahoo CEO’s. We were especially interested in Jerry Yang’s to-do list. After all, he founded the darn company. You would have thought there would be some sense of urgency when he returned to the helm.

So we wash our hands of some of the anemic performance of the company — after all, they didn’t implement our unsolicited advice!

And I apologize for, again, drawing attention to the fact that you’re a woman. This is just how it is, unfortunately. Have you ever been to one of those tech events? The ratio is so skewed, spotting a single female can be a good reason to cheer up amidst the maddening sameness, maybe order a Blue Moon lager at the cocktail reception, and care enough about the industry to return to tomorrow’s sessions.

It’s getting better, though obviously not so much in the CEO ranks and in the total count of engineers who truly matter at companies like Google, or in startup culture, or in the VC world in Silicon Valley, or… (sigh).

So, I’m finding myself excited for you, despite the fact that a lot of people think Yahoo is tired and old.

Maybe so, but you’re here now. And for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I find myself more excited for you than I am for Sheryl. It can’t be the money, obviously, that makes me feel a little bit sorry for her. You’re both paid more than enough. Maybe it’s that you get to call the shots and be recognized as the CEO, where she gets to be COO and apologist for Mr. Zuckerberg. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Yahoo, as have many people. Facebook has always seemed in too much of a hurry to get somewhere evil.

Yep, I think that’s probably it. As CEO, you’ll set the agenda. You’re much more tuned in with all the needed insights than any previous CEO of Yahoo, in my opinion. And as you do set that agenda, that makes it convenient for us to once again post a handy list of to-do’s.

It’s going to be pretty short, because prognostication and pontification rarely lead to anything good. You can’t manage much of anything from the outside. (Check out the things we’ve recommended in the past, and you may laugh!)

  • First things first. Have you underestimated the enormity of this challenge? Yahoo started sucking back in 2002 (you were 27, and I was writing an early ebook about Google AdWords). I even wrote about it: Why Yahoo is No Longer Good. It’s still about clutter and compromise that result in user indifference! Ecch!

Lady, this has been going on for ten years at Yahoo. You’re the usability girl. Please, fix it! Radical measures may be required.

Moving to some further suggestions. Most of these are revenue related.

  • Out-Google Google. No one else could or should try this. But you’ve been right there. I think you could have a shot at really competing (on some fronts). And it’s getting really tiresome to hear that Yahoo “can’t” compete with Google. Space is limited so I’ll leave you to work out what that could mean, but even in search, I think the size of the pie warrants Yahoo getting seriously back into it. Search is such a high margin area from an ad standpoint when you’re the originating publisher. If you can get to a legit 20% share with a revived ad platform (shouldn’t be too hard) — and not the cooked-up fake share we’ve heard from some ratings agencies over the years — the revenues would put Yahoo in the big leagues. So wind down this partnership wherein you abdicated your leadership in search and search advertising to a frequently indifferent old software company (Microsoft). Frankly, they’re using Yahoo — for window dressing to maintain some semblance of diversification in revenues.
  • Not all of Google’s share is unassailable. Pick off their “search partners” simply by being more likeable.
  • By being nicer, it might be possible to out-Google Google on some SERP integrations, such as Twitter feeds, which as you know have come to an end over at Goog.
  • On top of that, Google has given short shrift to news. What an opportunity! It’s possible to develop a better product, a better strategy, and to acquire (at decent prices) a variety of companies that focus on edgy blog network content that puts a ton of there, there. After AOL has played with the Huffington Post (et al.) for awhile and watched its stock price dwindle a bit more, why not merge with them and then shed all the non-strategic assets? AOL is not the best home for this content and Yahoo is.
  • Stand out from Google by incentivizing the ecosystem. There are a ton of agencies trying to decide which way forward, and even trying to figure out how they are going to survive. They totally want to be your friend! For agencies managing a significant amount of spend in either search or display, consider reward points or even cash commissions. Google would never stoop to this, which is exactly why Yahoo should do it. Google is the “smart sibling” and Yahoo is the “fun friend”.
  • Acquire Research in Motion (for $6 a share, should that price become available by the end of this calendar year) and grow that division with passionate, visionary engineers who are interested in mobile OS’s, apps, devices, and how it all integrates 10+ years into the future.  Do everything in your power to get Yahoo branded devices into the hands of users, including radical price cuts. If need be, burn through RIM’s cash to do so. With some recent financial maneuvers added to that one, Yahoo actually can accomplish quite a bit in the not-yet-over race for the mobile consumer, without piling on huge debt. What a glorious (and fun) opportunity. And don’t let the RIM guys have final sign-off on aesthetic choices re: the devices. Have that Google designer join the team, and the two of you (and me) will pick the  colors. Sounds like that guy wants to jump ship from Google. He was with Palm before! Anyway, I don’t kid with this suggestion. You can’t forge ahead into the mobile future with partnerships, smoke, and mirrors. Firm control over a total operating system environment plus the hardware are going to be needed. Right now, the OS players are Google (Android), Apple, and Microsoft, and scarcely any others. BB10 could be as important as the first two.
  • Integrate that well with local. At this stage, I think Yelp is actually fairly well-priced and would contribute a lot to this type of effort. I still stand by the recommendation for Yahoo to acquire Yelp.
  • Figure out display, which is seen as your company’s strength. Is it $!%#*@ rocket science? It seems like after all this years,  *still* no one can make money on display. I want to know why not. A huge threat appears to be that display is not very well suited to mobile monetization at present, so that hurdle poses a big threat to Facebook (for example).
  • See above. This is exactly why you have to get back into search!

There is going to be a lot left out here that Yahoo can’t win at.

So I guess the temptation is to go with the path of least resistance and let Google sort of manage all of our affairs, with a healthy dose of Facebook creepiness for spice in our lives.

That’s worked well enough for years now, and many of us will rely heavily on Google’s great products and their unparalleled advertising program.

But when it comes to throwing your hat into the ring, to try to get some competition stirred up and provide some excitement for users… really, at this point, what does Yahoo have to lose? You’ll only live up to your own high standards if you go at this hard.

Break a leg,


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