Yahoo, Dead Man Walking

I had a meeting at Yahoo on Friday afternoon. It was like the other 1,835 meetings I’ve had there over the years, it also won’t produce anything meaningful.

What struck me about the meeting was how little energy there is on that campus, it’s a dreadful place to be, even if just briefly. The other folks in the meeting just went through the motions. I saw the look in their eyes and knew what it meant, that “even though this may be a good idea, it ain’t gonna happen for reasons we have no control over.” In retrospect, I wish they just came out and said that from the get-go, we could have saved everyone’s time.

One guy replayed the talking points of the day, that the last couple of months have really brought the people together yada yada yada. I was almost waiting for him to refer to a “the experience of being in a forge” or some other metaphor meant to convey a toughening in the face of challenging times. I just kept thinking that as a Yahoo shareholder I wish they got off their asses 2 years ago and figured out how to work together better.

I actually sat there kind of speechless as I repressed every fiber of my being to not say something when he went on to suggest that the executives and Board were doing a great job at building more value through their negotiating tactics… I should have said something, it would have cut the meeting short.

The advice was given to me that we should develop on some of the Yahoo technologies to build goodwill because “that gets people here interested”. That’s all well and good but I’m not inclined to invest my scarce development resources on a development exercise who’s sole purpose is to prove I’m serious. The days when I’ll trek down to Yahoo HQ and prostrate myself on the steps and wait with breathless anticipation for a hand to reach down to annoint me the chosen one are over… even Google doesn’t make me do that.

Lot’s of bus dev people like to suggest that you should develop with their technologies to get things going and it’s always bullshit. It’s an excuse they use to mask their ineffectiveness at the hands of a silo’ed and bureaucratic organization. Yahoo is about as silo’ed as they come.

Yahoo! Open Strategy was referenced a couple of times, or rather “YOS” in Yahoo geek speak. It’s pretty evident to me that this initiative is going to have Yahoo out in the weeds for the next 3-6 months, providing yet another reason for me to not invest more time trying to do something with them. Basically the company has pinned their entire future on something that is yet another technology exercise and a promise to rewrite Yahoo, none of which will solve the basic targeting and measurement problem that Yahoo has been struggling with for years. I thought Panama was going to fix that… but now it looks evident that Yahoo will give up on that and outsource search advertising to Google… awesome Jerry.

Yahoo says it wants developers to build to their platform, my experience suggests that their desires simply are not matched with incentives and initiative that is required of them to do it. Given the way these businesses inside Yahoo are run, I’d be surprised if they can get all of Yahoo on the same playbook in 6 months.

There’s still a chance that the Microsoft acquisition could get done, the investors (me included) are ready to feed Yang and Filo to the wolves and the fact that the stock dropped to a level that is still well above the price when the deal was first announced, well that suggest the Street is hedging on the possibility that this could still happen. I think Ballmer is done, that he sees the dysfunction that is this company and realizes he was about to bite off more than he could chew.