What Marissa Mayer Means to Yahoo!, Its Employees & Users

jdlasica at FlickrThe 17th of July, 2012 had in store a brilliant shockwave for the Silicon Valley with the news of the former executive Marissa Mayer set to lead Yahoo!. People are suddenly listening. The big brand that once helped shape the internet, that once inarguably dominated the search space and perhaps that was some sort of (ironically?) ‘all things digital’ for its users by then.

The hits the brand took later, I suspect if any other brand in the Valley ever stood through. The company is struggling near the point of ‘irrelevance’ today. And Marissa Mayer’s new helm is perceivably a ray of hope for Yahoo!

The Yahoo! Problems

‘Chaos’ is the word. The company has long been indecisive about its products. A more familiar example to me is how it handled its search front in recent years. It never seemed decisive about which direction to go with its search. Yeah, when a company sees five CEOs in two years, that could put the ‘direction’ in deep s**t. It was a big decision for Yahoo! (and a game-changing one for the search industry) to give up its search technology to Microsoft, which the company may regret over time, that’s worth whole another article. But who knew Marissa would take the helm then?

Yahoo! does have its ‘superstar’ products, but it never seemed to care to innovate with them. It lacked behind when other alternatives were growing up fast.

The Vicious Cycle

Remember, it’s not the declining user base that puts Yahoo! in trouble. In fact, it still has 700 million global users and around 100 million monthly unique visits. Its real problem roots to, essentially in recent times, user engagement. That scared away its advertisers towards Yahoo!’s competitors. That resulted in declining quarterly revenues that left investors scratching their nose. That, in turn, took the board to task (at the mercy of Third Point LLC) for a CEO gambling. Hence the demoralised employees, abandoned products which closes the cycle.

What is Yahoo! for Anyone, Anyway?

YahooThis question, many listeners believe, is something that Yahoo! itself doesn’t have an answer to. Is it a portal? A media company? A tech company? A search engine (hmm.. almost no)?

With each CEO, the company’s vision appeared differently – from advertising to data to content to commerce to media. Yeah, that’s some great morale!

But a company with great visions, which I believe Yahoo! still is, needs to define itself. Of course, it is perhaps the most careful step for Marissa to take (which requires time), given the present state of mess Y! is at. But the brand does need a definition – if not now, pretty soon down the line.

David Filo, a co-founder of Yahoo!, spells this out:

“In the last few years, given the turnover, there has been a lack of attention on the user experience. We need to get back to basics.”

Marissa’s Y! Challenges

Some think she is a good fit, and some not. But Marc Andreessen has a point on this. Yahoo! probably needs a product leader now more than ever.

One important concern her critics put forward is her lack of experience leading a giant, essentially when she has had two contrasting reputations at Google. But, all that is not going to matter anymore. The question now is whether she will resemble Steve Jobs or her former colleague Tim Armstrong.

The Charges

As for the Y! board, it apparently has had its ‘Brahmastra’ shot at its top job. Eyes on the results now.

Employees – well, they have their own expectaions, like here. But finally they’ve got someone they would want to work with, perhaps. Yes, they’re tired with new CEOs. But this one seems to have brought a hint of hope to them. Nevertheless, they would love to hear the company ‘defined’.

May be it doesn’t matter to the end users. They probably liked how Yahoo! was ‘all things’ to them. May be they just want their awesome flickr back, as with its many other products.

Of course, I’m no aggressive Yahoo! fan or a loyal user. I don’t live in the US and have no economical impact whatsoever. But I’m one who has been on the internet for over 11 years and whose one of the first known brands on the web is Yahoo! And I am certainly interested to watch whether and what Marissa has to save the Internet Dinosaur.