Max Levchin is a smart guy. He is joining the Yahoo board. Marissa Mayer is a really smart person. And only thing surprising is that it took so long for her become CEO of an internet company. Together, they can be unbeatable, in say a game of chess or discussing artificial intelligence or Russian politics. They are both highly logical and can use logic to make any argument.
However, they are being illogical in believing that they can revive Yahoo and turn it back into a relevant Internet player.
I had outlined my reasons for being a non-believer in a Yahoo turnaround in a post almost a year ago. Nothing really has changed in my mind — not even the new new CEO or the new board member. The only thing that would change my mind would be if the company talks specifics and share a timeline for the systematic changes that need to be implemented.
Yahoo was a giant once — but now it is surrounded by competitors who are vying for the attention of consumers, who are attracted to new sources of entertainment and information, be it Pinterest or Facebook. It has been lagging on mobile and most importantly, it has systematically lost all its technical leadership.
Whenever, I talk to former Yahoo employees, other folks who still work at the company and other Silicon Valley insiders, they all come back with the same sentiment — the problem is foundational and the core of Yahoo is pretty hollow. Others have compared it to an industrial-era giant caught in a bureaucratic cobweb. Ask any 25-year-old young programmer who he or she wants to work for. Yahoo isn’t the name you hear.
An empty cupboard?
Yahoo’s paucity of technical capability was up for all to see this week, when Yahoo launched a mobile app, with filters and stuff. Folks loved it. Nick Bilton was ecstatic about it. Many said it was an end to the tyranny of low resolution, square shaped photos that was imposed by Instagram. Others waxed nostalgic and saw a Flickr Spring.
What I saw: Yahoo using a third party (Aviary in this case) to build the mobile app for Flickr, that one web service inside that still has loyal and passionate users among the snap-happy folks. [I will give them full marks for doing a good job on sprucing up Yahoo Mail, though they certainly took their time with it.]
It is a pretty damning testimonial of company’s technology capabilities that it can’t really build a product. How can anyone turn a company that is lacking in product capabilities and technology leadership into a player? I don’t quite understand.
Yes, Yahoo has made some sporadic buys. It is going to buy more of these small companies to bolster its bullpen, but you can’t buy your way into being innovative. It is a cultural and a structural issue and is a long process. I don’t think this honeymoon Yahoo is having with Wall Street is going to last for long.
But the Yahoo revival starts when the new technology talent makes it the first place to go work — ahead of Pinterest, AirBnB, Twitter, Facebook and even Google. Up until then, all board makeovers and new additions to the top layer of the company are nothing more than eye candy for the stock market.