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Will Yahoo turn out to be an egg on its buyer’s face?

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Last night a source of mine sent me a text message about spotting Jerry Yang and David Filo (in a suit) at Palo Alto’s Four Seasons Hotel in company of some serious looking men, who spend a lot of time (and money) appearing to be self-important, a skill they perhaps learn in business school. His pithy message to sum it all up — looks like it is all going down.

The “it” is Yahoo’s (s YHOO) very public auction of itself to the highest private equity bidder. In case you were hiding under a rock, here is a recap of rumors around Yahoo’s possible sale:

  • Silver Lake Partners wants to buy a minority stake in Yahoo for about $16.60 a share (valuing Yahoo at $20.6 billion or about 6 percent higher than yesterday’s closing price.) Silver Lake is working with Microsoft (s MSFT) and Andreessen Horowitz.
  • The transaction is going to use PIPEs, private investment in public equity — a type of transaction long reserved for somewhat dubious companies.
  • Jerry Yang will stay on the board, but the investors will get three seats on the board, reports say.
  • Some folks believe that Jeff Jordan, former CEO of OpenTable, will become the chief executive of Yahoo and VC Marc Andreessen will become the chairman.
  • TPG Capital is considering offering a $1 per share more — aka $17.60/share.
  • Others are also eyeing the company including KKR (s KKR) and Blackstone Group (s BX).
  • Thomas H. Lee Partners is thinking about a bid.
  • Alibaba Group wants to buy Yahoo. Yahoo owns 40 percent of the Chinese company. Kara Swisher says they are thinking about teaming up with Softbank and Blackstone for their own bid.

600 million

Last time I wrote about Yahoo and its dismal and disastrous board of directors, I pointed out that 600 million users make up Yahoo’s biggest asset (and biggest stumbling block) and that company needed to clean house and then go shopping. Most of the people in comments disagreed and said that no self-respecting startup would want to be part of Yahoo.

Instead, most felt that the company should clean house and focus on a few pockets of growth inside the company — communications and shopping for example. I am betting buyers will be thinking along those lines, but will that be enough?

Whatever comes of these moves, the question is, can Yahoo be saved, and if yes, what is the value that can be retrieved? More importantly, will these private equity investors meet their own tech Waterloo in the fallen Internet star?

Dead Fish

As far as I am concerned, Yahoo is pretty far gone and is essentially a hollow shell of its former self. Its board — probably the single worst group in business — has managed to drip every last drop out of its body. There are few bright spots — Flickr, Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Shopping — but they cannot make up for the singular reality that the Internet that helped Yahoo thrive is no longer the Internet most people use.

Behavioral shifts in the Internet are so strong that Yahoo has no chance. The average U.S. Facebook user is spending over six hours a month day on the social network, Twitter is becoming the new news network and photos are thriving on mobile platforms.

The Internet of today is one of many screens. Yahoo, despite its mobile products and wonderful experiments with Yahoo TV, is still a one trick pony — online advertising.  More accurately, the classic CPM-style advertising depends on large audiences, lots of page views and well, you get it, an old-fashioned way of thinking. When I think of Yahoo, I am reminded of a salmon farmed on carcinogens that is trying to move upstream in order to find growth.

Smart guys, but…

The consortium that is making a push for Yahoo is the same group that went out and bought Skype from eBay (s EBAY) and turned around and flipped it to Microsoft, and in the process they made a lot of money.

However, this is not the same case. Skype was and still is on the right side of history. Usage behavior favors Skype, which continues to grow despite the company having ruined a great user experience. Skype is thriving despite all the meddling from the previous owners. Microsoft can’t do anything because Skype provides value.

What does Yahoo do that you and I can’t live without?

That’s right … nothing!

I have a lot of respect for Jeff Jordan (who would actually be one of my choices to run Yahoo), but I am sorry even he cannot do the impossible. Yahoo’s brain drain is legendary and it continues. There are more resumes going out of Yahoo than there are folks lining up to work for Yahoo.  Unless there is a tech/broad economy collapse, that situation isn’t going to change.

Frankly, if you were a smart engineer or a product guy, why would you go work for a company, which is going to be owned by buyout guys who essentially nickel-and-dime your creativity to death? Why not go and work for a startup, where the chances of an upside, however remote they might be, are still there.

Or better yet, take a flyer and start your own company. Hell, if you need a job, these days even Google (s goog) is pretty lax about hiring. The fact is that the buyout philosophy might work on old industrial-age companies, but I am not sure it would translate to Internet companies.

20 Responses to “Will Yahoo turn out to be an egg on its buyer’s face?”

  1. Niki Scevak

    At the price proposed nothing new needs to happen. Even if Yahoo US continues its decline into oblivion the price still makes sense. Silver Lake’s most recent investment in Alibaba valued it at $32bn, so Yahoo’s 1/3rd stake is roughly $10bn+ and then there is the liquid stake in Yahoo Japan and some cash on hand.

    If the Yahoo core operations can be turned around and if you place any value on them, then the deal will be a winner.

    Because of the price, there is very little downside. Also, Silver Lake are clearly bullish on the Alibaba asset and they can be justified for doing the deal just based on that.

  2. IntheKnow

    Throwing around useless statistics about time spent that are out of context in terms of the user experience is ridiculous. Yahoo! is a company that could be poised once again for growth. It still has over 700MM global users and growing, top web properties in 10 vertical categories, a search business that has largely been ignored (which is the true hidden value at Yahoo!), super strong relationships with advertisers and lastly the opportunity to diversify its monetization strategy to drive incremental growth. Last I checked Facebooks growth is starting to level off and their revenues are half of Yahoo!’s. Yet, they deserve a 100 billion valuation? The Valley has lost all grip with reality and investors are starting to believe their own nonsense. There is still big value to be unlocked at Yahoo!, they just need to get out of their own way.

    One point I do however agree with is that there is a brain drain. This isnt because Yahoo! isnt a viable company but rather the executive team would prefer to hire people that make them look good in lieu of hiring the best players they can possibly find and in some cases doing whatever you need to do in order to win. AKA overpaying product and engineering talent.