The first time everyone really heard of Marissa Mayer was in 2012, when she was pregnant and soon to become the CEO of Yahoo. Everyone criticized her for curtailing flexible working hours and sending the “wrong message” to working mothers by taking only 2 weeks of maternity leave. She was known for her control-freak management style and unusual for Silicon Valley sophisticated sartorial tastes.
I carefully watched news about Marissa Mayer and Yahoo over years, and I still think Yahoo’s Weather app is genius, but this is about all I can say about Yahoo’s business model or Marissa’s strategic thinking. This book has finally helped me out to make sense of all of it. It’s 30% about Marissa and 70% about the history of technological transformations.
Yahoo was founded in 1994 as a web catalogue, it WAS “the Internet” at the time, then it grew rapidly in the late 1990s, but things quickly got blurred. Internet became search-based as opposed to directory-based, that is how Yahoo lost its role of Internet navigator. It still earned the majority of its revenues from advertising, which suggested it might be a media company, but Yahoo did not really generate much of original content or news, as it could be expected from a media company. The biggest problem of Yahoo seems to be the identity disorder.
Google is search and gmail (and not payments), PayPal is payments (and possibly future banking), Facebook is social networking (and occasional privacy scams), Instagram is selfies (+ food and cute animals), Apple is cool devices, LinkedIn is job search, Monster is a desperate job search, Amazon is shopping and books (I was never EBAY fan anyway), Huffington Post is opinions, Microsoft is Office, Netflix is streaming, but what is Yahoo? – Possibly news, but I am not really sure about it.
Until Marissa, Yahoo was run by various executives hired because they presumably understood how to solve the biggest problem at the time (increase ad sales, cut costs or enforce corporate discipline). They had no vision for the company in the long run. So, they failed.
Then came Marissa. It’s almost as difficult to describe her, as it’s hard to define Yahoo’s identity. They both are full of contradictions. Marissa Mayer is a stylish geek, successful and glamorous in public, apparently very cold and almost aloof in business and shy at times with strangers, very smart about shift to mobile, streamlining Yahoo’s product development and reviving corporate spirit, very naïve about PR and not so good at hiring her c-team.
It’s a great read, not too technical and not too gossipy, quite insightful actually. I even recommended it for our PayPal book club (yes, we have a book club!)