Today I read an article in the New York Times titled Even Under New Captain, Yahoo Seems Adrift. And while it’s been a few years since I worked there, I feel like I’ve seen this scenario before. But before I spew my 2 cents on the issue, let me pose a very simple question.
Name one good thing that Yahoo! does better than any other large web site and it generally recognized for doing well.
Think about it for a minute or two if you need to. I’ll wait.
Really, don’t rush.
Ok, got it? Not yet? Hm. Perhaps that’s a really big part of the problem.
But really, that just illustrates the obvious problem. The less obvious problem is a deeper cultural issue. It’s an institutionalized lack of accountability that makes it easy to blame others (upper management, other product teams, “market forces”, and so on) for things that don’t happen.
The reality is that the bright spots in the company were bright because they managed to succeed despite having the option of blaming others and not taking the risks necessary for success. They were also comfortable not trying to please everyone all the time.
Now I don’t talk to many Yahoos these days, but I have a hard time believing that this particular aspect of Yahoo has changed that much.
I believe you can fix this by bringing in the right CEO. But that means finding someone who really “gets” this business that Yahoo is in. It has to be someone with a strong vision and the guts to tell people what they’re screwing up and hold them accountable. From everything I’ve read, I get the sense that Bartz has the guts but not the vision. That means she’s relying on the advice of folks who have a vested interest in doing it the same old way.
If Yahoo were to suddenly find and strong CEO with a real vision for its products (and building things that users cannot live without), the company would be difficult to stop–especially now that it’s not spending untold dollars in a hopeless attempt to catch up to Google in the search business. I’m talking about the kind of vision that doesn’t come from a marketing team or a committee. I’m talking about the kind that comes from a passionate leader who really gets what the Internet is about and wants to make it better.
My advice to Carol (or the board): don’t believe everything you hear. Definitely don’t compromise. That’s a large part of what got Yahoo into this mess. And please find someone with the vision that Yahoo needs.
(Oh, and please don’t think you can acquire your way to building truly great products. That has been tried too many times already.)