We're Pulling for You, Chief Mayer; Now Do Something Radical


Six suggestions for the new CEO of Yahoo



Now this, this is interesting. The Internet giant of yore, Yahoo, has hired Marissa Mayer, a key executive at the company's archnemesis, Google. Mayer was Google employee number 20 and has been with the company since the beginning. She oversaw Google's most successful product (Search) for years and was in charge of Google's local and mobile efforts until today when she resigned. She starts *tomorrow* as Yahoo's CEO. That's the kind of engineer-executive we're talking about here.

I'll say it: Yahoo could not have made a better pick in all of Silicon Valley.

Mayer, on the other hand, probably could have.

Yahoo's been in a holding pattern since Mark Zuckerberg was still in college. Google's market cap blew past Yahoo's in December of 2004, just a few months after GOOG went public, and Marissa, Larry, Eric, Sergey, and the gang never looked back.

Google's now worth close to $200 billion ($187) while Yahoo's looking up at the $20 billion mark. Different startups have lopped chunks off of Yahoo's business as Google's body punched the company's core advertising business. CEOs have come and gone. Morale has come and gone. It's a mess.

"That people turn to example of Apple turnaround [with regard to a possible] Yahoo turnaround tells you the data set of successful such turnarounds is 1," Paul Kedrosky noted on Twitter,

So, Mayer's job is cut out for her. Enact the most successful business transformation this side of Steve Jobs. Good luck.

She has some things going for her, though. For one, Google's grown mighty big, so big that its users might like an alternative set of services to provide some healthy competition. Two, Google's employees may be getting a little restless. Earlier today, an email startup called Streak posted a poaching call to Google's employees that gave the following reasons for leaving the company:

Googlers: We have nothing against Google, in fact, Streak's founders are ex-Google/ex-startup people, but we think you should take the plunge and join Streak because you can:

Launch stuff faster - No PM bureaucracy. No exec approvals. No insanely complex and interdependent infrastructure. Just listen to users and launch stuff as fast as you can build it.

Innovate on Gmail, not just maintain it - ever wished you could make email better? You can, without being on the Gmail team. We've built infrastructure to easily build on top of Gmail.

Feel more connected to the end user - your work will have a direct impact on making users lives better. You won't be 3 or 4 levels of indirection removed from users

Think Mayer has a few ideas that Schmidt, Page, or sheer bureaucracy made impossible? Guess where she might get a chance to implement them.

To make Yahoo really work, though, Mayer's got to do more than win some incremental tech and talent wars with her main rival. Yahoo's got to find an identity and to do that, maybe Yahoo's got to do something seriously radical. Something like:

1) Embrace its role as the preeminent media company of the Internet age.
Yahoo already gets more traffic to its content than most websites could ever dream of. But it's never really embraced its potential as a serious competitor to every single media business. With its scale, it could completely reinvent the online display advertising business, which would be great for everyone. (Hey, she did once say her childhood dream was to be CEO of Disney!)

2) Go mobile first. You know how in media, everyone talks about being digital first. What if Yahoo just bet the house on mobile? After all, "Mobile Is Where the Growth Is."

3) Build a Facebook competitor with your huge audience, Flickr, a dash of Instagram, and a whole lot of privacy.
Media sharing is what drives social media. Take that lesson to heart and double down on Flickr, using it as a social (and mobile!) play instead of trying to build or acquire a better social presence. Offer people a $3 a year data tracking opt out plan. (Bonus! Now you have their credit card information.)

4) Take on Bloomberg and Thompson Reuters. Google might be tough to take on in the early going, so maybe Mayer should lead her company into battle against these two information giants.

5) Buy Twitter. Hey, why not? You're the world's portal the web; so's Twitter, actually.

6) Actually come up with a new product. At this point, we're kind of used to the idea that only Apple comes up with new stuff. Create and launch a completely new product.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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