Lessons learned from working at Yahoo!

Today we learned that Yahoo! and AOL are being sold as a bundle for around $5B. Yahoo! once famously refused an offer from Microsoft for north of $115B, while AOL was once valued $224B.

I spent a few years working at Yahoo! about 15 years ago (in France). I vividly remember having had the feeling of working for a past glory, a company that would not come back ever.

I have since used this experience a lot to keep myself in check of not falling into the same traps.

As connecting the dots looking backwards gets a lot easier, the uneasy feeling became clearer after a few years of perspective: Yahoo! was tormented between being a media company and a tech company. And whereas Google chose to embrace tech, Yahoo! edged more towards the media DNA.

This DNA conflict infiltrated every layer of the company: the product strategy (or lack thereof), the top management hiring (from media companies only), the budget distribution (full steam on offline marketing), the miscommunications between frustrated employees who thought they worked in tech and top management who thought they worked for a movie & music production company, what the company meeting speakers would take pride of (sponsor the world cup, or another music festival, getting TV coverage..), the failed integration of tech startup acquisitions (I myself came from Kelkoo, bought for $500m and sold to a VC firm a few later at a bargain price)...

At that time, being a tech company sounded nerdy and uncool. So they went for media, which still conveyed status and prestige. Fast forward a few year later, the table has turned, and the company is being sold every 3 years. More dramatically, Yahoo! missed countless innovation trains in that meantime (search, mobile, social, ads, cloud computing, iA..).

This is a lesson about the why. The deep motivation behind your actions. It's not about wanting to be a tech company, but about serving customers, people, the planet, whoever, and pushing the limits of innovation to increase the impact of your mission.

When you start spending too much time thinking about how people perceive you rather than how to push the limits, you're pretty much dead without knowing it yet.