Steering Yahoo on the right course hasn't been easy, but with Marissa Mayer at the helm, there's excitement around the company again. In the valley, where jobs are plentiful and talent scarce, people want to work for the recovering search giant, and investors are similarly optimistic with the company's stock price nearly doubling since her arrival.
Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt, the CEO described Yahoo as a personalization company focused on organizing content and advertisements for users. She credited much of Yahoo's success on Wall Street to cofounder and former CEO Jerry Yang. "I think there have been certainly very smart investments that I owe to my predecessors," Mayer said, highlighting the Sunnyvale, Calif. company's stake in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. Yahoo pocketed $7.6 billion when it sold half its investment in Alibaba last year—money for her spending spree—and the remaining stake could reap another $20 billion.
Mayer laid out four areas Yahoo is focusing on: hiring the right people, using them to build products consumers love, using those products to bring in traffic, and using that traffic to grow revenue. "They are a chain reaction, and they work somewhat like a funnel," she said. Her high-profile acquisitions, including Tumblr, have helped bring in talent, but the company also gets 12,000 resumes each week. With roughly the same number of employees, "for basically every job we have, we get a resume, each week." The number of applications coming in have grown "by a factor of five or six" since Mayer joined last July.
"Boomerangs," a term used to describe former Yahoo employees who have since returned, make up about 10% of hires in the year to date: 14% in the first quarter, 10% in the second quarter, and about 7% to 8% so far into the third quarter. That last number is lower because of the number of new grads joining the ranks, she noted.
Since last summer, traffic has grown about 20% with more than 800 million monthly visitors globally. The focus moving forward is adapting Yahoo's products for mobile, with more than 350 million people accessing the site from mobile devices. Mayer mentioned the mobile team has grown by "almost a factor of 10" since she came on board. "There's a huge opportunity there for mobile when you look at what Yahoo's strong on—mail, news, finance, stock quotes, games, sharing photos, group communication, all these different pieces—that's what people do on their phones," she said.
Part of Yahoo's comeback story is changing the way it's perceived by others. The new logo made a big splash, drawing praise and ire alike, but Mayer said its focus was to update the brand, something employees and customers have craved for a long time. Whereas many brands tinker and make subtle changes to their logos over time (Google being one recent example), Yahoo's had remained static for 18 years. Mayer said she's happy with the new logo, but the focus remains the brand, products, and user experience.
Coming from her Google roots, Mayer says "there are a few key features" missing in Yahoo Mail, but praises the email service for its simplicity. "It's just email. It doesn't have video chat and a lot of these other things, which we may experiment with, but I think can also get in the way in terms of using mail every single day and wanting to be fast and efficient with it."
And yes, she's happy at her new company. "I love Google. I was there for 13 years, and if you told me I'd be as happy anywhere else, I would've probably doubted it," she said.
"But I am as happy, if not happier, at Yahoo."
- She doesn't use a passcode on her phone. "I can't do this passcode thing 15 times a day," she said. Guess what feature she's most excited for on the iPhone 5s?
- Mayer has been using Pine, a Linux-based email client, since her Stanford days. That's also her preferred way to use Yahoo mail.
- According to Mayer, if Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, and she had superpowers, they would be, respectively: "challenging the status quo and what's possible, impossible"; insight into people; and empathy. (She's referring to her own empathy for Yahoo employees.)
- Asked what she sucks at the most (this interview was conducted by Michael Arrington, after all), she said, "I should probably be making fewer decisions," referring to advice she received from a fellow CEO. "The shocking thing about the CEO role is how few decisions you actually have to make, but you have to make them exactly correctly and exactly perfectly."
[Image: Alice Truong]