Yahoo: The Cleveland Browns Of Technology

By William A. Foster, IV

“The brain is not an organ to be relied upon.” – Alexander Block


Marrissa Meyer, the still fresh on the job CEO of Yahoo, is quoted as saying after the recent announcement that the company was going to purchase Tumblr, “we are not going to screw this up” essentially cementing what every investor and analyst already assumed. They will screw it up. Everyone will cheer for them to get it right and somehow in a very loveable Yahooish way – they will still screw it up even with the best of intentions. It has gotten to the point where they can almost not help themselves.

When I first started thinking about this article shortly after the deal was done a few feelings emerged. First, I had to get past my frustration but I will touch on that later. Second, I realized I was glad I was not a Yahoo investor (disclaimer coming at the end) because I am now convinced they might be cursed. Some part of me initially wanted to compare them to the Bad News Bears. The loveable losers with no talent but I realized that really is not Yahoo. Yahoo HAS talent. What it seems to lack is an inward compass. This acquisition of Tumblr is like bringing in brand new furniture and sitting it in the garage while the house is in the state of a renovation at worst or just being extremely junky at best. The fact that when the renovation or cleaning is done the furniture might not even fit into the house seems to have been whiffed by Yahoo.

So why is Yahoo like the Cleveland Browns? Quite simply, it has a storied history and for some reason despite what seems now like an eternity of losing season after losing season people still want them to turn it around. They want to see them get it right. They want to see them win. Yahoo and the Browns are original franchises in their respective industries. Honestly, I am not even real sure anymore just when the wheels fell off at either franchise nor can I remember the last time either did anything that made me feel like they just might be putting the wheels back on. Both seem notorious for bringing in talent and for whatever inexplicable reason that talent succumbs to the inordinately dysfunction. Since 2004, the Cleveland Browns have had 6 head coaches. Over the past 6 years, Yahoo has had 6 different CEOs at its helm. As I said they just can not seem to help themselves.

After Marrissa Mayer arrived at Yahoo from Google as a relatively unknown to most investors and analyst but well respected I had hopes she was going to be the Mike Tomlin hire, head coach of Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin was well respected within intimate football circles but had been a defensive coordinator for only one year before being pegged for the top spot in Pittsburgh. Much the same could be said for Marrissa Mayer who was well liked and respected within the Google ranks and intimate technology circles but a relatively unknown quantity and like Tomlin considered quite young  and inexperienced to tackle such a position when given the reigns. She started bringing in her own team with everyone assuming because she was from Google that she was going to get Yahoo back to its search roots – and by my own prayers clean up the garage sale that was Yahoo’s homepage. After all she was sitting on $5.4 billion in cash and in need of cleaning up what seemed like the debacle that never ends. Instead, she spends 20 percent of it on a Tumblr, which is a wonderful high-user company but has yet to turn a profit in its own right and more importantly still does not provide clarity to exactly what Yahoo is trying to be. Is Yahoo a media company? A search company?

Yahoo once had the greatest messenger service on the web. Well, maybe 1A beside AOL messenger. Most people I know used both. Yahoo took the lead as it began to dominate search, email, and quite frankly just cooler features via its messenger. Yet, somewhere the wheels just started falling off. The messenger stopped getting the love and updates it needed too. It poorly integrated Rocketmail into its fold (says a bitter former Rocketmail user) in 1997. Kicking off what seems to be a continued Yahoo weakness of strategic acquisitions and integrating acquisitions. Then the race to make the homepage have everything ensued. In fact, one could argue it was this chaotic homepage that Yahoo created that almost made Google’s meteoric rise possible. Instead of Yahoo allowing users to customized their homepage it gave them everything it had, whether the user wanted it or not and most did not. I believe Yahoo assumed it was making things easier by putting everything at your fingertips. Much to its own dismay it learned that was just not what people wanted. People want simplicity and they want control. Google makes users believe they are in control by the simplicity and that they can leave at any time when in actuality it is the exact opposite. They are in control because you can not get enough of believing you are in control. Call it SRPY or search reverse psychology. Personally, I love Yahoo! Finance and use it a lot. I also love their Yahoo! Travel and have used it numerous times for trips. You know what I do not want? Anything celebrity related. I simply do not care and in many ways turns me off from going to the website from the thought of even being bombarded by it. Unfortunately, where Yahoo could have been using the $5.4 billion to reinvigorate and reimagine the user experience it now must focus on not screwing up its new treasured asset.

For Marrissa Mayer’s sake I hope she can channel her inner Paul Brown but at this point I would settle for her inner Marty Schottenheimer. Otherwise, I might really believe the curse is real and not just suffering from bad decision making. Has anyone seen a billy goat walking around 701 First Avenue?

Disclaimer: There is no ownership of any of the companies mentioned in this article by myself, my business, or my family as of this article’s publishing.

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