Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for May, 2012

If I were the Yahoo! CEO (for a day…)

Posted by shannonclark on May 10, 2012

So many people around the tech world have been writing about the current  Yahoo CEO’s problems with honesty.

Which got me to thinking – what would I do as the Yahoo! CEO (even if just for a day – though really it will take years to revitalize Yahoo! if it is even possible to do so)?

First the full disclosures

1.  My resume is messy. I don’t have a college degree (I entered the University of Chicago in 1991 as part of the class of 1995, but in 1994 I took a year off  – I was 19, on track to graduate at the age of 20 and had just had a very rough year emotionally as my then girlfriend left me for another woman, that year off during which I wrote a play and parts of two novels, turned into many more years as I was able to first start a business selling collectibles that paid extremely well and then started a series of computer consulting jobs that just kept paying more and more, in 1998 and 1999 I returned to school while also working full time, wasn’t able to negotiate a leave of absence to finish my degree so quit but instead of finishing completely took a better job offer – after seeing my clients through the Y2K transition and after not getting paid commissions on the nearly $2M in renewals and new sales I had negotiated I left in early 2000 to start my own company. Since 2000 I’ve worn many different hats at various times – as an entrepreneur, consultant, conference organizer, writer/blogger, advisor to startups and more – none of my various startup ideas have resulted in big successes and at times have overlapped – so yes, my resume is “messy”).

2. At present I’m not a direct Yahoo! shareholder (though mutual funds my wife and I own likely hold some Yahoo! stock) but I have all kinds of personal conflicts of interest. Lots of friends who were at one time employees (and even senior leaders) at Yahoo!, plenty of friends across Silicon Valley (and indeed the world) who are investors in competitors to Yahoo! in one form or another, have sold companies in the past to Yahoo!, are building companies that compete with Yahoo! or who work at competitors to Yahoo! including Facebook. I also have a number of consulting clients, including some in whom I have small equity stakes that may compete with some division of Yahoo! now or in the future. For that matter I’ve personally tried ventures that would have competed with some part of Yahoo!.

But all that aside here is what I would if I were offered the chance to help Yahoo! turn around.

Step 1. Immediately halt the patent trolling lawsuits & apologize to the tech community for the lawsuits (including to former employees whose works were used as part of these lawsuit.

The lawsuits even if there is a chance of “winning” via a large settlement (or judgement if the case makes it to trial) of money from the flush with cash post-IPO Facebook would be at best a Pyrrhic victory – the cost in future trust, in diminished ability to hire the best and brightest or to retain those who remain at the company would be immense – making any future hope of innovating out of the current mess difficult to achieve (at best).

Step 2. Repair relationships with Alibaba and SoftBank. 

See this article from February to see what I’m referring to if you aren’t familiar. According to a more recent report a new deal without SoftBank may be in the works. Clearly this is one of the best remaining assets that Yahoo! has which could be divested to generate cash to fund reinvigoration efforts for the rest of Yahoo! However while taxes matter, Yahoo! also needs to repair the underlying relationships with two major Internet giants (Alibaba and SoftBank) if Yahoo! wants to remain a powerful and viable global Internet company. I don’t know what it would take to repair these relationships – but if I were CEO doing so would be a very high priority.

Step 3. Clean house with the Yahoo! board.

Somehow the Yahoo! board has presided over the long, painful to observe from the outside, decline of what was once one of the most innovative online companies to one that is while still important decreasingly relevant. The board has dickered, fought founders and shareholders alike and generally underperformed in a huge way. Of course, if I were appointed CEO (for that matter this is true of nearly any new CEO) I would likely “owe” the board for that appointment – but this is in part one of the problems. As the founders have departed there seems to be a big leadership and vision gap at Yahoo! Perhaps a smaller and newer board, refreshed by a mix of outsiders, former insiders and even a critic or two would be able to help guide the company into a new direction.

See http://specials.yahoo.com/forward/ for what the current board and revitalization effort looks like. Given the current scandal I don’t think it is working as intended.

Step 4. Define a clear vision for Yahoo!

Go read the new CEO’s Strategic Vision for Yahoo!. Don’t worry I’ll wait – though I do recommend you have a large shot of espresso first…

Can you summarize his vision? Not sure that I could.

And I think that’s the problem. Yahoo! sees itself as being so many different businesses (and has grown so large that it really is) that it no longer has a clear vision about what Yahoo! does (or should do) or what value Yahoo! offers to others. Is Yahoo! a technology company? A media property? An advertising platform? A search engine? A portfolio of Internet services and properties? Something else?

Yahoo! needs a clear, concise, simple vision that dictates everything that Yahoo! does – something that every employee, partner, client, customer or site visitor would get immediately and understand. This is HARD.

I can’t claim to have it fully – but I think it should be something like:

Yahoo! makes the web personal.

Okay perhaps that needs work – but listen to my logic. When Yahoo! launched years and years ago and as they grew the crown jewel of Yahoo! was not any specific website or part of Yahoo! – it was the user profiles that Yahoo! had for every user (and they had millions at a time when few sites had over 100k users) which they were able to extend to nearly every new property or site they launched. These user profiles meant that you could add a new service that Yahoo! created without needing to create a new username and password, user profile and more.

Now this seems like a minor achievement – Yahoo!’s profiles have been overtaken for more web users by their Facebook accounts (or their Twitter accounts) which are the login tool that millions of people use to access other services beyond Facebook or Twitter. But done well it is still an opportunity for Yahoo! – and one that starts to help inform what Yahoo! should focus on (and what they may want to forget about).

It is also a question of what is Yahoo!’s identity and offering to companies that will partner with Yahoo! or which will generate revenue for Yahoo! in some manner (most probably via purchasing advertising through Yahoo! in some capacity – currently limited mostly to Yahoo!’s own properties). If Yahoo! were to focus on making the web personal – making it relevant and interesting and useful to every user of Yahoo! – across whatever service(s) and platforms (including sites and services not created or owned by Yahoo! potentially) this would be challenging – and would require that Yahoo! take the side of the individual user over the advertiser – but in exchange the advertisers would get a more valuable placement and likely see far better results when they do (since Yahoo! would in theory only show ads when they were really targeted and of interest to a given user).

In today’s Internet this would also require that Yahoo! focus on building products and services that cross ALL platforms and forms – not just the web but mobile, touch, TV and more. Find ways to expose their services and properties that made them available on every platform – including making advertiser’s campaigns available and relevant to the given form factor. This would be hard, this would be challenging, this would require rewiring/rewriting/reinventing most of Yahoo! currently. It would also require renewed interest in building products and services for non-Yahoo! developers to leverage (Yahoo! just a few years ago was on the forefront of building open APIs and hosting Hackathons to encourage developers to build on top of Yahoo! platforms but I think they never fully committed to this and never made it a strategic priority). I would encourage Yahoo! to explore directions that included revenue sharing with outside developers – potentially putting Yahoo! in the middle of a vibrant mobile development future. Yahoo! would also need to explore lots of service offerings that instead of relying on advertising and mass scale rely instead on subscriptions and direct payments by users – again including pass through payments to outside developers in many cases.

Would this be enough to “fix” Yahoo!? 

I don’t know but it would be a start.

And there is, of course, “one more thing…”

Yahoo needs to streamline and eliminate as many layers of management and approval processes as possible. Likely this means a lot of transitions for current employees and a total rethinking of their current workforce. This might not be easy or painless but I would start by carving out small entrepreneurial teams within ALL of Yahoo!. Teams that would have full authority to spend a given budget in whatever manner they require – with encouragement to be creative – and few requirements that they wait for a committee to approve everything. This would of course work best if a unified, simple vision can be shared by every employee – something would make it easy to answer the question of “would this new …. further the big picture vision for Yahoo!?” – would it help make the web more personal (for example). As much as possible I would look at models from innovative firms such as Valve to attempt to flatten the structures of Yahoo! as much as possible. This is, of course, challenging in a global, large public company – but it isn’t impossible.

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A few podcasts and video series I subscribed to recently…

Posted by shannonclark on May 8, 2012

I’d love to get your suggestions for other shows I should subscribe to and watch – either as podcasts or as YouTube subscriptions.

YouTube subscriptions – I’ve only added one in recent months, the fantastic Geek and Sundry  Felecia Day, The Guild, Dark Horse comics, Wil Wheaton – yup, my kinda video series and perfect for watching via my Apple TV when nothing else is on cable (i.e. most of the time)

Podcast subscriptions – I’ve added a bunch of new shows, not sure I’ll stick with all of them but I’ll give them at least a few episodes before I make that decision, but shows that I’ve added in the past few weeks which I’m really enjoying include:

  • Ze Frank’s A Show (http://ashow.zefrank.com/– Ze is back and in a big awesome way. Great videos though watching them via subscription in iTunes may be less than ideal as the show notes and comments and community are probably more fun even than the just the videos…
  • Mac Power Users (http://macpowerusers.com/) – a bit long but really interesting discussions about how a bunch of people use their Macs – a great reminder to me about how little I actually leverage the great applications and technologies of my devices – macbook, iPad and iPhone. Good inspiration to get back to using tools I really should be leveraging to get more work done, write better (and more often) and get more out of my tools.
  • 3.5 Private Sanctuary (http://www.35privatesanctuary.com/) – okay I confess I’m a geek and in the past few months I’ve gotten back into actively playing paper RPG’s (playing Pathfinder Society games most Monday nights and at occasional gaming conventions). 3.5 Private Sanctuary is actually a bunch of different podcasts all interesting and all a reminder of how much fun playing RPG’s can be (and a reminder of just how old many of us have gotten…) It is always good to connect, even if just via listening to a podcast, with folks who share your love of a specific niche.

I still haven’t found a great tech podcast – surprising but I don’t really want to listen to a long winded discussion for many hours – I want something which is focused, engaging and interesting – which covers news I may have missed and/or offers a perspective and summary of news I’ve seen but may not have explored fully (i.e. I can only try a few of the many new applications and technologies that launch every week).

What podcasts (or videos) do you make time for every week?

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, iTunes, personal, podcasts | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How I and I hope you will respond to May 1 “actions” in SF

Posted by shannonclark on May 1, 2012

I wrote the following on Facebook a few hours ago after seeing blog posts about riots and “actions” along Valencia St and 18th St in the Mission this evening here in SF.

Ugh. Sometimes I’m depressed by the idiots. Tonight is one of those nights.

see http://www.missionmission.org/2012/05/01/how-exactly-did-paint-bombs-and-anarchy-signs-escalate-to-smashed-windows/ as well as many related posts

for coverage of the depressing actions in the Mission this evening – storefronts of some of the best businesses in SF were smashed & paint bombed, many people’s cars were smashed and general stupidity reigned.

Thankfully I wasn’t in the Mission this evening – but I plan on spending money at some of my favorite Mission businesses in the coming weeks to show my support for them in the simplest way possible – and I encourage you as well to not let stupidity win.

I suspect that tomorrow will be an ugly day in SF alas (okay technically today will be an ugly day) *sigh*

What I will be doing this week and what I encourage you to do as well is simple – support local small businesses affected by tonight’s actions by voting with your dollars – and if you can’t go spend money (and show support) for local businesses in San Francisco at least help promote them to folks who can in turn send business to them.

I have been planning an event where I would take visitors interested in learning about Innovation and how to build successful, sustainable businesses on a tour of innovative businesses here in the Bay Area. While this tour would include many well known technology and Internet firms, it will also include a tour of the many neighborhoods throughout San Francisco where small, locally owned and run businesses are building amazing businesses the “right” way. These are businesses that respect their employees (and pay them well), that source responsibly (and frequently from other local merchants) and which are building focused and successful businesses in tune with their local communities. Frequently these are businesses that are highly focused – offering fewer items for sale than many businesses throughout the country and frequently not seeking to compete for business via a race to the lowest price.

Instead these are businesses that seek to sell non-commodity goods and services are fair prices that inspire repeat business. Retailers throughout the Mission (and indeed all of San Francisco) face challenges few other cities place upon their local businesses – high minimum wages, high regulatory burdens, high CA state business minimum taxes and fees and that’s just the beginning. Often retailers face months (or even years) of struggles to get their stores approved and opened in the form they desire (frequently battling complex licensing and zoning requirements) all the while trying to build a retail business in a down economy in one of the most expensive cities in the country. And yet the past five plus years I’ve lived in San Francisco I’ve seen (and had the pleasure of frequenting as a customer) some amazingly creative and great businesses open up throughout San Francisco. Businesses that get back to the basics of what makes a great business – selling what the customers want (and often didn’t know they wanted before they entered the store) and doing so in a manner that encourages repeat business and customer referrals.

As a resident of San Francisco I’m saddened by today’s actions and I can only hope that the communities of San Francisco come together to support local businesses and individuals who were impacted by today’s actions.

If this was associated with the Occupy movement it is yet another in a long string of black marks on that movement (there seems to be a lot of debate but it appears that there is some connection with the Occupy Oakland movement – though defining who is/isn’t affiliated is rather impossible. I’ve mostly stayed out of the Occupy movement debates – last year I was preparing for my wedding, this year I’m focused on building a business and helping many other startups across the country build their businesses. I also plan on being as involved as I can be in getting President Obama re-elected. The businesses that were targeted tonight in SF are about the farthest possible thing from the big “evil” corporations that the Occupy movement claims to be against. These are local businesses that are owned locally, that employ dozens of local residents, that buy from many other local businesses and which are building businesses that are succeeding while also behaving in responsible manners (paying more than fair wages, offering benefits, paying attention to environmental issues, etc. All while competing with both large corporations sourcing globally and Internet distribution channels in many cases.

note – if the comments on this post take an ugly turn I will simply turn off comments. This is my personal blog, if you want to rant do so on your own blog. If you want to add to the conversation and can do so without ranting or being vulgar please do so but I will be approving all comments from new commentators

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