CEO Marissa Mayer On What’s Next For Yahoo (And About That Logo…)


Hof, Robert

September 11, 2013

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer still has a lot to prove.

Despite a year in which Yahoo’s stock price has doubled, Mayer has bought two dozen companies, and people are actually talking about the company–positively, in many cases!–Mayer more than anything still needs to find a way to revive declining sales. So today, she appeared for a fireside chat at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco to talk about what’s coming next with former TechCrunch editor Mike Arrington, now running Crunchfund.

Here are highlights live from the show, presented in Q&A format because frankly, Arrington’s questions are often more interesting than any of the answers he gets:

Q: Can you autograph this Vogue?

A: Sure. The back story is the photographer asked me to lie upside down for the photo.

Q: What the f*** happened with the logo?

A: I like the way the logo turned out and how we did it. Yahoo is the world’s largest startup. We want to be really scrappy. We didn’t spend millions of dollars. We did it from a very authentic place.

Q: How long before you change it?

A: The interesting thing is that most logos get changed a little bit a long time. Yahoo’s logo didn’t change at all for 18 years. From now on, we’ll do small iterations. When the logo doesn’t match the products, it’s time to change.

Q: Do you deserve the doubled stock price?

A: Some predecessors, notably Jerry Yang, made some very savvy investments, like in Alibaba. I have said it will take multiple years, probably three or four, before we get to where we want to be. Key is the same as I’ve said–people, products, traffic, revenue. You need the right people to create good products. The products have to be good. Once you’ve got that usage, especially in advertising, to attract advertisers. We had 1% growth in revenues last year. This year we’ve had stable growth. (Well, not really.)

We now get 12,000 resumes a week. Our attrition is down a factor of three or four. We’re also adding new people all the time. We have a lot of boomerangs–14% in Q1, 10% in Q2, 7-8% in Q3 because of hires out of college.

I’m really happy with some of the products we’ve released, like Yahoo Screen this week.

In terms of traffic, we’ve passed 800 million monthly active users worldwide, setting aside Tumblr. That’s up 20% from July 2012. We’re seeing a lot of additional usage on mobile. Also home page, Mail, search and other properties like news, sports, and finance. We’ve really seen people responding to the way we’ve been strengthening products

Q: This has to be hard, though. You came from Google–it almost effortlessly gets praise.

A: I like hard work. I love Google, I was there 13 years. I’m as happy or happier at Yahoo. I love big challenges.

Q: Do you think you can get this crowd back to your products?

A: How many people have been to a Yahoo property in the past month? (About half raise their hands.) We’re working on a news stream with one of the most sophisticated personalization algorithms I’ve seen. We’re really a personalization company. We want to give them more reason to come back on the site.

Q: Did you find Yahoo Mail was awful or good when you started using it?

A: There are a few key features I miss, but overall it’s a strong product. I like really basic mail (like Pine, which I use). Yahoo Mail loads faster than Gmail. We’re working a lot on speed and efficiency improvements. It’s just email, not video chats that can get in the way.

Q: What are the biggest product holes?

A: Lots of small things on the user interface. We’ve beefed up the mobile team. We’re looking at what daily habits are on the phone. What Yahoo is good at–mail, news, etc.–are good on the phone.

Q: Did you like the fingerprint scanning on the new iPhone?

A: You mocked me once offstage at TechCrunch because I had no passcode on my phone. I didn’t want to do it 15 times a day. Now I don’t have to.

Q: Are you happy that Ballmer is leaving Microsoft and who should be the next CEO?

A: Obviously Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have been huge fixtures in the industry. I admire what they’ve built. When I look at their product line, I see a lot in the enterprise area. I do think consumer executives and enterprise executives have different skills. I hope the board is looking at someone with enterprise skills.

Q: What’s your biggest weakness as a CEO?

A: I’m really lucky. There’s a community of CEOs who want to see each other succeed. Some of the greats in Silicon Valley have reached out to help. One said it’s shocking how few decisions you have to make, but you have to make them exactly right. It really, really matters. When I hold myself up to that lens, I should probably be making fewer decisions. My goal is to get the company growing again. There’s very few decisions you need to make (that happen).

Q: What are you doing to protect us from tyrannical government?

A: I agree with a lot of what Max Levchin said (supporting the NSA generally). I’m part of an organization that from 2007 has been skeptical of and has been scrutinizing the NSA requests.

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