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Yahoo – Product Bling 1, Business Acumen 0

There’s been lots of talk about whether or not Yahoo can come back from the dead. Marissa Mayer is splashiferous and acquisitive. Yahoo has received kudos for some  “new” products (Tumblr – an acquisition and Yahoo’s new email – just a better mouse-trap)) but revenues are going nowhere fast. Will she make  it?

Well we don’t have to look very far to see what the market thinks. Currently Yahoo has a market value of around $28 billion. You are probably aware that Yahoo holds 24% of China’s Alibaba, which will soon go public. Alibaba is being valued at around $120 billion so Yahoo’s share of that is around $30 billion.

Taken at face value that means the market is ascribing a negative value  to Yahoo. All the nice recent stock  run up for Yahoo is due to Alibaba and  its CEO, Jack Ma. Yahoo is essentially a Chinese value play, with a token American as its figurehead.

Marissa Mayer was obviously brought in because the board felt she had a chance of being a chip off the old (Google) block. Let’s avoid for the moment the pointless debate as to whether Yahoo could become another Google. The deeper issue is whether or not it would benefit Yahoo even  if it did so.

Why so? Been there, done that is the answer. Here’s the thing.  Search is passé. Mobile is passé. Social media is passé. Apps are about to be passé.

By its very nature if you try to do something that’s already been done, you are already behind the eight ball, so you can’t hit one out of the park like the Yahoo shareholders want you  to.

Being Google is just not enough. Google is already showing some signs of early senescence. How about being something so new and original that it transforms an  industry and makes real money? That requires business acumen, not just product  knowledge.

If you’re a hammer, everything is a nail. It’s even possible (albeit very unlikely) that Marissa Mayer can make Yahoo into another Google, but who cares? It will just be another 2010s also-ran.

What could the new direction  be? I don’t know, above my pay scale. But how about social media cloudlets? Apps for pixies. Whatever.

First you gotta do something really different. Then you got to make money out of  it. That doesn’t only require products, or even  leadership. It also requires business acumen, which Alibaba’s Jack Ma has in spades, and clearly Yahoo doesn’t.

Yahoo looks suspiciously like it’s like one of those generals who are fighting the last war.

Jack Ma for Yahoo CEO, anyone?


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