Building great products -- products that change the game, that put a dent in the universe, and move the needle -- is far more important than focusing on revenue. It's exactly what Yahoo! needs to do.
I joined Yahoo! in 2005 to lead part of its advertising technology team. I lasted around 7 months. During that time I met genius-level engineers and passionate product leaders, I participated in hundreds of hours of soul searching strategy and planning sessions, I worked on a variety of projects, and after about 6 months I realized I hadn't delivered anything. The game was the same, the universe was smooth and uniform, and no needles had been moved. I loved the Yahoo! brand and the people, but whatever the leadership at the time was interested in, it was not building great products.
My experience at Yahoo! led me to two insights and a quest:
The Insight: Don't join a team that isn't totally absorbed in winning; Don't join a team that doesn't need me to win.
The Quest: Find a tech company that is truly and deeply interested in only building great products.
How do you find a team that really and truly wants to win with every fiber of it's being? That's easy, but it took me a long long time to recognize it:
Nothing is off the table. Everything is negotiable, open for review, and amenable to change. Sacred cows are the worst kind of roadblocks: They slow down traffic and you can't consume them to release their energy back into the system.
When I was at Yahoo! much of my time as a manager was spent pushing aside processes and policies and people that used to work but clearly didn't work anymore. One of the founders of Yahoo! reviewed every single server purchase to make sure we weren't blowing our budget on expensive servers and networking gear. This is an admirable attention to detail for a startup on a tight budget. In 2005 when Yahoo! had millions of dollars a month in revenue it was just an innovation speed bump. I could not push him aside.
There are other signals as well: Do I feel like a spent athlete everyday after work as if I had just run a marathon? Is communication passionate, pandemic, and plain? Are micromanagers and brilliant jerks shown the door? Most importantly, is there a tremendous amount of attention paid to how and why people are hired? (Every hire is a critical hire.)
If the answer is yes to all-of-the above then you have a winning technology team.
If winning is the only thing, you've already lost: Tech companies solely focused on winning the race at any cost, like athletes who dope or financiers who bet on derivatives do not build sustainable businesses or great products. They build one hit wonders.
This is where the focus on great products comes in! By their very nature, and this is something that Mayer seems to really understand, great products create long term outcomes and whole ecosystems that generate dollars and legions of loyal customers.
At Yahoo! in 2005 we spent too much time talking about being a fast follower (should we do what Google is doing?) or being a pioneer (should we strike out in some dramatic new direction?). What I have learned from my personal experience at Apple, DoubleClick, and Spotify is this: If you have to ask the question, follow or lead, then you have already lost the race.
Building great products is what we are doing at the Huffington Post. We're not focused on checking the price of the stock or where we rank on Alexa. We're focused on the elections, jobs, getting you the news, making an impact, and breaking down the 4th wall between reader and journalist. Now with HuffPost Live, we're breaking the wall between viewer and broadcaster too!
I'm going to cheer Mayer and Yahoo! on. I want to see epic new products that not only revitalize one of the greatest names on the Internet but also make the web an even better place for all of us Yahooligans and HuffPosters alike.