“Come at the king, you best not miss.”
That particular axiom came from The Wire’s Omar Little, and it has a certain logic to it: If you try to assassinate the king and fail, then the retribution will be violent and swift. But that hasn’t stopped a number of people from taking swipes at Marissa Mayer, who’s only helmed Yahoo for a mere two years yet already she’s amassed several battle scars during her short tenure.
The most barbed arrows have come from Starboard Value LP, which took a large stake in Yahoo and then used it as leverage to begin pressuring Mayer into a defensive crouch. She was criticized for spending $1.1 billion on Tumblr, considered by some to be a shiny money-loser, and pressured into divvying up the money made from Alibaba’s lucrative IPO to Yahoo shareholders rather than spending it on future acquisitions. Jeffrey Smith, the activist investor from Starboard, also demanded that Mayer cut costs, sell off parts of Yahoo’s business, and pursue some sort of merger with AOL.
Mayer, in return, has shown that she isn’t willing to give up control without a fight. She personally appeared on Yahoo’s shareholder call to defend her strategy, pointing to Yahoo’s $1.2 billion in mobile revenue for 2014 and projections showing $100 million in revenue from Tumblr in 2015.
[LIKE THIS ARTICLE SO FAR? THEN YOU’LL REALLY WANT TO SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER OVER HERE]
I didn’t listen to the call, but I read about it afterward, right around the same time that I happened to reread a 2011 Bloomberg BusinessWeek feature from Brad Stone about Steve Jobs’ return to Apple and how he grew it from a market cap of $3 billion in 1997 to $350 billion at the time the piece was written. And while every tech writer can be accused of obsessing over “the next Steve Jobs,” I couldn’t help but draw several parallels between Jobs’ return to Apple after years of exile and Mayer’s ascension at Yahoo:
- Both came to power at a company that had seen better days. Apple had hired and fired three CEOs in the previous decade and was losing $1 billion a year. Yahoo had gone through four CEOs since 2001 and was losing more and more internet advertising market share to Google and Facebook.
- Both transitioned from successful companies. Steve Jobs came from Pixar, which had risen to prominence just two years prior with the box office success of Toy Story and an IPO. It would later sell to Disney for $7.4 billion. Mayer, of course, was recruited from Google, where she’d been one of its earliest hires and played a vital role in growing it to the $376 billion market cap it enjoys today.
- Jobs focused right away on improving existing products. As Stone wrote at BusinessWeek, “What Apple removed from technology products, Jobs liked to say, was just as important as what it added. He banished elements like separate numerical keypads, floppy disk drives, and computer mice with two buttons.” Marissa Mayer also went in with the intention of updating Yahoo products for the 21st century, putting in significant investment in sprucing up Yahoo Mail so it could stand as a more formidable Gmail competitor (Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson named it her most important move yet at Yahoo).
- Both shifted their respective companies’ focus to mobile. Jobs launched the iPod and later the iPhone. Mayer spent hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring several mobile startups, including a potential competitor to WhatsApp, which had been acquired by Facebook for $19 billion.
- Both brought more focus to their companies and shed excess weight. In the case of Jobs, he shut down product lines and focused on making a few core products really great. For Mayer, her housecleaning was with personnel, shuffling several top people out the door, ending remote teleworking, and laying off staff in India. She also has begun to have a laser-like focus on online video with the acquisition of Tumblr and serious investment in its video product. She recognizes that Yahoo is an advertising company, and nothing has more advertising potential right now than online video.
- Both faced lots of skepticism and had contentious relationships with shareholders. Jobs was called an idiot for opening Apple retail outlets, and Apple shareholders were constantly agitated with Jobs’ secrecy, particularly around his failing health.
- Both found themselves fending off and/or competing with Google. Jobs was furious when Google launched Android — what he considered a rip-off of Apple’s iOS — which would later go on to surpass the iPhone in market share. Yahoo has already ceded the search engine wars to Google and is now trying to take a bite out of YouTube’s viewership.
People often spoke of Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” which really amounted to a suspension of disbelief just long enough for Apple to prove that the belief was warranted all along. With Mayer fending off activist shareholders, she’s attempting her own suspension of disbelief. The question is: Will she suspend it long enough to unveil her grand design for Yahoo, the vision that will allow the company to reclaim its former glory? Or will trigger-happy, impatient shareholders pull the plug, relegating her to a growing list of former Yahoo CEOs, each a brief blip on its slow and steady decline? Unfortunately for Mayer, she might not have the 14 years that Jobs had to prove his worth and vanquish all those who took a shot at the king — and missed.
Like my writing? Then you should hire me to create awesome content for you.
Why did the CEOs of several major tech companies get away with agreeing to a no-poaching pact — and thereby suppressing the potential wages of their employees – for so long? New York’s Kevin Roose is convinced that the very tech workers who would have otherwise complained sooner were lulled into inaction by their own privilege and high pay, unable to rally the kind of outrage that would have been sparked if such anti-worker tactics had been enlisted in industries with more working class earners:
What makes tech different from other industries is that its workers are often so privileged that they don’t notice they’re getting the shaft. Even when they do, many engineers feel guilty advocating for more money, which is why events like this “Startup Equity Rally” in March almost always fall flat. (Keep in mind, also, that this guilt is partly deliberately cultivated by the executive class – the original impetus for giving tech employees over-the-top perks, after all, was to keep them from unionizing.) But high tech salaries and plentiful perks don’t make the executives’ advantage-taking any more ethical.
Whenever you work in any facet of the tech industry, you’re often looked at in derision if you dare to walk into a room and open up a PC laptop. In many cases you’ll be the only PC in a sea of Macs, and you can feel your hipness level quickly fading until you’re half expecting the jocks from Revenge of the Nerds to come running in to deliver a fusillade of wedgies.
But as someone who has spent a good bit of time with both Macs and PCs (I’ve always purchased PCs for personal use while I use a MacBook Pro at work), I couldn’t help but nod along while reading of Austin Powell’s struggle to adapt to his new Macbook Air after a lifetime of PC use:
It takes a while to find your rhythm on any new keyboard, granted, but at this rate I’d have better luck tracking down Satoshi Nakamoto. It’s as if I’ve suffered a stroke and am having to learn to type all over again—slowly typing and pounding the space bar to ensure each key takes. It’s maddening. I was almost better off when two letters were broken. At least then I had both backspace and delete buttons to work with, and I wasn’t getting tripped up by this “command” function.
I’ve spent the last few days at work as a walking “Explain Like I’m Five”Reddit thread, seeking counsel on the simplest of matters: “How do I get all of this junk off of the navigation bar?” “How do I make an em dash?” “What’s the Mac equivalent of ‘msconfig’?” It’s humiliating.
What I’ve come to realize is that many of the things that millennials consider innate simply aren’t.
Based on documents that have emerged in the ongoing patent trial between Apple and Samsung, we know that Samsung got away with issuing an extremely misleading number concerning its Galaxy tablet sales:
It concerns a vague comment made by a Samsung executive in January 2011 that led Strategy Analytics to conclude that Samsung had sold two million of Galaxy Tab—its rival to the iPad—in the first six weeks it was available.
Asked on an earnings call about the number later, Samsung vice president Lee Young-hee dodged the question completely with a vague, elaborate, jargon-rich answer.
It turns out, however, that it actually took Samsung an entire year just to sell one million Galaxy Tabs—not the widely reported two million—according to Forbes. In other words, Samsung guided analysts toward an erroneous figure, and then let it stand instead of correcting it.
This isn’t a small deception. It made it look like Apple’s share of the tablet market fell dramatically—from 95% to 75% in just two weeks. Multiple outlets immediately ran with that figure, kicking off a trend of reporting that presumed that, as happened with phones, Apple would soon cede control of the tablet market.