Marissa Mayer Has Your Money

Marissa Mayer has your money. And maybe you should care.

would you rather listen?

This piece is not a Marissa Mayer hatchet job. Ms. Mayer is as qualified to run Yahoo! as anyone—mostly because as time goes on it becomes more and more obvious that no-one is going to be saving Yahoo! from itself. The question is “why?”.

The answer is pretty simple. Yahoo! can’t figure out what kind of company it is.

Once upon a time, Yahoo! was a search engine You may still use Yahoo! that way—or at least you might believe you do; Yahoo!’s search is largely powered by Microsoft’s Bing—but Yahoo! has been careening in many directions for longer than Marissa Mayer’s worked there.

Whatever you think of the way Yahoo! uses it, the fact that Marissa Mayer has your money isn’t the point. Neither is her company’s lax enforcement of accounting principles. The issues plaguing Yahoo! are mostly a matter of unclear business process.

Fixing business process is what we do here, so Marissa, in the unlikely event you see this please feel free to reach out. But despite Yahoo! having the nerve to legitimize porn, there’s only so far you can go when you don’t know what kind of company you are.

Regardless of how you see the “Marissa Mayer has your money” issue, the question is whether Yahoo! is a technology company or a media company. And I have no idea what the answer is. More important, neither does Yahoo!.

Assume the answer isn’t “tech company”, though (look back at the search engine issue for proof). Is Yahoo! a media company?

It sure seems that way, but Yahoo! has been spending big bucks building media for several years now and despite having a tremendous amount of traffic overall, it’s likely you didn’t even realize that former NBC News Anchor Katie Couric works there. So does former New York Times lead technology columnist David Pogue, in case you thought he’d simply dropped off the face of the earth.

Wait, it gets even better: did you know Yahoo! runs a video production operation creating original programming like what comes from Netflix and Amazon Video? No? You’re not alone. I’d never heard of Yahoo! Screen until a couple of weeks ago when I tripped on it doing a bit of research on one of the actors in one of its programs (note: just a few days after we published this piece, Yahoo! Screen was shut down).

You’d think this impossible. With the number of eyeballs Yahoo! has overall and the money they spend, surely there’s some marketing talent there, right?

Our parent company is in several businesses, with the things we do operated as separate units. Our newest baby The Website Helpers is about to launch, and a client who knows a bit about our plans asked me recently about a decision we’ve made; unlike Answer Guy Central and The WordPress Helpers—which it’s replacing—The Website Helpers won’t be carrying advertising. Why? Because The Website Helpers isn’t a media play.

The two main issues to consider are volume of traffic, and whether it’s traffic that makes you money. Literally, of course more traffic equals more cash, but at a media company the traffic is the money. The WordPress Helpers was about the media; The Website Helpers is about a service we’ll be selling. Then, there’s a more hybrid approach; we run ads at Answer Guy Central because our goal here is neither about media nor selling a thing.

We know those things, and how our business units differ. So with that as context, ask yourself again: how is it that Marissa Mayer has your money?

If you’re a Yahoo! shareholder, maybe that’s the only question that matters. Phrased differently, you might ask “does anyone really know what Yahoo! is doing?”.

Happy New Year, friends.

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