Once upon a time, there was a company known as Yahoo, a giant that once ruled the internet. It was the virtual doorway to the online world, much like Google is today. But then came a day when two young and somewhat goofy individuals from a little-known company called Google approached Yahoo. Their mission? To pitch a revolutionary search engine, one that could revolutionize Yahoo’s search capabilities and truly help people find stuff.
Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo, listened to these two Stanford-educated newcomers, and in essence, he responded, “It’s not our mission to help people find stuff. You see, our business model thrives on the revenue generated by those pesky advertisements that appear as people wade through the heaps of trash results in search of stuff.”
With that, the Google team bid their farewells to Yahoo and embarked on a journey of their own. Meanwhile, Yahoo discovered that users didn’t search for the chance to view ads; they actually wanted to find the information they sought. This was the beginning of Yahoo’s downward spiral.
As Google gradually replaced Yahoo as the internet’s gateway, the folks at Yahoo searched desperately for a solution.
Perhaps this thought crossed the mind of Yahoo’s board chairman: “Let’s part ways with Jerry Yang and bring in someone who had the foresight to hop aboard the Facebook success train when it was still relevant (yes, kids, Facebook was once a big deal).”
Let’s take a closer look at the actions taken by Marissa Mayer to prevent Yahoo from sinking further:
- Cancellation of Yahoo’s Work-at-Home Policy: The decision to revoke this privilege, valued by demoralized and underpaid tech workers, did little to boost team morale.
- Drunken Sailor Spending on Aqui-hires: Mayer indulged in a spending spree on mergers and acquisitions, welcoming new employees through costly acqui-hires at a staggering $1 million per head. This approach created a plethora of new millionaires at Yahoo, but how long would startup dreamers stick around after fulfilling their contracts?
- Email Design Changes: An overhaul of Yahoo’s email design alienated the few remaining Yahoo email users who were willing to tell signal to the world they were nerds by sporting a @yhoo.com email address, the cyber equivalent of wearing Crocs, solely to avoid learning a new user interface.
- Performance Ranking and Rating Policy: Mayer introduced a policy that encouraged the dismissal of the lowest-performing employees. This approach contradicted the practices of most corporate culture experts and other tech giants like Microsoft, who had abandoned similar methods due to their adverse effects on teamwork.
- Logo Redesign: Mayer invested millions in fixing the only thing that wasn’t broken at Yahoo… the company logo, resulting in a minor font change—an expense that seemed unwarranted.
In 2012, Mayer took the reins of Yahoo, valued at $19 billion. Five years later, she presided over a significant decline, with the company’s market value plummeting by $15 billion before selling to Verizon for $4.5 billion. Some questioned whether larger blunders could have been made.
Then, along came Elon Musk, who seemed determined to one-up Marissa Mayer’s missteps. As he assumed control of Twitter, looked at Mayer and said, you think you screwed up? Hold my beer! He then went on to:
- Reinstating Banned Accounts: Musk allowed previously banned accounts, which had a history of deception, abuse, and spreading misinformation, back onto the platform.
- Employee Layoffs: He initiated layoffs, including those responsible for enforcing content policies and led to constant outages.
- Selling Blue Check Marks: Musk permitted any schmoo to purchase a blue checkmark, once a symbol of authenticity for famous individuals, as long as they were willing to pay for it.
- Rebranding as ‘X’: In a surprising move, Musk not only altered the Twitter logo but also rebranded the platform from a globally recognized brand to ‘X.’ Just like Google had created a new lexicon, “Google it”, Twitter had its own new verb, “Tweet that.” Countless users migrated to products like Threads, where they now Tweet jokes about Musk and X.
Elon Musk paid $44 billion for X or Twitter or whatever you want to call that trainwreck of a company that lost an estimated $30 billion in value since Elon set sail on his sinking Titanic.
In both cases, it appears that historical lessons were not heeded, resulting in a series of questionable decisions that left many scratching their heads. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.