A Week After CEO's Ouster, Everyone Has an Opinion on Yahoo
A week after Yahoo named Ross Levinsohn interim CEO following the Scott Thompson resume scandal, opinions still abound over Yahoo's true identity, its potential and how to get there.
In two on-stage interviews at TechCrunch's Disrupt conference in New York City on Monday, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington peppered Fred Wilson, the venture capitalist, and Brad Garlinghouse, former Yahoo senior VP-communications and communities, with a variety of Yahoo-related questions. On the subject of Mr. Thompson, Mr. Wilson pulled no punches: "I think that he was a terrible CEO for Yahoo."
Yahoo's lawsuit against Facebook proved that Mr. Thompson was "clueless about the way the world works," Mr. Wilson said. (Back in March, Mr. Wilson had written on his blog AVC that Yahoo had "broken ranks and crossed the unspoken line which is that web companies don't sue each other over their bogus patent portfolios.")
Going forward, Yahoo should "refocus around being a big media company on the internet," advised Mr. Wilson, whose VC firm Union Square Ventures has invested in Twitter, Tumblr, Zynga and Foursquare. "There's a business there." And whoever leads the company long-term should continue to shrink the organization's size and focus, he said, and possibly attempt to take the company private, which would set it free from Wall Street expectations.
Mr. Garlinghouse, who was recently named CEO of YouSendIt following a stint at AOL, joked that the first thing he did when he heard about Mr. Thompson's resume troubles was "make sure that everything was accurate on my resume." He felt that Mr. Thompson initially seemed to be a "very capable leader" but that the Yahoo board was left with no choice but to oust him.
On Yahoo's future, Mr. Garlinghouse cited a 1990s cover story about the demise of Apple before Steve Jobs came back to reignite the company's growth, suggesting that Yahoo could experience a similar renaissance. To get there, Mr. Garlinghouse said, "I would be aggressive as an acquirer."
His two targets? Flipboard, which pulls users' social feeds into magazine-style experiences on tablets and smartphones, and Gravity, a startup that can help digital publishers personalize content for their readers. So, yes, Mr. Garlinghouse also believes Yahoo should double down on media.
All indications are that the latest iteration of Yahoo will indeed be media-focused. On a panel discussion last week, new Yahoo board member Michael J. Wolf proclaimed: "Yahoo is a technology-driven media company. The debate really is over."
Separately, Yahoo announced Sunday night that it had finally inked a deal to sell some of its stake in the Chinese internet company Alibaba for about $7.1 billion before taxes, payable in cash and Alibaba stock. The company said that most of the proceeds would be returned to shareholders.