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Friday, January 08, 2010

Yahoo Hiring More Engineers? Good Idea

In her self-evaluation for a "B-" Grade, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz notes that the company has become more focused. This Bloomberg article about the Yahoo turnaround cites recent new hires in sales and engineering as an example of the forward motion now that the tough stuff has been done. (Some Yahoos are also tweeting about the hiring, which should be no consolation to those recently downsized.)

"Geeking up" by hiring more engineers (after letting go less productive units) was one of our urgent recommendations in our Open Letter to Jerry Yang in June of 2007. It's taken 2.5 years to get that going?

In subsequent scorecards we focused on a couple of other things Yahoo could do to make a splash.

First, although the merger fell through, we're back to what we recommended in the Open Letter:

"...to this wish list I'd certainly add an interesting new partnership with Microsoft, or inking a deal to re-partner with Microsoft for search and search marketing."

Note: to re-partner with Microsoft for both search and search marketing, our recommendation of June 2007. This deal is now inked, and we're waiting for full implementation; seems like this will drag out months.

For achieving partial success on matters like this (some of them certainly disappointing for Yahoo and its shareholders), Bartz certainly deserves her B- rating (no lower).

One interesting piece of unfinished business from the wish list was urging Yahoo to acquire local search juggernaut Yelp. Recently, Yelp was rumored to be under consideration by Google to the tune of $500 million. Then, rumor had it the deal was dead. Today, Google announced a mobile feature called "Near Me Now," which some have called a potential Yelp Killer. Perhaps this would rightly send Yelp heading into the arms of a sympathetic suitor like Yahoo. But some of that depends on Yahoo's financial health and stock price over the next few months.

Even though Yelp would greatly strengthen Yahoo by helping them push hard into local search, that would also leave one major bit of unfinished business. The mobile market has progressed rapidly with the leading players, RIM, Apple, and now Google, having control over OS's as well as handsets. That leaves Yahoo in a weakened position. How to strengthen it? We always thought they'd make a nice fit for Research in Motion, since both companies seem to be in Google's and Apple's sights. It's unlikely Yahoo can play in this space with full chutzpah like Google and Apple, but they're a sympathetic brand that needs to grow or die and do so soon? They need to pull a big rabbit out of their hat here, it feels like. A confusing array of partnerships and "friendly arrangements" with their cutthroat competitors? You're only kidding yourself. Of course there's no way that Yahoo merges with RIM given the very different cultures at the two companies, and given that RIM's market cap dwarfs Yahoo's currently at $36b vs $23b.

Maybe the solution is cleaner if Yahoo continues to strengthen ties with Microsoft, before ultimately being absorbed by them. Then the three (RIM, Microsoft, Yahoo) could combine forces in the mobile market.

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