Is Miss MM (Marissa Mayers) buying for talent or buying for fun?

It may not sound like a serious question but it is one with a serious answer and one that could show us all where the internet (and commerce) with it is going.

As no matter what you say large companies don’t get rid of billions of pounds or dollars without good reason (ok HP could be an exception, and for the record they bought into an area of growth, just perhaps the wrong company or the right company at the wrong time.) 

So it “could be” telling where they put their money. Yahoo under MM is going for location and mobile and a little bit of social too. And doing so relatively quickly and aggressively.

Not surprising as they got a LOT of catching up to do.

As Seth M reports in Mashable,In the year prior to Mayer joining the company, Yahoo acquired just one company: Interclick, an ad tech business. Part of the reason for that is Yahoo’s notoriously bad track record with acquisitions. The company spent more than $6 billion buying up companies between 2002-2012 and it appeared to do relatively little to improve its position in tech and media.

With that in mind, when Mayer unveiled her plan to start buying up companies again, she emphasized that each of these acquisitions would be in the “double-digit millions and low hundreds of millions,” rather than in the billions.

Even so, Mayer has come under some criticism for her choice of companies to date, with Pando Daily referring to Yahoo now as “a safe haven for VC rejects.”

So far, each of the startups Yahoo has acquired under Mayer have been primarily for talent rather than technology — though at least one, Summly, seems to have had its technology incorporated into Yahoo products (with mixed results.) Most of these companies were mobile-first, and several like Loki had experience with location-based services on mobile in particular.

Stamped, the very first company that Mayer acquired in October, developed a mobile app for finding and recommending activities; Alike, which was acquired in February, offered a location-discovery app for venues; Jybe, acquired in March, made personalized recommendations for places to visit and things to eat.

These acquisitions are part of Mayer’s three-step plan to bring top engineering talent back to Yahoo in order to innovate on the product side, boost user engagement and eventually attract more advertising dollars. Mayer referred to this strategy during the most recent earnings call this year as a series of “sprints.” First you get “great people,” she said, then “great products” and then more users and more advertising.

For the most part, the startups that Yahoo has acquired have been shut down and their teams have joined Yahoo’s mobile organizations in the Sunnyvale and New York offices, the latter of which is run by Robbie Stein, who headed up Stamped. While the startups have a range of expertise and backgrounds, the broader goal is to help improve Yahoo’s products. Meyer wants to move toward her ultimate goal of making Yahoo part of our everyday routines again by building mobile-friendly services that are more personalized to users.

“We have all of the content that people want on their phone, we have these daily habits,” Mayer said in an interview with Bloomberg Television earlier this year. “And I think that whenever you’re dealing with a daily habit and providing a lot of value around it there is an opportunity not only to provide a lot of value to the end user but to also create a great business.”

The question is how many more smaller businesses does Yahoo need to acquire to get there?

I don’t know the answer – my guess is a lot and to do some #greatmarketing as well – but perhaps the buying is there marketing as well.

What I think is clear is that MM is buying talent and creating a new pool of players (just like she has done elsewhere very successfully) and that mobile, social and location are key not only to Yahoo’s growth but to almost any company’s you can think of.

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