Carol Bartz on Yahoo, Facebook, and Google

Faith Merino · November 16, 2010 · Short URL:

Bartz talks about competitors, partners, and what makes Yahoo different

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz just stepped off the stage following a lively interview that made me hope that she has an adult son that I can marry so she can be my mom. I think she would be a cool mother-in-law...

The interview launched with the point-blank question: What is Yahoo? 

"This question has interested me because I think Yahoo has a simple story.  Content, communications, media.  That's what Yahoo is," said Bartz.

Has Yahoo lost its edge, though? 

Bartz answered that question with a wistful anecdote.  "I was being interviewed on CNBC the day Yahoo went public...The interviewer--this nasty woman--said to me 'what do you think of that company with that funny name?'  I said 'Yahoo for them!'  I was there supporting them when they went big.  It has stood for fun and relevance.  Has it had a couple rough years?  Sure.  I don't think you're tested as a person or a company until you've hit tough times."

But what are people actually using Yahoo for these days?  Is it still relevant?

Bartz believes that people continue to come to Yahoo for content and relevant information.  People need interactivity, said Bartz, so Yahoo is looking to make users' experience more personalized.  "For example, screens are getting smaller so a pixel can't be wasted."  You have to find out what people are doing and give them what they're looking for without wasting any space.  And you have to do it fast.  "And you just can't scale if you don't have a science," said Bartz.  

The conversation pivoted over to Google.  "Who wouldn't aspire to be Google?" said Bartz.  "But we're not a Google, we're a Yahoo."  Bartz added that Yahoo is not Google.  While the companies are considered search engine rivals, Bartz outlined that the two are different companies.

The topic of social also came up.  Yahoo has recently announced integration with Zynga and Twitter, and has deeply integrated Facebook.  

"You know social is a word that's been around for a long, long time," said Bartz. "The idea that social exists only one place on the is about interaction...there are all kinds of ways to do social.  We're not trying to copy anybody.  If we aggregate content, we can aggregate their social experiences.  People don't go to Facebook OR Yahoo; they go to Facebook AND Yahoo."

Bartz admits that one thing that Yahoo should have done a long time ago was accept anyone's log-in, be it Facebook, Google, etc.  

And then the elephant in the room came up: a lot of senior managers have flown the Yahoo coup.  Why would an engineer come to Yahoo over Facebook, Google, or Groupon?

"People really want to make a difference. They don't want to come in and be one of 15,000 smart kids. They want a job to do.  There are a lot of fascinating jobs to do at Yahoo, and we're hiring every day."

What about the rumor of the private equity buy-out?

"I love being a public CEO!" exclaimed Bartz, smiling as she refused to answer the question.  "The first rule of being a public CEO is you can't comment on mergers, acquisitions, etc., so I won't."

When asked what kinds of companies Yahoo acquires, Bartz listed off three things that Yahoo looks for in companies: technology, content (especially content for moms and babies, Bartz noted) and acquisition of new users.

Demand Media also came up as a leader in the content space.  "I'm very happy that Richard (Rosenblatt) is putting the spotlight on a real, viable growth engine for the Internet," said Bartz.

In a sudden lightning round, Bartz was asked to spout out the first thing that came to mind when she heard another word:

Apple: "beatles."

Twitter: "tweet"

Microsoft: "partner"

Facebook: "competition"

HP: "Where's Leo?"

Google: "Great company--ha, ha, ha!"

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