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Monday, April 8, 2013

Daily Report: Thinking Like a Start-Up, at Yahoo

Since taking the reins at Yahoo, Marissa Mayer has been trying to convince customers and employees that there is still life in a company that Silicon Valley long ago left for dead, Jenna Wortham and Nicole Perlroth write in The New York Times on Monday.

Yahoo, an Internet pioneer, missed the boat on social networks and mobile devices as the new gateways for information and, in recent years, had been losing advertisers and employees to rivals like Facebook and Google.

Critical to Ms. Mayer’s turnaround effort is infusing fresh blood and ideas into the company by buying creative start-ups and integrating them into the company. So since she took over last July, she has been on a splashy shopping spree, spending tens of millions of dollars to acquire six start-ups.

But in many ways, it has been a tough sell.

In part, that is because of the past problems with acquisitions. Yahoo’s neglect of Flickr, a pioneering photo service that was the Instagram of its time, and Delicious, an early social bookmarking tool that predated Twitter’s rise, are prominent examples of the company’s mishandling of promising acquisitions.

These days, too, Ms. Mayer has to compete against the deep pockets of competitors like Twitter, Google and Facebook, which are also trying to buy great technologies and hire top talent.

Still, there is evidence that she is making inroads.

Increasingly, entrepreneurs say, she is getting personally involved in acquisitions, focusing particularly on mobile-minded engineers. She is also trying to reverse Yahoo’s reputation as a company that acquires talent and innovative technologies and then lets them wither.

Last month, Yahoo made headlines when it acquired Summly, a newsreading mobile app started by a 17-year-old in England, for an undisclosed sum. In October, it acquired Stamped, a mobile recommendation service.

Robby Stein, who sold Stamped to Yahoo, said he was willing to take a chance on the company given Ms. Mayer’s solid track record at Google, where she helped perfect Web search and was largely credited with the clean aesthetic of the Google home page.

“After conversations with Marissa and others, it became very clear that this was a unique moment in time where we could have a phenomenal impact and affect millions of people,” said Mr. Stein, a former Google employee himself, who worked alongside Ms. Mayer on Google’s mail products. “There are few opportunities like that.” (The New York Times Company was a small investor in Stamped.)

Mr. Stein said he was now concentrating on building a “major mobile development center in New York” for Yahoo. He is determined to imbue it with the ethos of an agile, lean start-up, not as an outpost of a large corporation.