Category Archives: Management

Two weeks ago, Yahoo held its quarterly internal hack day. Today Yahoo! holds its first Open Hack Day.

The first I ever heard about a hack day was from Ken and the Jotspot guys. They had a hack day to have some fun and work on something that wasn’t on their normal “to-do list”. It was a great idea to innovate and give the team a breather from the day-to-day. As most people know by now, Yahoo took up the idea and now we’re sharing it with the world.

I sat in the audience for this last internal hack day. Of course I was impressed with all the amazing ideas and hacks I saw. Of course I saw tons of hacks that I thought could be integrated into real products. Of course some of these ideas showed real promise and could translate into real business value. But, I was much more amazed at the feeling in the air.

One of the best things that Chad, Caterina and Leonard have created is a feeling that everyone’s ideas have a place and everyone’s work deserves to be shared. Hack Day is a forum to share your ideas with a large audience and in front of Yahoo execs (this hack day was judged by Jerry Yang, a few SVPs, Sue Decker our CFO and a few other rockstar Yahoos). You could tell that all the people in the room were stoked to be sharing their ideas. But people in the room were also stoked to be seeing other Yahoos work. Everyone was supportive of their peers and I think everyone went back to their day jobs better off for it. The HAck Day team is making every Yahoo more innovative.

Now, in just a few hours, we’re starting Open Hack Day. Hundreds of developers from all over are coming to camp out on Yahoo’s campus and to hack using Yahoo APIs from YDN. Just like our internal hack days, I expect to see lots of great hacks. But I’m most excited to see that feeling in the air. The day starts with sessions about how to use our APIs, then people get settled in, then awesome entertainment and the hacking begins. The presentations take place on Saturday afternoon and I look forward to seeing people from different companies (sometimes competitors of each other) creating that supportive space – that feeling in the air.

If you’ll be here, please come up to me and say hi, and happy hacking. Let’s make it a place where everyone gets to shine.

My post last week about Entrepreneurship/Intrapreneurship got lots of reaction, thanks in part to Dave Winer, who linked to it and helped it spread around. Thanks Dave!

A few of the responses got me thinking. In particular, Ross Mayfield’s post sparked an interesting discussion. He said:

But shouldn’t any knowledge worker be able to do this at a BigCo? I have problems with using the word Intrapreneur, except for describing an innovative spirit.

I think Ross missed my point here. The examples I shared (getting sponsored search to Yahoo and getting RSS into Yahoo) were exactly describing the innovative spirit and that anyone who believes passionately can make it happen. In both examples, a few of us pushed big change through, and we did it without deep pockets and at some level of personal risk. That leads to the next point, Ross Said:

The difference between an Intrapreneur and an Entrepreneur is the latter takes personal risk.

I don’t agree that there is no risk in Intrapreneurship, however, it is very clear that someone who starts their own company risks a heck of a lot more. Andrew Fife hit the nail on the head:

…the greatest personal risk is ones monthly salary. Entrepreneurship failure means ones salary goes to zero. Intrapreneurship failure may lead to a slowing of one’s salary growth rate. As someone whose startup recently failed, I can attest that this is a significant difference in personal risk.

Here on my own blog, visitor Phil Ayres commented and summarized what I said (boy am I too wordy). I think he got it mostly right, so let me comment:

1) innovative or disruptive ideas are most easily adopted by organizations when they are forced to do something (50% drop in revenue is a good example you give) – otherwise there can be too many barriers put in place to allow anything new to be adopted.

I disagree with this one Phil. Really, you just need to explain the market situation and paint a picture of how the world will look in a year if you don’t act. Search was easy, the trend charts were all down. RSS was much harder, we saw the future, but there wasn’t any immediate problem. I had to share my vision of the world if Yahoo missed the boat. BTW, Yahoo is #1 in RSS now, and all the others launched RSS – imagine what Yahoo would look like if we were still arguing.

2) work in an organization that encourages intrapreneurship, rather than one that just suffers it. Some companies like the idea of idea-ism, just that their afraid of it.

Agreed. But if you are in that kind of company, fight, fight, fight to set it right. And if people don’t get it, get out.

3) for any idea, build a convincing business plan before investing too much in it. Only with continued buy-in from the execs will you be able to get the other organizational changes that are required to fully deliver.

I would change that a bit. Build a convincing business CASE not a plan. Imagine what success looks like and explain that. Pull some numbers together, but don’t spend 6 months writing a plan, instead you should…

4) Get a prototype, beta, or working thing out of the door and in front of customers fast. Ideas that need many months to bring to fruition will never fly in this model. Maybe better said, pick ideas that are as agile as the organization would like to believe it is.

Bingo! Ultimately customers decide on the success or failure of your business, product, service, whatever. There’s no better way to learn and evolve than getting it out there. Thanks Phil for the insight and the help condensing me.

I first heard the term Intrapreneur from Guy Kawasaki and its something that has stuck in my head ever since. The term has been around for a very long time and simply represents:

The spirit of entrepreneurship within an existing organization.

Intrapreneur is a person who focuses on innovation and creativity and who transforms a dream or an idea into a profitable venture, by operating within the organizational environment. Thus, Intrapreneurs are Inside entrepreneurs….

Before I took my new job, I thought a lot about doing my own startup or joining others just starting our on their own. I’ve long had the entrepreneurial bug and I wondered if this was the right time.

This new job I’ve taken within Yahoo allows me to be entrepreneurial within a large company. It’s my startup within this 10,000+ people company. And, while I was thinking it through, I realized that I had long been an “Intrapreneur”. Over my career, I’ve worked a number of startups and a few big companies. Everytime I worked at big companies, I always found a way to go a bit against the grain to make interesting things into reality.

As an intrapreneur here at Yahoo, I made the biggest business impact of my career (so far). I took over Yahoo Search just as the .com crash was hitting Yahoo. I inherited a business that was making 1/2 of what it made the previous year and each month it got worse. At that time, the prevailing thought was that we should change Yahoo Search to ONLY search the Yahoo Directory and make money by forcing all websites in the directory to pay us an annual fee. I thought this was a very bad idea (duh). So, I got to work with the help of some amazing people and laid out the argument for why full web search with sponsored listings was the way to go. At an exec offsite in Sonoma, I showed exactly how we were going to make it happen, and that we could do it in only a few months. Terry had just joined and realized that there was something to what I was saying and gave me and my team the chance to do it (oh, and he gave us some of the brightest people to help). It was was extremely fun to make this 3,000 person company see things a bit differently and move quickly to re-make itself after the downturn. You all know how that business has turned out for Yahoo and I’m happy to say that the intrapreneurial spirit made that happen.

More recently, I had the chance again to work for change within the company. Early on, people in the company had said “you really ought to look at RSS”. In fact, one of the best My Yahoo engineers had already built a My Yahoo RSS reader on his own time. RSS wasn’t well known at the time (very few newspapers or sites had feeds) but we knew it could be really big. There were a LOT of people in the company who still felt that we should be a walled garden and that doing this would kill our media business. So we quickly (in three months) created a scaleable RSS platform for Yahoo and shipped it (Jan 2004). We purposely kept it hidden and just let it leak out to the blogosphere. The growth was tremendous – users and traffic grew in multiples every month. It grew so fast that we got the nerve up to go ask major papers & sites to start publishing RSS (Newsweek, Time, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal all launched in July of that year, and all with some form of “Add to My Yahoo” buttons). And like any entrepreneurial group, we realized that we were onto something, so we redesigned My Yahoo around RSS, and by that time, the company had caught up and realized it would help Yahoo for us to fully embrace RSS.

Now I have a new job. In this job, I get to play with new ideas every day and look at how to use that entreprenuerial spirit to do some exciting things, learn about new things, and find the next big ideas. I know I’m up for the challenge.

Fellow Yahoo Chad Dickerson wrote a thoughtful post called Tactical is the New Strategic. He writes:

big company managers routinely describe themselves as either “tactical” or “strategic.” Typically, those who say they are “strategic” talk down to those considered more “tactical”, directly or indirectly. This is wrong-headed.

I’m not saying that strategy isn’t important, just that strategy directly combined with tactical skill is the real killer combo.

I’ve always felt this way and I like to think that I’m the type of person who can do both — craft a winning strategy and make it happen. Over the years, people have been kind enough to say that they see this combination in me and that its a very rare thing. But I’ve also met director-level and VP-level managers (yes, here at Yahoo) who consider them self “strategic” “big thinkers” who love to dismiss me as “tactical” (as if its an insult). And its funny, I’m relatively dismissive of those folks because while I see them talking all the time, I rarely see anything come of it.

In my time here at Yahoo, I’ve probably interviewed over 1000 people (no kidding) and hired at least 50 or so. When I hire, I am constantly searching for that combination of someone who could step back and see how the world is changing and seek out ways to win AND gets excited about all the details that we need to nail to get it right. When I first interview people I ask a series of questions to get to the heart of the this. They usually put themselves into the do-er camp (tactical) or the thinker camp (strategic). It amazes me how quickly people identify with those. But the folks that are ultimately going to be most successful are the ones who get excited about both. They thoughtfully articulate why a product needs to completely change direction and then talk about the most minor detail that we just need to fix to make things better for consumers. I’m lucky to have hired a lot of people like this (and by the way, they aren’t just managers, they are all over).

Winning companies have always recognized that you need this combination. When I notice that a company doesn’t get it – that values tactical execution over strategy OR values those people who talk strategy but want others to “do the dirty work” – then I see a company in trouble. You need both. So what are you? And what does your company value?

In my job, I get to meet lots of people at startups and big companies, and more and more I’m reminded of the fact that successful companies are all about the people. Back in my startup days, VCs and advisors always looked really closely at the team and the people as a indicator of potential success. At the time I really didn’t understand, but now that I’m exposed to as many companies as those VCs see, I get it.

When I first started at Yahoo seven years ago I knew I walked into a very special place. I realized that I had just walked into a company full of incredibly smart people who were practical and passionate and could execute. It took me a while to get comfortable and to work at their level, but I knew we were gonna do lots of great things.

Now when I look at startups, I look to see if they have what I first saw in Yahoo:

  • Company A – This company got a lot of initial buzz about its founder and the area they were entering into, and got a bunch of initial usage from folks “in the know”. Since then though, the company hasn’t seemed to take off. When I met their head of BD at a conference (one of about only 10 employees), he struck me as someone who just wasn’t very happy in his job, wasn’t very excited about the product and overall really wished he could be doing something else. On top of that, he struck me as not really “getting” all the great things we see transforming the web. Here’s a guy that should be exciting and passionate, but I was left feeling like this company wasn’t going to be the darling we all expected it to be.
  • Company B – This company really doesn’t have the buzz of company A, but is plugging away at doing interesting things and my guess is that they are hoping to be acquired by Yahoo, Google or MSN. I had a similar experience though when I met their BD guy. He just rambled on about things that made it clear that he really didn’t understand the space. I later met the CEO and other members of the team and felt that they do have some good folks, so my verdict here is mixed. Overall, their performance has been mixed. Their products get a little attention, but don’t seem to ignite a lot of passion from users or the community. Is the root cause that they have hired a mixed bag of people?
  • Company C – This company seems to be taking off like a rocket. From the moment I met the people from this company I was impressed. They all were talented, passionate and execution oriented and they reminded me of how I felt when I started at Yahoo: they were all smarter than me. One by one as I met these guys it was clear that this company was going places. As they’ve hired, I’ve met their new employees and they are of the same high caliber as the others. This company’s results have been stellar, they are innovating like crazy and I’m now always keeping a close eye on what they are up to. They’ve figured out the formula.

I guess the moral of the story is that the most important thing anyone can do in their job is to hire the best people. People who are passionate, focused, smart and more than capable. I’ve been lucky to find such people for my team at Yahoo! If I ever were to go down the startup path, hiring the best people would be my #1 priority, because I want to end up like Company C.

VC Rick Segal has a great post about how to treat employees who are leaving your company.

Over the years at Yahoo! and at other companies I’ve inevitably had to watch some great team members move onto new and different careers, take time off or whatever. When people left, I did try to make them feel that they would be missed and most of the time tried to organize a bon voyage party/lunch for them. But until Rick’s post, I never really thought about the exit interview process and how the company handles these folks (It’s time for me to learn).

Rick’s post also fits into a school of management thought that just really should be common sense: treat your people like people, not like an “asset” or a “resource”.