Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer on “re-envisioning” Yahoo for a mobile-first world

By Jessica Davies | News Editor

November 20, 2013 | 4 min read

Yahoo has to continuously “reinvent” itself to ensure it meets its mobile-first objectives, according to CEO and president Marissa Mayer.

Speaking during a fireside chat with Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco Mayer said Yahoo is riding the mobile wave to reinvention.

“We don’t think of ourselves as design-first we think of ourselves as mobile-first. When you look at what’s happening with the overall mobile trend in our industry it’s clear it is a wave large enough that you can ride it to reinvention.

"Yahoo, like many companies, has to constantly reinvent itself. The scary part of reinvention is that it happens best with platform shift,” she said.

Yet Yahoo’s roots are steeped in products that are geared towards what people do on mobile phones, which puts it in an advantageous position, according to Mayer.

“When you look at products that Yahoo has always had to offer, they have always correlated to what people do on the phone, whether it’s mail, maps, news, weather, games, share photos, stock quotes. What’s crazy is when you actually list all of those out, it might be what people do on their phones, or it might be Yahoo’s core offerings since the very beginning,” she said.

However, Mayer admitted she was alarmed when she first joined the company to find the mobile developer team was understaffed at only 60 people.

She said she made this her immediate priority to build the mobile team, but added that rather than “setting out a grand plan” when she arrived at the company last year, she only had to “help Yahoo realise the greatness that had always been there – the great ideas, the great products, and how we could envision that in a more modern way," she added.

She referenced advice Google’s executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt - who she called her mentor - gave her once which has helped steer her during her time at Yahoo.

“He told me good executives confuse themselves when they convince themselves they do things. Your job is to play defence - you have to run in a certain direction and clear a path to let all the people [employees] run as fast as they can, and you clear all the bureaucracy and the naysayers out of the way."

This way of thinking has led her to introduce new initiatives during her time at Yahoo such as Process Bureaucracy Jams (PBJs), which involves letting employees vote out issues they believe are impeding their progress or development.

Mayer said there can be a trade-off between sophistication and simplicity when it comes to designing new digital products. “When there are ten different things a user might do on a screen that’s where it can get confusing. It’s about helping design for the most common use case,” she said.

“While I don’t get to design the products I do get to design the organisation. I get to design the strategy and how does it feel to be an employee or user of yahoo – that’ the most interesting design challenge I’ve had in my career and is what gets me excited every day,” she said.

Yahoo rolled out a new redesign last month including a new logo and look to its Mail service.

Mayer's comments were briefly interrupted by a small group of protesters who began chanting about her involvement on Walmart's board of directors.

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