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Episode 21 July 12, 2016 | 32min

A Chat about Yahoo

Our co-founders discuss Yahoo's acquisitions throughout Marissa Mayer's tenure as CEO.

Show Notes

Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo acquisitions: this week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade start the discussion with a recent Gizmodo article by the very talented Sophie Kleeman about the fate of all 53 companies Yahoo has purchased under Mayer’s leadership. Topics covered include acqui-hires, managing up v. managing down, Silicon Valley’s disdain for humans doing normal human things, and Rich’s favorite Yahoo acquisition, Summly. They also float an alternate title for the episode: “Daddy Issues.”

Paul: Hey, I’m Paul Ford.

Rich: And I’m Rich Ziade.

Paul: You’re listening to Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight. Rich, what’s Postlight?

Rich: A New York City-based digital studio where we build platforms and apps and really cool innovative stuff. Get in touch if you want to do something crazy.

Paul: Send us an email. [email protected]. That goes to Rich and me both, so that if you have any questions, we’ll be sure to see it. And any questions and issues you have with this podcast, you just get in touch the same way. [email protected].

Rich: Yep.

Paul: Rich today, this morning, I woke up and an article went out and it’s in Gizmodo, which is a Gawker property.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And it’s by Sophie Kleeman.

Rich: OK.

Paul: And it’s called “Here’s What Happened to All 53 of Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo Acquisitions.” It’s a long article.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s a thorough article, but basically the gist of it is that very few of those had an outcome separate from they shut it down and the employees went to work for Yahoo.

Rich: Yeah. Now, before we get into this, it’s really easy, and morbidly satisfying, to point out the failures — if you want to call them failures — of big, powerful media figures, CEOs and the like. So I don’t know what I’m getting at here, I just want to acknowledge that it’s just fun to do.

Paul: Well I mean we have to, look, you know, everyone now likes to beat up on Mayer, but this is one of the more successful businesspeople, entrepreneurs and business leaders, of the millennium.

Rich: Yeah, exactly so…

Paul: She —

Rich: She’s done well in the past.

Paul: Things that make Google ‘Google’ are her work.

Rich: Yeah. And you could argue that there’s no human being walking the earth who was going to step into Yahoo and turn it into this incredible turnaround story.

Paul: Here’s what’s tricky. Let’s talk through a few of them. I sort of have a pattern —

Rich: I have one I want to focus on, but go ahead.

Paul: Is that Summly?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah, we’re going to talk about that in a minute.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But I mean, let’s just pick one at random. A lot of these, I’d never heard of, so…

Rich: Yeah, me too.

Paul: Rondee. OK, this is directly from the article. It was a conference calling service. It was acquired June 2013. R-o-n-d-e-e. It stopped accepting new users, it stopped giving users access to old data, and it noted the team would be joining Yahoo’s small business team. So that’s just a classic acqui-hire.

Rich: Well that’s the thing: for a lot of these the shutting down isn’t necessarily failure.

Paul: Because Yahoo has a lot of money, right? It needs to get —

Rich: And it’s trying to get talent.

Paul: Mobile talent.

Rich: It’s in an environment where it’s not the sexiest place to work. In fact, it’s probably…sixth or seventh on the list. There’s all the other top-tier names—

Paul: Well especially—

Rich: And the hot start-ups.

Paul: If it’s competing withs start-ups, it’s 50th on the list.

Rich: It’s 50th, if you’re going to line up start-ups, exactly. So, you know, they needed a means to get people in the door, and this was a way to do it. So when you see, I mean, that’s what I think is a little unfair about this article, is a lot of these are shut-downs, and they’re shutting them down because that’s exactly what they wanted to do.

Paul: Well it’s not even—

Rich: They wanted to shift the talent.

Paul: It’s not unfair. It’s just cataloguing what was in it.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And there’s a thing that goes on with acqui-hires, too, which, everyone talks about acqui-hires and kind of rolls their eyes at them, but what you’re filtering for is someone who can actually ship a freakin’ product. When you hire these people, you’re looking at them and you’re going, “Whatever you did here to get this out the door, I need you to come to us and do it, because I can’t — ”

Rich: Yeah. As a team, often.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: “Hey guys, stay together, we’re not gonna really mess…” I think, you’re really asking for trouble if you grab twenty people through an acqui-hire and then break them up into little pieces and send them off to different teams within your organization.

Paul: Yeah, I don’t know if, I don’t know they do that, but it’s totally true. The high-performing teams in engineering, very, very talented engineers, we focus on them a lot, people talk about “rockstar programmers” and “10X engineers” and all that.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: But the absolute focus of this business, the thing that really, really matters, is building the cohesive team. Because there’s another, there’s a lot of fantasies, like, let’s get get one full-stack guy who’s like a good programmer who can also design who will build everything for us.

Rich: That’s a…that’s an illusion.

Paul: You know, and people have these fantasies that these people are going to show up and work on their crappy projects and deliver them. The reality is that, in the world of actually shipping software, teams starting at, like, four people to like, twelve people — after that, actually, it starts to break apart again.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: These, like, cohesive groups of human beings that have a demonstrated ability to actually, like, get the app in the app store?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like, so that someone can download it and use it.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And it sounds really dumb, to just say it that way, but the number of things that can keep that from happening is, like, thousands.

Rich: Yeah. Totally.

Paul: So if I’m Marissa Mayer, and I realize that I’m not, I don’t have the volume of movement, I don’t have the, like, I’m not shipping that many apps —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I’m gonna just see if I can get, whatever I can get in, where that’s what they know how to do.

Rich: Yeah. Exactly. And that’s what you see, that with I think just about every one of these, just got shut down. Some were strategic, it’s worth noting. Obviously the biggest example is Tumblr. Tumblr was not for the people.

Paul: And that was a piece of traffic that they couldn’t get through…Yahoo Mail, or through Yahoo News.

Rich: Yeah, that was the thinking, it was going to be, this was their step forward as a modern internet media brand. I don’t know a lot about how to gauge success of that particular one. That’s a billion-dollar acquisition.

Paul: Well what’s a good — you had a company that was acquired.

Rich: But it was an acqui-hire.

Paul: You were an acqui-hire.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So what happened there?

Rich: Actually, that one went well, because they didn’t fold us into a larger group, where we melted away —

Paul: That was your agency Arc 90.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: That’s when I got to know you. You were running an agency called Arc 90. It was about 30 people, 25?

Rich: 30-plus people.

Paul: OK.

Rich: And we were acquired and folded in, and pretty much named the product and tech group.

Paul: OK, so they just said, like, “All right, this is yours now.”

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And you got a job.

Rich: I had a job.

Paul: Which was…?

Rich: I was Chief Product Officer.

Paul: OK.

Rich: For that company. And it more or less worked. There were some pains, because it was obviously a new environment, and new demands on what was expected. It was a change, for us. But overall, it worked. Mostly.

Paul: Well I can tell you actually — I knew you throughout this process — what was working, you were named Chief Product Officer, and it was basically, we want to make these things, and you went OK, these are the things you could ship.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And it was about music and music streaming.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So big platform called Beatport. And you knew how the team worked. Having watched you work for a while before we started this agency, you were very good at managing up. This is a critical thing, like, managing up versus managing down. You were able to deal with the executives in the company who were coming to you with revenue goals and various kinds of demands.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: You would filter those demands and turn them into goals for the products.

Rich: I have to tell you, I mean, that was most of my job. Some of my job was like, “Well OK, that was crazy.”

Paul: Right.

Rich: “Mr. Executive.” He would say, “Go tell your team I want this, and I want it next Thursday.” And I knew the guy, I knew the person is extremely busy. This isn’t the most important thing on their mind. And it was bananas, and I didn’t even really want to have the fight, and I would say something vague like, “All right, let me go discuss this with the team. [laughter] And I would literally not bring it up with the team.

Paul: Right.

Rich: Like I’m saying this now, I’ve since left that company, but it was an impossibility, it would’ve been nothing but distraction and anxiety, and that was most of my job, frankly. Absorbing that kind of incoming, sometimes translating it, sometimes deflecting it, sometimes it never — oftentimes it didn’t reach the team. And that was the majority of my job.

Paul: One of the things I realize as I have come along in my career and seen how things really work is that executives for the most part function as filters. Right, like, you have a team that’s underneath you, and it’s not necessarily, like, underneath is almost the wrong word. There’s a whole lot of stuff coming at you, and people who are very demanding at the high level of a corporation.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And often genuinely difficult people. Depending on the structure of a company — some companies are set up so that people fight.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like, sometimes CEOs, like, put people at odds —

Rich: Purposely.

Paul: In the same room.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You know, that’s the sort of, like, the Abraham Lincoln, like —

Rich: That’s a real thing.

Paul: Rivals, yeah. And you just go like, “All right, well, they don’t get along, but I need ’em both, and we’re gonna let ’em hash it out.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Now, if that stuff starts to filter down to your team, it’s incredibly toxic and everybody quits. Because your average, like, your average product manager, slash — not average, even a really good product manager needs to be focused on the product, not on the changing dynamics —

Rich: It’s all so delicate. I mean, you’ve got a very particular set of skills here, between designers and engineers and whatnot. You need the gears to lock in and sort of turn calmly together, and then you have this bananas games and politics that are just swirling around them, and it does nothing but harm. It does not work.

Paul: See, and what I see with the engineering culture, is people talk a lot about how is the office set up, do people have quiet spaces to work?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Same with designers, same with product managers. Like, they talk a lot about space and control and can I choose my own tools, right?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like, that’s — that’s, kind of on the ground, how people talk about this problem, because what’s happening is all this stuff is landing on them, and they’re feeling that they’re losing control.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And that’s always, to me, it’s rarely, like, we have an open office, but it has a ton of conference rooms.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: People seem to be pretty happy with that arrangement. It’s like, I put on my headphones. If I need some quiet time to work, there’s always a space to go work, and on and on. I think people have a genuine sense at our company that they have control over their own environment.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And that they can say no to things if they feel that the client is asking for something that — and I don’t want to say is insane, the client just doesn’t know what it takes to get stuff done. It’s our job to help them.

Rich: Yes. And you know, these are all high-functioning people that are problem solvers and creatives. You’re not asking them, hey look, I need you to make 300 boxes today, not 200 boxes. Like, that’s just not the nature of what we do. A lot of what we do is sort of frame this broader goal, and then you’ve got really smart people who are solving 1,000 problems along the way to get there. You’ve got to leave them alone, you’ve got to protect them so they can do that. Like, you can’t come barreling in.

There’s nothing — sometimes I have an opinion about a design issue that I’ve seen in a comp or a prototype or whatever. There are few things that make me more uncomfortable than me grabbing the team, or a couple people from the team, to give that feedback. It’s a terrible feeling.

Paul: It’s one of the things I’ve learned with you, starting this company, is that I thought I would have much more direct control over outcomes.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I thought I’d be able — I just figured it’d be that, OK, we have all these people, if I see something, I can just be like, “Hey, do this.” That’s incredibly disruptive.

Rich: Right.

Paul: Right? At some level, our job as the co-founders of Postlight, is to protect some of the people in the company from ourselves.

Rich: Yeah, totally!

Paul: Not to blow up their world —

Rich: Can you imagine if I swooped in with a red pen and was just like, “Hey, you know, I’m not feelin’ it. Let me explain to you why you’re wrong here.”

Paul: And it’s very —

Rich: I may have that feeling. I just…you have to defer and trust. And look, I think without that structure in place, you don’t get great work. You don’t get even good work, in my opinion.

Paul: That’s the thing, like, you and me going in there and being like, “I see these ten problems…”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It means the work actually freezes up, and everybody’s like, “Is this OK?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And then suddenly they’re trying to please us instead of getting better at their jobs.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: So —

Rich: And I think what you have, you know, we’re going through this list of 500 start-ups or companies that she’s acquired, I would guess that at the core of a Yahoo is actually internal mayhem. Like, she was bringing these acquisitions into, my guess is, a highly political power-grab type of environment.

Paul: Look, I think any organization at that scale, under that kind of stress, is that.

Rich: There’s a — that’s the word. It’s stress.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Like, this is a company that’s under stress, right?

Paul: If Yahoo was incredibly, like, running really well every day and hitting all of its KPIs and the market was happy with it —

Rich: Yeah, and you know Group C is just killing it with that mandate that was given to them, and you just make sure they’re left alone. It just wasn’t that, right?

Paul: See, what I’m trying to get at, too, is I think that a lot of business coverage is really in, like, a winner/loser story?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But Yahoo is just, it’s in a situation. It has, still, more viewers on it for a given product than anything I’ll ever work on in my life, in a day.

Rich: Right, exactly.

Paul: Like, this is one of the most phenomenally successful large global media brands that exists, ever.

Rich: Right.

Paul: And we talk about it —

Rich: Just, it’s in the bad part of town, and just the context is failure.

Paul: But we talk about it like we’re talking about a band that put out a bad album. It’s a different kind of organism.

Rich: Right.

Paul: And it’s global and it’s weird. So these acquisitions come in, not even specifically talking about Yahoo, I’m talking about just sort of culture in general, like it’s really hard, because not only do they come in, but then someone needs to shepherd and care for them and make sure that they have that filter.

See, what was weird about the acquisition of your company is that you became Chief Product Officer. You are not a start-up kid. Like, you’re not someone who was 27, had been programming, and then got themselves into a management role, felt very talented, was very talented, shipped their product, got it right. You were someone who worked with very difficult clients for 10 years.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: You had a legal degree and you were, in every way, kind of a grown up.

Rich: Yeah. I’ll tell you a backstory: I asked for that title. Not because I needed glory. Because in my career path, that never really mattered. It’s because I needed to have, like, real weight, and I knew I needed to protect the team. And the other thing I asked for was to report to the president of the company. Because then I knew I could definitely — because there was going to be all kinds of, as you go down the seven layers —

Paul: Oh, whenever you hear the word “dotted line,” quit your job.

Rich: Yeah, exactly. Like, I knew there was going to be all these pings coming at me. Because they were acquiring a lot of things.

Paul: And people were like, “Well, you’re going to report to Mike, but they’ll be a dotted line to the president.” You’re just like, “Ehhhh.”

Rich: I had a list of names of people that wanted to see my group fail.

Paul: Sure.

Rich: That was, that actually existed in the company. And so I needed that leverage to protect them. And again, I’m making it sound like I’m protecting my little piglets. That’s not what’s at play here. Just to get done, to really ship something, like that was why we were bought, I wanted to ship the thing. Like, I did not — I’ll tell you, the outcome I really didn’t want to have happen was us getting acquired and people talking about, “Wow, that was a failed decision.”

Paul: No, you wanted to ship your software.

Rich: I wanted to my software. And it took time, and we needed to be left alone to do it, and left alone is a big deal in a company that’s growing fast, where there’s a lot of power swirling around.

Paul: You literally had an air gap. Like the corporate headquarters was here, and your office where everybody was working was about eight blocks away.

Rich: It was eight blocks away, and those eight blocks were 1,000 miles.

Paul: Well that’s, in New York City, eight blocks is forever. No one’s gonna go eight blocks.

Rich: No. I mean —

Paul: Unless there’s like a really good restaurant in the bottom of the building.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: They’re never coming over there.

Rich: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, this is the human — humans are gonna mess stuff up. That’s just how it goes. And as companies get bigger and bigger, the scale of disaster is incredible.

Paul: What you’re seeing is that there’s competing imperatives, and that they job of the higher, higher, highest management is to get the competing imperatives worked out, so that even if people hate each other, they’re kind of moving in one direction.

Rich: Yes. Yes.

Paul: Right? And that’s literally, that is the story of every president that the media tells. Like, can the president of the United States get his insane herd of wild animals — that is, his cabinet — to line up and do their stuff. So Yahoo makes these acquisitions, most of them are acqui-hires, they come in, and what you sense, and you know, we saw this earlier, Flickr had, like, a couple good years at Yahoo, and then just started to drift away.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: It’s just, something about that organization can’t lock talent down. See, here’s the thing I see with Yahoo, is that I think it’s just a media company. Like, I look at it, and I’m like, OK —

Rich: Well it became that, right? They hire Katie Couric, and then…

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: They were about the content, not about the tech, and….

Paul: It’s executing this huge technology strategy.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: What it reminds me is when we work with legacy media companies that are struggling to build big tech platforms?

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: They make acquisitions like this, they do things like this, to just try to ship.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And they run up against a wall over and over again, in the same way. So it’s almost like Yahoo was a pure tech company from the early days.

Rich: It was.

Paul: And then it kind of fell into being a media company, meaning that it would put up pages and then sell advertising on those pages. It got into making its own TV shows, and all this stuff, and it had this great sales team.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: And then it was decided to turn it back into a tech company.

Rich: That’s the killer, right? You have, probably, a particular trajectory around a media company, whether it be 12% growth or whatever, like, it’s a media company and it’s doing well…it’s a media company. It just happened to be in a neighborhood —

Paul: And to have a legacy.

Rich: And happened to have a legacy, where it decided, if we go get a Google executive, we’re going to be a tech company again.

Paul: And not just any, like, everyone’s beating up on her now, but that is a proven human being.

Rich: Yeah. Her role was critical from a design perspective, from a UX perspective, to Google’s success. Now, the thing I’ve always been skeptical about is a brilliant UX mind doesn’t necessarily know how to drive a large conglomerate. Like, a large business. Like, it’s a particular brain — it’s a particular lunatic.

Paul: But she’s not just UX. She’s actually, like, Stanford AI.

Rich: Yeah, but that’s not business.

Paul: Well…

Rich: I don’t know, in my mind.

Paul: Here’s what I would say, what we knew about her from Google is she could build really, really high-performing, effective teams inside of the positive growth environment at Google. But let’s not, like, sit here and pick her apart —

Rich: No, yeah.

Paul: Let’s talk about something —

Rich: I do think she gets —

Paul: Let’s talk about Summly.

Rich: I think she gets a bad rap, I actually do. I think she’s pretty —

Paul: Oh, I think she does, too.

Rich: A pretty unfair position. I think it’s a running joke at this point.

Paul: There’s too many — also it’s just too much optics around her.

Rich: I mean, the holiday party where she was, like, Queen Victoria and all that? It just got weird…it’s just, that was funny.

Paul: This is weird, yeah.

Rich: They spent, like, millions of dollars on a party where everybody dressed up in costumes or whatever.

Paul: Yeah, and you can have your picture taken with her.

Rich: But that’s fun, I mean, what else is Gawker going to write about? Thank God that party happened.

Paul: It’s true. Well, not much anymore. So…acquisitions. You’ve been actually asked to evaluate a lot of acquisitions.

Rich: A lot, yeah.

Paul: It’s one of the things — people call us quite a bit, actually, to say —

Rich: Look at.

Paul: Will you come look at a company?

Rich: Yes.

Paul: What do you, what do you look for?

Rich: Well, I first ask why are you doing it.

Paul: OK.

Rich: Are you getting the users? Are you getting a domain name? Are you getting a business that has revenue, right? And park all those aside. Then there are ones that are like, well, I’m going to get a head start on the code.

Paul: OK, I’m going to get some — I’ll buy this company, I’ll get some software that only they have, and that’s going to save me time as I get to market with my big idea.

Rich: That’s right. And that is a very particular exercise. To dig into that code, to see how costly it’s going to be, to untangle it. Well, do you have to untangle it? How clean is it? Can you build on it? Because a lot of time it’s like, you know, I want to save six months on this, Rich. If I just buy this thing, I’ll just have a great head start.

Paul: Have you ever, or deputized anyone, to go look at a codebase, and they’ve come back and they’ve gone, “This is great.”

Rich: Not, “This is great.”

Paul: It’s really unusual, right?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Most assets are not well structured.

Rich: Most assest are not well structured. If there’s a particular component that does something pretty unique that clearly has years of thinking and tweaking baked into it, that’s unusual.

Paul: I mean, actually, what I see is very little software, and very little code, is actually of tremendous value. Domain knowledge wrapped up in code, or in database schemas, is super valuable.

Rich: That could be the value.

Paul: Here’s the edge cases around taxation in the Bahamas —

Rich: That could be of value, that’s right. Often the code is often just this diary.

Paul: Yeah. It’s grown over time…

Rich: Of pain and struggle and compromise and denial, [laughter] is how I would describe it.

Paul: And when you get asked to evaluate this stuff, it’s always very monolithic, you know.

Rich: It’s often monolithic.

Paul: It’s not broken into, like, nice components.

Rich: Exactly. And it just, it just, people are trying to get something done.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And you know, it’s just hard. And look, I also have to be wary of the fact that if you ask an engineer to look at any other engineer’s stuff, there’s a particular anxiety.

Paul: Engineers are not neutral.

Rich: Engineers are not neutral.

Paul: They say, they pretend to be neutral.

Rich: Exactly, exactly. They’re just not neutral.

Paul: So, Rich.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Do you want to talk about Summly?

Rich: You know, I…all right, so here’s the backstory with Summly. You watch people raise money, and start — yeah, he’s raising money and starting a company, and there’s this guy who started it, I think his name is Nick D’Aloisio or something, and he was like, 14 when he started it.

Paul: He was very, very young.

Rich: No joke. I’m not even, I don’t think…

Paul: 14 or 15, yeah.

Rich: 14 or 15. And he’d raised money and we couldn’t gather what he did because the thing I think never made it out. I think there was a video, and there was a pitch, and he had this incredibly arrogant sort of squinty…

Paul: Wow, so you’re sitting here making fun of a 14-year-old for not —

Rich: I’m making fun of a 14-year-old.

Paul: For not building a great enough start-up?

Rich: Pretty much.

Paul: You’re the worst person I’ve ever met.

Rich: I might be the worst person. So I, like, it became a running joke. I sort of struggled with —

Paul: I remember when I first met you, this was one of the only things you could talk about.

Rich: I could only talk about this. And then within six months, Yahoo bought it.

Paul: There you go.

Rich: And I just —

Paul: I think he was 17 at that point.

Rich: Maybe he was 17. Whatever it was.

Paul: And it was a huge, it was one of the early acquisitions.

Rich: Yeah, and there was news around it.

Paul: Stephen Fry was involved somehow.

Rich: He had apparently created — I actually remember the technology — he created technology that read an article and then wrote a paragraph.

Paul: Summarized it.

Rich: Summarized it.

Paul: Automatically summarized it.

Rich: Yeah. And it was not good.

Paul: You didn’t think it was good.

Rich: I thought the summaries were weird. I mean obviously it’s a really hard problem.

Paul: It’s one of the hardest problems.

Rich: Credit to him for trying to even do that. But I think the bigger issue was, they had bet, like, everything on this thing. Like, it became, I think, Yahoo something, Yahoo News or…

Paul: Yeah, they made a product out of it.

Rich: Yahoo Digest, I forget the name of it. But the thing is, it didn’t take.

Paul: OK.

Rich: Yahoo had this theory that we would no longer — we’re just gonna look at pictures and like one sentence at a a time.

Paul: Everybody just gives up on everything. You know, they’re just like, “Uhhhh…”

Rich: That was their thinking, they’re just, nobody wants to read anything, just gonna scroll through stuff, that’s the end of life. This is how it ends. And so they bought this, and it failed.

Paul: Yahoo News Digest, that was the name of the product.

Rich: Was that the name of it?

Paul: Yeah, and it would give you the news in little tiny, um…

Rich: There were a few start-ups who were trying this, by the way. Circa, I think was another one. There were a few who were trying to sort of boil down news, so if something was 600 words —

Paul: Circa was different, though. It wasn’t robots, it was people —

Rich: People.

Paul: Behaving as robots.

Rich: Behaving as robots.

Paul: They would take news and they would take news from sources and they would cut it into little tiny chunks and you’d swipe. And it was the guy who made Path, a real — it was a beautiful interface.

Rich: A nice, creative approach to things. It was essentially, you don’t want to read anything ever again, so here are 11 words.

Paul: Why is it that Silicon Valley is very into telling us how to read? It’s really into that. It wants to tell us that we’re wrong about articles.

Rich: Silicon Valley’s into telling us how to —

Rich and Paul: Do everything.

Paul: Like how be —

Rich: Right.

Paul: Yeah. It wants us to have certain kinds of bowel movements at this point.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: It’s definitely really into what we eat.

Rich: It wants to change, positively, obviously, in most of the business plans are about —

Paul: I think it’s annoying to product people that humans aren’t robots. I think it’s actually kind of a pain in the ass.

Rich: Of course.

Paul: We’re unpredictable, we’re annoying, we’re driven by facts —

Rich: Look at that guy out on the street raising his hand to try to stop an automobile to take him somewhere.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: How ridiculous, if he’s got a phone in his pocket.

Paul: This is stupid.

Rich: This is stupid.

Paul: He is a flesh commodity that we could put into the backseat of a nice Subaru.

Rich: Look at that woman calling a restaurant to place an order and then taking her credit card out every time.

Paul: God, it’s just friction.

Rich: Phone calls? Talking to another human being, who would rather be cooking the fish…

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Instead he’s gotta get on the phone, get a piece of paper out to take this order. Ridiculous!

Paul: I love, because you know, that’s the thing, my core thesis, if I ever start a venture capital firm, which I swear to God, I never will.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But the core thesis that I have is the way things work on the internet is if you see something and you go, that is probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Which is what people said about Twitter, it’s what they said about Facebook.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That…that —

Rich: Who’s gonna do that?

Paul: Yeah. Who’s gonna do that? That’s crazy, but it somehow surfaced to your attention.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That’s when you need to start paying attention.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Now that doesn’t indicate that it’s gonna — like I don’t wanna be, like, there’s some magic counterintuitive thesis?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s just that most of the things that end up, like, just completely blowing up the world…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Are at first things where everybody goes, “That’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”

Rich: You may be right.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: We just can’t process how that’s gonna change how we think.

Paul: Remember when Twitter was just like, [sigh] “This is just…” Blogging is going so well…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Which…was wrong. And we were like, “Awww…this is just gross.”

Rich: Yeah. And then here we are.

Paul: Yeah. Or Facebook was like, what was that even for?

Rich: Colleges.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: It’ll stop at colleges.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: All these things. Uber, same thing. It’s like, “Aw, c’mon, man.” It’s just, I know how to —

Rich: We’re sounding like grumpy old men again, a little bit. We’re also —

Paul: I’m channeling —

Rich: We have a digital studio in New York City.

Paul: No no, but I’m actually not —

Rich: We are very into disrupting how people currently live.

Paul: But I’m not saying this is us, I’m saying this is collectively, like…the minute I saw Uber, I’m like, “Yeah, obviously.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Honestly, too, the Uber idea had been around for a while.

Rich: Yeah. They just nailed it.

Paul: They just, they nailed the execution, like, Uber is not…the innovation of, like, getting a cab with your phone…I don’t know who had that idea first. What Uber is famous for is its relentless, brutal execution on an enormous idea at global scale.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like —

Rich: They wanna be big.

Paul: They hired the best scary people they could.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And lots of lawyers, and they got their way a lot of times, and they built excellent technology that pretty much always works.

Rich: Yeah. It’s good. It’s a good product.

Paul: But what it does is it emphasizes — everything about Uber works really, really well —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Except humans are involved.

Rich: Yeah. Well, we’re working on that.

Paul: Yeah, I know. If —

Rich: If we could continue to cut that out of the process.

Paul: Once they can get those drivers out, man. That is a killer company.

Rich: I think they’re going to be bartenders. I think the drivers are just going to be bartenders.

Paul: You get in there and they’re like, “Hey! Mr. Ziade!”

Rich: Yeah! “Can I get an Old Fashioned?”

Paul: “Yeah, of course you can.”

Rich: Yeah, just make it. You don’t need to drive the damn car. The hell with that.

Paul: Yeah. No, that’s great.

Rich: Perfect.

Paul: All right. So we look at these companies and we’re not really looking at the people, we’re looking at the assets for the most part.

Rich: Yeah, which is really the wrong thing to look at.

Paul: Probably should look at the people more.

Rich: The success of an acquisition is often driven by how the people fold in and how they lock in.

Paul: But that’s very hard. When people ask you to eval —

Rich: The success of just about everything is that.

Paul: Is the humans. [laughter] See, but this is trickier, right, because when companies want to acquire another company, and they come to us for advice?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: They’re very nervous about exposing us to the humans because then that’s gonna be a whole range of tricky dynamics.

Rich: Of course! Of course.

Paul: What they want us to do is look at the stuff —

Rich: Yeah. Which is…

Paul: And then make decisions based on that.

Rich: Which is not gonna tell the whole story. Obviously.

Paul: And really what they should do is just set up a series of 20-minute meetings between us and the team, and then also let us look at the code and ask questions.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: But that is politically dangerous.

Rich: Yeah. There’s a quote that I don’t even — I keep saying that my old law professor said it, and I don’t even know anymore if he actually did say it. I think I’ve said it before on this show. “The right thing is easy and unfortunately people are involved.”

Paul: Yeah. It is…it is…it’s very tricky.

Rich: And that’s what you’re navigating.

Paul: I mean that’s product, right? Like, that’s building digital anything.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’d be great — everything works beautifully as long as human beings don’t…if they would just show up at a regular —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Regularly scheduled moments.

Rich: Because they don’t just bring themselves. They bring their father with them. And the issues they have with their father.

Paul: I think about this —

Rich: And the issues they have with their brother, who’s…way more successful and seems more buttoned…like…

Paul: If people would just stick to a schedule, you could serve the entirety of humanity with, like, twelve computers. [laughter] Right? Just like, “Oh, yeah, I checked my email.” It doesn’t…it doesn’t actually take that much, it’s just that we all, we flock…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: We have problems. We write too much in the box.

Rich: Right.

Paul: Yeah. And we have our dad issues.

Rich: Exactly. That’s the title for the podcast.

Paul: “Dad Issues.”

Rich: “Daddy Issues.”

Paul: [sigh] So….

Rich: We were gonna just have a good time making fun of Yahoo, but we actually drifted into a discussion about humans.

Paul: Well, and acquisitions. You know…

Rich: But that’s OK.

Paul: Aw well. Look. If Yahoo wants to acquire us they should definitely get in touch.

Rich: They — [laughter]

Paul: We’re still, like —

Rich: We’re open to discussions.

Paul: But that…for right now, everything’s going real well.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Let’s not…I don’t want anyone to hear that and get anxious. [laughter] Um…well, Rich Ziade, this has been Track Changes.

Rich: Always a pleasure, Paul Ford.

Paul: Always a pleasure, Rich. Let’s get back to the office and get some work done.

Rich: Let’s go do things. Let’s go build things.

Paul: Track Changes is the podcast of Postlight, and we’d love to hear from you. And that’s not just, like, not just for marketing purposes. We’ve been getting —

Rich: Just say hi.

Paul: Yeah. We’ve been getting great emails.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: We’ve been getting lots of feedback. We’ve been getting really interesting criticism. We’re gonna wrap that up and put that into a show real soon. And anything we can do to help you, if you’re looking for work, if you’re looking to get us to do some work, get in touch: [email protected]. Thank you for listening to Track Changes.

Rich: Bye bye.