The trouble is, it’s hard not to like Jerry Yang. But in theory, he
should be the sort of accidental entrepreneur who makes anyone’s blood
boil - the archetypal ’hey, we were just messing around with computers
and suddenly we were millionaires!’ type of millionaire. The kind who,
while professing a lack of interest in the business side of things, has
an exact knowledge of who spent what on paper clips in Q4.
With his partner, David Filo, Yang founded Yahoo! when they were both
writing their college theses. Just like proto-nerd Bill Gates, he has
recently married. He doesn’t wear ties, he does wear glasses and, also
like Bill, he’s still pretty enthusiastic about IT. But there are some
For one thing, Jerry’s not a billionaire. Despite the gush of enthusiasm
on Wall Street and in the press about this ’red-hot technology stock’,
Yahoo! went into profit for the first time this autumn, with a modest
dollars 222,000 (pounds 134,500) operating profit on revenues of dollars
17.3m (pounds 10.5m). While the company was building, Yang and Filo paid
themselves salaries ’in the dollars 40,000 (pounds 24,200) range’.
Since it was founded in 1994, Yahoo! has vied with Netscape for the
title of most hyped loss-making company in the world. But what Yahoo!
offers is promise - the promise of a share of the growing market for Web
advertising which should be worth dollars 5bn (pounds 3bn) by the turn
of the century. Then Yahoo!
will be a dollars 1bn (pounds 600m) turnover company with shockingly low
overheads and an unassailable brand. Looked at that way, Yang is the
first 21st century media owner. Already, Yahoo!’s revenues have tripled
year-on-year, and there’s no sign of a slow-down.
’Yahoo! as you see it now is just the tip of the iceberg,’ says
’The level at which people are building up connectivity is growing by
leaps and bounds. As a commercial medium, the Net hasn’t yet been
That’s quite a statement from a man whose product notches up 50 million
page views every day, a global reach most press barons would kill for,
with an audience skewed toward youth, affluence and early adoption of
Already, Yahoo! has developed from a simple listing of good Web sites
into a sophisticated compendium of Web content, including news, sports
and other information. There are rivals, of course, with different
business models: AOL recently took over CompuServe to create an
information giant which charges users for access to the information it
controls, whereas Yahoo! relies entirely on advertising for revenue.
As the Yahoo! formula looks likely to work, the company is
More countries are getting their own Yahoo! sites and advertising sales
offices to match. So new is the London office that the door buzzer
doesn’t work yet and visitors have to wave frantically at the door
camera until someone lets them in. Our interview takes place in a sparse
glassed-in space, with Yang chewing on a sandwich. There’s an air of
deliberate casualness, a feeling that Yahoo! is as much a public service
as a business operation.
Perhaps some of the origins of the decision to stay free to the user and
as un-corporate as possible lie in Yang and Filo’s own wish to create
something genuinely useful. As Yang himself says: ’David and I were
going to finish our thesis. We’d have spent countless hours writing it
and maybe 200 people would ever have seen it. Today, ten million people
look at what we do.’
Certainly, the lust for profit isn’t something Yang wears on his
His business card describes him as ’Chief Yahoo’, and the corporation he
helped create now employs such sober-sided business people as Heather
Killen, managing director of European operations, and European marketing
director Iain Osbourne to do the selling bit. For Yang - who still logs
on to the Net first thing every morning before brushing his teeth -
creativity counts, and so does the other side of his life.
’I’m very big on families - I want one of my own. When I’m 80 it doesn’t
matter how much money I have - I want a family around,’ he says.
So, what is still driving the preposterously young media mogul to carry
on? After all, he’s already admitted that ’surfing the Net isn’t fun -
’I can’t say what my ambitions are,’ he answers after a pause. ’I’ve
already done more than I ever expected.’ Jerry Yang will be 29 in
Yahoo! is at www.yahoo. com
Jerry Yang’s original personal Web page is still online at http://
1968: Born Taiwan
1978: Family emigrated to US
1990: Graduated from Stanford University
1991-1994: PhD programme, Stanford University
1994: Founded Yahoo! with David Filo
1995-1997: Chief Yahoo.
This article was first published on Marketing