The path a company takes with the products and services they offer to customers is highly dependent on who is running the organization coupled with how the organization is constructed. At Yahoo this is no different but in my experience it might actually suffer a bit by how the company is organized at its core. This is an important topic to cover since this ultimately influenced how Koprol was managed – it also points to some of the core issues with Yahoo in general.
I must confess that I am 2 years plus out of Yahoo now with many of my good Yahoo friends already working at other companies. So my inside knowledge is obviously much reduced. This means I am going on what I personally experienced but from all outside appearances the overall structure of Yahoo has not changed much in the last few years apart from better food and phones.
Yahoo primarily is broken down into 3 distinct regions – America, Europe and Asia but there used to be an Emerging Markets group that covered Southeast Asia, Middle East and India separately. The HQ for that group was in Singapore which at the time made Yahoo one of the biggest players in the region and with a big head count in Singapore. What this meant was their was bizdev, legal, sales and even some product folks were aligned especially with the needs of that region. This can be seen as both a good thing and as a bad thing depending on the angle since this group would focus entirely on growth but at the same time the Sunnyvale HQ was not always supportive of the separate region. I think it was for the most part a good thing since it meant the team would move fast and try to evolve quickly enough to keep the region growing but Sunnyvale wanted to start reeling things in to make the company function better as a global unit. This was a tough time for the region cause it meant that SEA and India would now fall under APAC and the ME went to EMEA. Tumultuous times all around.
Once this decision was put in place the Singapore HQ started to let folks go and move people around to fit the new world order. This actually was a good start to get the region receiving more attention from HQ but it also meant a lot of changes. Looking back I don’t think this transition went all that well and might even be a good marker for the overall downward trend for Yahoo in some of these markets. However in a lot of places the downward trend was already happening anyway but I think what made the old organization unique was the ability to act quickly and make a lot of independent decisions. That autonomy was now gone.
For Yahoo Southeast Asia it makes sense to give you some overview of this org and the countries it operated in since this lead a lot to my decisions for where to focus my efforts on looking for small acquisitions.
Yahoo HQ for SEA was Singapore but also home to Yahoo Singapore. This group was a pretty good size since the revenue from Singapore was the largest when I was there even though the audience size was the smallest. This is important to note since it always made for an awkward situation of having to decide where to focus resources – on an area where the users are but not the dollars or where the money is.
Yahoo Malaysia was another proper office that had a small editorial team and sales. Yahoo Malaysia had lots of room for growth but there was always the issue of how much to localize and how to find the right mix to attract the local users. I didn’t spend much time there at all so I can’t really speculate as to how well it was or is doing but it was never really booming for Yahoo.
Yahoo Thailand was never really an office. Used to be some Thai folks would help to manage it from Singapore with some Thai content but it never really grew. When I was there I helped a few times, I didn’t lead the effort but was supportive of it, to try and push harder in Thailand. Anyone could look at the stats for growth of the internet and mobile internet and make a case for trying to take some market share. Problem was MSFT practically owned some of the market and Google was quickly taking over the rest of it. At some point in time Thailand was very Yahoo friendly with people advertising with their Yahoo email addresses or their Yahoo messenger ID’s but those days were long gone. Yahoo couldn’t make a valid case for trying to go back in and win. Yahoo Thailand looks like now it just points to Yahoo.com – so essentially they have given up on the place.
Yahoo Vietnam was one of the early success stories of going in with a local office and hitting it hard. The numbers looked good and the growth was good for a while but this came with it’s own complexities due to the rules in Vietnam. I won’t get into it much cause I am not a legal person but essentially once you setup shop in Vietnam with feet on the ground you are subjected to some level of government scrutiny and intervention. This makes is hard to really try and go big in the region. Yahoo’s work in news/entertainment is labor intensive and requires localization so it means that to build a great business around that you have to be as local as possible but that also means you are competing with truly local companies who might be willing to do what a multinational cannot. I will leave it at that. So Yahoo did quite well there but suffered some black eyes with the closing of some very local products and just dealing with trying to be a big local presence. At some point one could argue Yahoo owned Vietnam with products like Yahoo 360, messenger and email but I am sure those days are gone.
Yahoo Indonesia was another place the local org chose to focus on due to the size of the market, the relative openness around news and the fact that Yahoo seemed to get a warm reception from the population around Yahoo products. So Yahoo Indonesia became another decent size local office and there was even a lot of attention from Sunnyvale. Revenue wise though Indonesia was a tough nut to crack at the time. High user growth but low revenue makes for interesting times. At the present time I think Yahoo is fairing well in Indonesia but has lost a lot of employees and I think the competitors are beginning to cement a solid lead over Yahoo in many areas.
Yahoo Philippines also was a large local market with a decent size local office. This country was largely getting the same treatment as Indonesia since the brand was doing well there and the country was big. It had some of the same issues of needing to grow revenue but also to try and just grow the user base. The news/entertainment market was vibrant and fit well with the Yahoo suite of products. From what I remember, like Indonesia, the growth was good but Yahoo was beginning to lose share in some core products cause there was now competition in the marketplace where there was not before.
So with that background in mind I figured I would focus my efforts for scouring the region in Indonesia and the Philippines. Vietnam was out because it was too sketchy to put an engineering org there due to lots of legal issues. Personally I had a hard time connecting with Malaysia and just didn’t feel equipped to make a difference there. Singapore felt like it was going to be an expensive place to acquire and didn’t check the boxes for a place to expand engineering long term. Thailand was out cause we just didn’t have a big enough presence and with all my personal experience there – I just don’t trust Bangkok as a place to invest in. Look at current events to get a sense of that. I love the country but would I convince a large multinational to go all in – not with a straight face.
I even considered ways to look into Cambodia and Laos but the general consensus was Yahoo wasn’t going to try and expand the region. Keep in mind Yahoo was known for doing joint ventures to expand in some regions – this is how Yahoo Australia and Yahoo Japan were created. There was some people at the time who felt Yahoo should have done more of this. I tend to agree even though it is hard to create the joint ventures. Yahoo can offer brand, technology, and consulting – the other side of the venture brings local expertise, money and government connections. Many of us felt Yahoo could have pushed into a lot more countries with this model but it is probably too late now.
Small side journey – Yahoo was very early in all these regions and probably could have been a lot bigger if it tried to buy or build more things locally. I think this is the crux of the issue with the emergent markets versus the stable or developed markets. Yahoo’s core product suite wasn’t really appealing to the emerging markets young generation and if the region was left alone quite possibly the strategy would have been to build products, acquire, partner or white label whatever was needed to try and win the region over for the long haul. Instead what become the strategy was to take whatever Sunnyvale made and try to shoehorn it into the region. Not sure anyone can answer what would have been the best thing to do but if it were up to me – I would have probably tried to tweak for the local market as much as possible. This is what Yahoo did in Taiwan and for the most part it worked however the strategy stopped at some point and it looks like the market share in Taiwan is falling. I don’t think it will be like Korea where Yahoo made a full retreat but I doubt it will return to its former dominant position.
Deciding whether the global command and control technique of building products for the globe is better than localizing for the region is an age old question. If one looks at facebook or google you see very little localization apart from language and for those companies it has worked. Yahoo for a long time was straddling both fences of localization and global products but not doing either well. It seems under the new regime it is going to be back to global products with language and content localization. It remains to be seen what will turn Yahoo around at this point. My opinion is the the current management is mostly focused on the USA and to some extent Europe while waiting to capitalize on the Alibaba IPO. Apart from the core aspects of Asia it seems me Yahoo is now withering on the vine some in places like SEA and India.