It seems that every time someone mentions Yahoo these days all you hear is that they are slowly rolling down hill. Everyone in the media has certain assumptions as to why Yahoo is struggling but nobody has a specific solution. We recently did a Q&A with Ruta Raju (the dude who lead many products across Yahoo! both in US and India) to chat about specific product reasons which caused Yahoo to start slipping and what can be done to fix it. Ruta recently left Yahoo to join SAP. Below is our Q&A. Enjoy!
Your formal title at Yahoo was Head of Front Doors. Explain what your team did in terms my mom could understand.
I managed the product design team for Yahoo! Front Doors Group. Responsible for the user experience of Yahoo!'s pillar consumer products including Yahoo.com, My Yahoo!, Toolbar, and Yahoo! Buzz.
Our team mainly facilitated the design and innovation process. It was all about building on ideas, being data-driven and creating designs that achieved user and business objectives.
Google is doing great right now, Yahoo is not. What is Yahoo doing wrong compared to Google?
If Yahoo is in some kind of a problem today, it's because they have tried to wear other people's clothes that were mostly falling down their ankles. Yahoo wanted to be many things, from Media Company to Myspace. Lack of focus and direction made them languish.
But don't get me wrong, it still has the power and tools to comeback. It's time they focus on new technology users, who understand the value much before the mainstream markets. Just to provide an interesting data point, Twitter has enjoyed exponential growth in India, with more than half of Twitter users (57%) having signed up in the past year alone. These users are young and early adopters of technology.
It's time Yahoo starts knocking their elite technology research group for help and get tangible.
Google on other hand has worked towards being a knowledge-based company and not just search. They have created a strong intellectual ecosystem both inside and outside, which can create a lot of meaningful stuff, keeping people in the center. This does not mean they have not done anything wrong or failed, but they have a permission-to-fail policy.
Talking about product, specifically, what if anything would you change about Yahoo's homepage now. Why?
Now that I am thinking outside in, I am confused with My Yahoo! and Front Page. Where should I be? How should I manage them? If it's all about collecting (mail, message and media) a lot of stuff across the web that I value, shouldn't I be seeing them in one place with my friends?
Talk about how you and your team worked around any product failures and what you personally learned from them?
In 2008 when we set out to rethink the front-page product experience. We wanted to take a drastic approach, to redesign every inch of the page and 'wow' our users in one go. This approach simply moved things slowly, hitting many roadblocks internally and externally. While we were busy crafting things on our drawing board, a lot of course corrections were made on Internet and on mobile, Boom!! We had created these huge onramps, which were difficult for our users and business to scale, lesson learned.
Phase two was to take an evolutionary approach rather than revolutionary and to remove the common misconception that if we don't get it right the first time, our creation will fail and all efforts will be lost. This time it was all about cutting the fluff, and release small creations into wild ASAP for others to experience and tinker with.
Give your one piece of advice for entrepreneurs building product.
Personally I believe in fail fast and fail cheap. Any successful new product or business we see is often the result of lots of learning from lots of failures. So I would recommend minimizing analysis paralysis and getting into the act of doing things.