With 1,500 employees gone today, Yahoo has surely hit bottom. The company's third act begins today — either an amazing rebirth, a disappearance into Microsoft, or a slow grind into irrelevance. How did those become its options?
Yahoo turns 15 next month. The site first went live, on a Stanford Unversity server, in January 1994. The years since fall neatly into two halves: the first, its dizzying rise from a campus trailer to $100 billion goliath; the second, its equally stupefying fall. Here's a recap of the past decade and a half.
Stanford graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo create Jerry's Guide to the Web, a directory of links to websites, in January. In April, they rename it Yahoo.
Yahoo incorporates in March. Sequoia Capital, a VC firm which invested in Apple and Cisco, buys in. In August, it starts selling ads. The Web is now a business.
Yang and Filo appear on the cover of Wired; Yahoo goes public, beating most of its Web rivals to the punch. But the early stock offering also means Yang and Filo are now subject to the whims of shareholders. Yahoo Japan, a partly-owned subsidiary, launches.
Yahoo spends billions of dollars on GeoCities and Broadcast.com, acquisitions that later prove a waste — save for turning Broadcast.com founder Mark Cuban into a billionaire, allowing him to buy the Dallas Mavericks and become an ongoing source of entertainment.
Yahoo's market cap peaks in January above $100 billion. The stock begins a long slide after the dotcom bubble pops. In June, it signs a deal to have Google provide its search results. In retrospect, this is where everything started to go wrong.
After a three-month search, Yahoo hires Terry Semel, the former head of the Warner Bros. studio, as CEO.
Yahoo announces plans to buys Inktomi, a search engine.
Semel follows the Inktomi buy with Overture, which sells search advertising, in a strategy to beat Google.
Yahoo hires Lloyd Braun, a former ABC executive, to run its media operations. Hilarity ensues, as Braun proves laughably unsuited to the job and the online medium, and Yahoo's push into Hollywood-style content production proves a flop.
Yahoo has secret talks to buy Flickr, the photo-sharing site. That deal happens. Microsoft has secret talks to buy Yahoo. Nothing happens. Yahoo reaches the peak of its post-bubble influence — but the surge proves illusory.
Microsoft has secret talks to buy Yahoo. Nothing happens. Lloyd Braun "quits."
Microsoft has secret talks to buy Yahoo. Nothing happens. Semel resigns. Yang replaces him.
In a phone call in late January, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bids $44.6 billion for the company — sort of. Semel quits the board that night. Yang and the board dither. In February, Yahoo lays off 1,000 employees. Microsoft eventually walks away. Corporate raider Carl Icahn buys shares, raises a stink, and gets three board seats. Yang steps down as CEO, pending a search for his replacement. In December, Yahoo lays off another 1,500 employees — 10 percent of its workforce. There's talk that Microsoft might be having secret talks to buy Yahoo. Nothing happens.
(Photo of Yang and Flickr's Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield by Ross Mayfield)