Liveblogging the Yahoo Earnings Call: It All Depends on Your Definition of What "Wow!" Is
A major Yahoo investor yesterday told me that he liked what he saw so far from new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, but he still remained wary.
“I like the sizzle,” he said, referring to Bartz’s decisive take-no-prisoners style. “But I am still waiting to see if steak is there too.”
Well, Bartz handed over some tough news to chew on today, announcing Yahoo’s first-quarter earnings, which were just as weak as expected.
The company reported an eight-cent-per-share profit, down from 37 cents a year ago, a 78 percent drop.
Revenue in the quarter came in at $1.6 billion, a 13 percent decline from last year’s $1.8 billion.
And Yahoo (YHOO) also said it would cut five percent of its staff of 13,600, which means layoffs of close to 700 employees.
BoomTown liveblogged the Yahoo earnings conference call, with Bartz and outgoing CFO Blake Jorgensen.
(Bartz, well known for her ribald words and sassy phrases, lobbed several, and also tossed out a small F-bomb at the very end of the conference call, so read on to the bottom.)
2:04 p.m.: The call started off a few minutes late, but who can blame Yahoo, given the poor results? But Bartz finally came on the call with an upbeat tone.
“What an amazing and busy three months it’s been,” she said, outlining what she had learned so far on her whirlwind visits across the Yahoo empire and “deep dives” into the products and services of the troubled Internet giant.
“The most important takeaway was the importance of having a ‘Wow!’ experience,” concluded Bartz, who noted the definition of that particular enthusiasm was different, depending on who you were.
“Wow!” did not describe the earning results, to be sure.
But we pressed on.
2:08 p.m.: Bartz noted that Yahoo remained focused on investment and also renewed investment in the company.
She pointed to content, email, search and advertising as key building blocks of Yahoo and focused on three key goals:
1) Globalizing the Yahoo platform
2) Building “fantastic products” that deeply impact users
3) Investing in “industry-leading” online ad solutions
You know, getting back to basics of exactly what made Yahoo great before.
2:09 p.m.: Bartz complimented Yahoo CTO and Product head Ari Balogh, as well as other current Yahoo staff at the Silicon Valley-based company.
Then she announced that Yahoo had hired Jeff Russakow (pictured here) as its new customer advocacy head.
I am guessing he is now the key guy in charge of monitoring the “Wow!” level.
Russakow is currently VP of corporate strategy for Symantec, the online security software firm, which does not trumpet Yahoo! to me.
So, I wonder if Yahoo engineers should build a “Wow!” meter to help Jeff?
Bartz then noted that Yahoo has been and will continue to “slim down our portfolio,” while continuing in investing.
That would mean dumping the non-“Wow!”
2:11 p.m.: CFO Jorgensen hopped on, noting the “difficult economic environment.”
Jorgensen then proceeded to go through the unimpressive numbers for a while, in a voice that lulled me into a slight stupor. There was essentially no good news anywhere for Yahoo.
Then, he summed up and said goodbye, as he is leaving Yahoo soon and there will be a new CFO by the next quarter’s call. Jorgensen said he will be watching Yahoo “with interest.”
Blake! We hardly knew you! Call me anytime and we’ll chat and maybe have lunch (bring lots of internal memos!).
2:20 p.m.: Bartz complimented Jorgensen, although she did kind of “part ways” with him.
Then, finally, came a patented Bartzism, which is that special sassy phrase or ribald word, with her noting that users were looking for a “kick-ass” experience from Yahoo.
She obviously could not resist, which was a good instinct.
Bartz soon threw in a “freakin'” too.
Then, she non-answered anticipated questions about Yahoo’s talks with Microsoft over a search and advertising partnership by noting, “search is a very valuable asset for Yahoo.”
And that, she said, in a Forrest Gumpism, “is all we’re going to say about search today.”
Also, life is a box of chocolates.
2:25 p.m.: Bartz then discussed the economy, especially the impact on branded display advertising, which she said was not going to be killed off.
Brands were always important, she noted, and Yahoo could even help damaged brands revive themselves.
Like, um, maybe, Yahoo?
She closed the talking points part of the call on another upbeat note: “Let me say again how happy I am to be here.”
Us too, cuz Bartz is a definitely a live wire, as it later turned out.
(Bartz also announced an analysts day on Oct. 28.)
2:29 p.m.: Now began questions from said analysts (media folks are muted, of course).
The first was about ad price differences, which was dull.
The second, though, touched on the Microsoft (MSFT) talks, with someone essentially asking if Bartz was smart enough about search to be able to entertain an offer.
Well, what do you think she was going to say?
That’s right: “I am well versed enough in the search business to say it is critical to Yahoo.”
Bartz also noted that she thought advertisers prefer a combined search and display experience, which felt like she was channeling Yahoo EVP Hilary Schneider.
But Bartz also managed to keep the door open, saying–and I just know she had a mischievous smile while she said this–“Relative to anything else related to Microsoft, no comment.”
She was also not gaming the economy, noting that no one knows what will happen in the future.
“A wise person stays to the sides and lets the economists figure it out,” said Bartz.
2:33 p.m.: More questions were asked about costs and layoffs (sad!) and about ad inventory.
Bartz underscored the importance of its premium ad sales staff and placement over ad networks and randomness.
“Chanel does not want to end up next to Harley-Davidson. It kind of doesn’t work,” she asserted.
Well, it works for me! I mean, black leather and more black leather–what’s not to like?
2:39 p.m.: More about globalizing the Yahoo platform, which Bartz said would take a while.
“It’s not like flipping a switch,” she said. “This is work, this is not just words.”
Bartz also talked about how non-easy the current ad management systems at Yahoo are. Several times.
2:46 p.m.: A question then came about reinvestment, which was really about selling off stuff like the Asian assets.
No answers were forthcoming, although weak product groups are getting tossed off the good ship Yahoo quite quickly under Bartz.
More questions about the economy, the ad business and another attempt to find out about the Microsoft talks.
“Search is important,” to consumers and advertisers of Yahoo, Bartz underscored again, noting she was not going to fall for a “tricky” question.
Good lord, she’s a sharpie.
3:03 p.m.: Last up is a question about the investment in the global platform and the reorganization.
And, in the end, Bartz uttered the naughty word many had expected sooner.
It came when Bartz was on a roll about how engineers have been “scattered to the winds” at Yahoo and that there have been too many product managers overseeing things and annoying those windswept engineers.
She was dead right about this nagging issue at the company, as it has slowed down innovation and rollouts of key services and products.
“Nobody’s f#*king doing anything,” Bartz stated with apparent exasperation.
She tried to take it back quickly, adding, “I knew that would slip out some time.”
But Bartz should not take it back. Never ever.
In fact, most would agree that it was well past time that such an assessment should slip out of Yahoo.