Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Along With Flickr, Mail and Homepage, Yahoo’s Board Will Also Get a Refresh (and SuperPoke Dude!)

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In the last week, Yahoo has redone its powerful Yahoo Mail, refreshed its Flickr photo-sharing service and is also set to release a spanking new homepage design.

It’s part of a series of changes made since new CEO Marissa Mayer arrived this summer from Google, including detailed employee performance reviews, free food, new smartphones and a hunt for innovative mobile properties to scoop up to improve Yahoo’s creaky Silicon Valley reputation.

Now, according to sources close to the situation, that rejiggering will extend to Yahoo’s board too, with an effort to add more Internet savvy members as directors.

That’s actually be an aim for a while, including a board appointment for longtime entrepreneur Max Levchin, which sources said will occur soon.

In fact, Levchin has been mulling the Yahoo board job for a while, having long been intrigued by the company’s troubles and seeing it as an opportunity rather than a liability.

The wooing of Levchin is also not new. As I wrote in February, he had been pegged for a board seat by then-activist shareholder Dan Loeb of Third Point — who is now on the board after winning his fight with Yahoo and ousted former CEO Scott Thompson. But Levchin, as well as SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg, did not want to be part of a dissident slate against Yahoo co-founder and then-board member Jerry Yang.

I had written in September that the board was again looking at Levchin, for a seat designated under an agreement Yahoo had made with Loeb.

The hedge fund investor, who owns a large chunk of Yahoo, had the right to nominate a mutually agreed-upon fourth director after the company settled the proxy fight with him earlier this year. The other directors he nominated previously were Michael Wolf and Harry Wilson.

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The thoughtful and cerebral Levchin (pictured here) is best known as a top exec at PayPal. He then founded Slide, a then-hot start-up that made apps — then called “widgets” — for Facebook, including some that let you toss sheep (remember SuperPoke!?!).

(I had been hard on Slide back then, noting that the idea of a “Widget IPO” was ludicrous: “It’s a sign to me that suddenly makes the scene feel very bubbly, given that Slide certainly has traffic, but no proven track record to continually make money.”)

But Slide, which Levchin considered a disappointment despite a huge funding valuing the company at $550 million, was sold to Google for $180 million in mid-2010.

Levchin quickly chafed at the search giant, after working on a variety of social efforts there, including clashing with Google+ leader Vic Gundotra. Levchin did not work that closely with Mayer while at Google, although they are friendly.

He eventually left the company in mid-2011, with Google shuttering Slide, and has since been working on a new start-up in San Francisco.

An active angel investor, he’s one of many entrepreneurs in the Web arena that young start-ups look up to, which is the presumable reason for bringing him onto the Yahoo board. Once added, he’d easily be the hippest director in the group.

The Yahoo board changes will also include the departure of some board members, including Weather Channel CEO David Kenny, who had once been considered as a possible CEO of Yahoo. Other rumors that had been raised included a change in chairman, but sources said that this is not the case for now.

When I emailed and texted him yesterday afternoon about the board changes I had heard were coming, Yahoo Chairman Fred Amoroso wrote me: “As a matter of policy, I don’t comment on rumors.”

Kenny also declined to comment yesterday, noting he was on a plane and was not reachable.

Presumbly, he was returning east from the Yahoo board meeting that was held earlier this week in Silicon Valley.

The Yahoo board moves echo similar changes that were made when former CEO Carol Bartz came into office.

The New York Times also posted on the changes, noting Intuit CEO Brad Smith was also leaving the board. Last year, Smith had become a very active board member, especially after Bartz and then Thompson were ousted, but his own board at the financial software company had been asking him to cut back.

Sources said other new directors might also be named to replace him, but that this was not going to be announced by Yahoo at this time.

Until the inevitable board news, here’s a video of one of many interviews I did with Levchin — this back in 2009 — to give you an idea of his stylings:


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik