Kara Swisher

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Yahoo for Sale: Possible Bidders Circling — Including Marc Andreessen — as Board Pressure Mounts

A range of major players interested in acquiring all or a large piece of Yahoo have been prepping possible bids and have been in touch with the Internet giant’s board over the last several days.

While Yahoo has publicly said it was not for sale, according to numerous sources both inside and outside the company, it has been receptive to the interest and its Chairman Roy Bostock and Co-founder Jerry Yang have spoken to several.

Among the possible players: Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, which is working with private equity firm Silver Lake, in a deal that also might include Russia’s DST Global and Yahoo’s Japanese partner Masa Son; former News Corp. exec Peter Chernin, who is partnered with Providence Equity Partners; and the possibility that Yahoo’s Chinese partner, Alibaba Group, might consider entering the fray in what could be a reverse merger of sorts.

Also being rung up by some of the parties: Microsoft — Yahoo’s advertising and search partner — which is being seen as a possibly moneybags in any deal.

The movement among these investors is against a backdrop of increasing pressure for Yahoo’s board, after it fired CEO Carol Bartz last week. In the wake of the dramatic move, shareholders have upped criticism of Bostock and the board and have been looking hard for alternatives.

Today, that included hedge fund investor Daniel Loeb of Third Point, which has a 5.1 percent stake in Yahoo. In a filing this morning, he said he might increase that amount, and described a testy hour-long phone call he had earlier this week with Bostock that ended abruptly with a hang-up from Yahoo.

Sources said Loeb called Bostock a “fool,” among other not-so-nice names, on the call and asked for Yang’s help in dumping him.

This comes as exactly no surprise, given his previously strong letter in which Loeb called for Bostock’s ouster.

Loeb has been calling out Bostock — who is also on the boards of Morgan Stanley and Delta Airlines — for a series of gaffes at Yahoo since he became chairman in 2008 (he’s been on the board since 2003).

Those have included: Yahoo’s bungled effort to stave off a takeover by Microsoft several years ago; the too-long enthusiasm for Bartz, who was hired in early 2009 and fired last week; sitting unusually still as competitors such as Facebook, Google and more have out-innovated and outgrown Yahoo; and, of course, the falling knife of a stock, which has dropped precipitously since Bostock has been in charge of the board.

As Loeb wrote in a letter he sent to the company last week:

“It is time that certain members of this Board were held accountable for its past failures and their individual roles. Accordingly, we insist that Mr. Bostock, who championed Ms. Bartz’s hiring and led the charge against the Microsoft deal, promptly resign from the Board.”

Loeb is likely to add to that later today at a high-profile investor conference in New York, where the colorful but tough-talking investor is sure to add more logs to the fire.

But it not only him. Other major shareholders of Yahoo are also in touch with possible outside buyers, seeking a change at the long-troubled company, after its shares have remained in the doldrums, its attrition rate of employees has spiked and its product pipeline has slowed to drip.

This has all been taking place — of course — during one of tech biggest and most innovative booms, in which Yahoo competitors have grown strongly.

Enter Marc Andreessen, the well-known entrepreneur who has transformed himself into one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful venture capitalists.

He and his partner Ben Horowitz recently pulled off another similar deal — with Silver Lake — to take control of a then-troubled Skype. They later flipped it to Microsoft for a large return.

Sources familiar with the situation said the pair have become increasingly intrigued by the situation at Yahoo and believe that its assets and brand are still strong, despite its management turmoil in recent years.

One problem is the huge cost of almost any kind of takeover and also the complexity, given much of Yahoo’s $18.5 billion valuation is due to its Asian assets.

The sale of those shares, as well as the selling off of some of Yahoo’s less core properties, makes for a very complicated situation for anyone.

Said one person looking at the company: “It is one of the more massive hairballs around.”

That is a common sentiment among many of those looking at Yahoo, which has hired Allen & Co. to manage the process.

Also of worry is a bid that would include too many players. Yahoo has long been plagued by indecisiveness on the part of its execs and, mostly, its board.

But one thing all the possible buyers of Yahoo, as well as an increasing number of its shareholders, agree on: The Yahoo board needs a major shake-up.

As Loeb wrote last week, which many I interviewed also echoed:

“This letter details our principled demands for sweeping changes in both the Board of Directors (the “Board”) and Company leadership, and outlines the hidden value of Yahoo, which has been severely damaged — but not irreparably — by poor management and governance.”

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google