Kara Swisher

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The Debut of Yahoo CEO Mayer: “Tailor-Made” for Marissa

Yahoo turned in a meh third quarter, which came as no surprise to anyone. But none of it matters, since all eyes were on what new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer would say on the investor call today.

Here we go! It is Mayer’s first outing as a public company CEO. She’s been an exec at Google her whole career and, while she has been a prominent public figure in Silicon Valley, she has never run the whole show herself.

Until today, that is!

2:01 pm: Finally, we are hearing from Mayer, who arrived from Google in July.

She is “thrilled to be at Yahoo” and the first 100 days at the company have been a lot of fun.

She’s apparently been a fan since her undergraduate days at Stanford University.

Finally, she tries to answer the big question: “Why did I in particular come to Yahoo?”

Why, indeed, given she and others at Google have spent those years since college putting Yahoo directly into the ground. (Did you know Yahoo gave Google its first big search break, a deal engineered by Mayer and others?)

But, says Mayer, Yahoo is “tailor-made for me,” ticking off arenas such as “search, mail, advertising, home page.”

It’s what she built her career on, apparently — yes, in kicking Yahoo’s behind — but now she wants to help the troubled Silicon Valley Internet giant “grow and help redefine” itself.

Still, she stresses, trying to buy as much time as possible from investors: “It will take multiple years to get to where I want the company to be.”

2:08 pm: Mayer, of course, touts her Apple iPhone-and-free-food spending to make the life of Yahoos better (and on parity with the rest of the digital sector).

To be fair, given the past two CEOs, anyone who did not come in and kick the employees where it counts was going to get some claps.

Mayer’s goals are “simple,” she says, “to execute fast, attract the best talent and make Yahoo the best place to work.”

She says she has assembled a stellar world class exec team to accomplish that.

2:11 pm: Now we get to meet one of that team and a Yahoo newbie — CFO Ken Goldman (pictured here). It’s his first day.

He repeats the results that Yahoo has already put in its press release, which is why I usually zone out here and focus on superficial stuff.

Like how much he sounds like former and ousted Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson. Eek!

Goldman touts Yahoo’s recent Alibaba Group deal in China (done not by Goldman, but by outgoing — jacked by Mayer, really — CFO Tim Morse) and notes a $765 million credit facility that Yahoo apparently got this month.

That’s more dough to add to Mayer’s ever-growing pile to spend on fixing Yahoo.

2:23 pm: Mayer is back — Goldman is nice enough, but everyone wants to hear from the former Google wunderkind.

She makes an obvious statement: Yahoo has to “grow at the same pace as the market we are in.” Yep. Yahoo’s growth has been practically non-existent, while the industry has seen robust increases for years.

Mayer is now hitting all the high points on what needs to be fixed.

Search, communications, a desperate need to invest in mobile. “Our top priority is a focused, coherent” mobile strategy, she says. It’s everybody and their mother’s top priority in the Internet space, but it’s gotta be said.

So Mayer says it again: “Yahoo will have to be a predominantly mobile company.”

She also name-checks “delighting users,” improving advertising and personalization.

2:27 pm: She also underscores that Yahoo will now hold onto its ad tech business.

“No one wants Yahoo to grow more than the people who work here,” says Mayer, who says she is going back to Yahoo’s roots. “We believe Yahoo’s best days lie ahead … and we intend to win.”

It sounds very good, but Mayer has been relatively unspecific overall.

Now to Q&A to see if she will drill down more.

2:30 pm: The first question is about Mayer’s vision as compared to others.

Apparently, it does not mean a “pivot” into different and new businesses. It does mean improving what Yahoo has done well.

“I don’t think this is a situation where there’s a giant pivot and we go into a completely different business,” Mayer says flatly. In other words, no string of Yahoo diners in the offing.

In addition, Mayer says that Yahoo occupies a unique spot that does not put it into “channel conflict” with other rivals and, presumably, can be a better partners.

Also asked about search versus display, she’ll take both, but found display “more compelling.”

The next question is about international markets and the local ones.

Growth, says Mayer, although Yahoo will be narrowing the offerings to be more compelling.

She refers to the recent closing of Yahoo operations in Korea. “We had a very hard time finding a growth story moving forward,” says Mayer.

As to local, which Mayer worked on at Google right before she left, Yahoo’s efforts are merely “good” and it’s not slated for investment going forward.

The next question is about metrics to judge progress. Yahoo left out user numbers it has usually provided in the past and Mayer is not giving up any data now either.

Instead, she is going to rely on internal data and not use third-party data any longer. (It makes some sense since the numbers have been not so pretty over time.)

2:37 pm: Mayer did not want to go into acquisition strategy, which came in a question about its giant pile of dough.

No billion-dollar buys for her, she claims, so cancel that Tesla order for Foursquare, Dennis Crowley!

Mayer noted that most acquisitions will be smaller scale and under $100 million. She noted she had done about 20 of those in her career at Google.

A question about Microsoft.

While there has been “disappointment,” Mayer says the goal is to work with the software giant. In other words, she’s not calling her old pals at Google quite yet (she hasn’t yet, in fact).

The next question is about mobile, with Mayer noting once again that the company has to be primarily mobile-focused going forward.

She’s going to hire as many mobile peeps as possible, especially via smaller-scale acquisitions.

2:44 pm: Goldman gets a little awkward in noting that his young-adult kids think Yahoo is all happening. Hmm, I suppose since he comes from the deservedly defunct Excite@Home and the successful but security-dull Fortinet, that makes sense.

In fact, getting back the young folks is one of Mayer’s top challenges.

A very good question — these are all good ones on the call — is how Yahoo can compete without a mobile operating system, such as Google Android and Amazon Kindle and Apple iOS.

Mayer notes that Yahoo has compelling content that others do not.

Another question on search and, specifically, on mobile search.

Mayer is unspecific, except to note that Yahoo has the ability to be pertinent and competitive.

She is a little more clear on the issues with the Microsoft Bing search relationship. Mayer does know this stuff well, and it is clear there is some serious low-hanging fruit to be plucked by someone who knows what they are doing.

Mayer knows search, to be sure, so I am thinking she will make some bank here.

A question about “overmonetizing” the Yahoo site — i.e. cluttering it up with icky ad units that drive consumers nuts.

Mayer notes that cutbacks in ads to improve user experience will only be done to increase traffic, which is a dicey proposition as it can also kill revenue.

A question about content and where that us going.

Mayer touts the Olympics programming — hat tip to former interim CEO Ross Levinsohn — as something unique to Yahoo. Interestingly, the media folks at Yahoo are still wary of pro-engineering Mayer.

2:55 pm: Another question about her interest in content and investment focus in ad tech.

“I am very product focused,” says Mayer, who uses the term “low latency,” a term that no media person ever would use as a hallmark of success.

She is much more comfy talking tech and that’s an area she knows better. Still, she says little about possible investments.

Mayer is then asked about goals for growth at Yahoo. She does not just want to grow at industry rate, but beyond that! But she’ll take industry rate for now (actually, that would be a huge accomplishment).

Goldman says little on the stock buyback, using the Alibaba dough, except they are buying.

3:01 pm: There are a lot of questions today for Mayer — which is no surprise — but now they are beginning to repeat.

(Plus, I have LOLcat’s Ben Huh waiting for me in the ATD Global HQ lobby — and you all know how I feel about them cats!)

Ah, the last question: It’s about data and personalization and what’s been lacking at Yahoo in not taking advantage about the pile of data it has about .

Yes, that should happen and it will under the regime of Marissa Mayer.

Mayer ends by noting, “It’s time for Yahoo to execute and bring our results back to growth.”

So it is written, so it shall be done.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work