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Marissa Mayer: Building Companies That Change The World

Episode 38

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Marissa Mayer is a co-founder of Lumi Labs and formerly served as the president and chief executive officer of Yahoo! and as an executive and key spokeswoman for Google. In this exclusive interview, Marissa talks to Chad about the lessons she’s learned from helping build those companies.  

“You want to have a very good intuition for where industries are going. And that should inform your strategy.” —@marissamayer

Intro

Marissa Mayer (Twitter: @marissamayer | IG:@marissamayer) is a co-founder of Lumi Labs and formerly served as the president and chief executive officer of Yahoo!  She was also a long-time executive and key spokeswoman for Google.

In this interview, Marissa discusses the early days of Silicon Valley, the lessons she learned from Google and Yahoo! and her best tips for productivity and time management,

This Episode originally ran on Mission Daily on January 1st.

Lumi Labs – (1:30)

  • They’re deliberately choosing a period of experimentation by testing many ideas and MVPs to see what excites people, and the plan is to found and launch an enduring company from those insights.  
  • Goal is to apply AI to everyday tasks, but mostly media tasks

The hype around the AI space – (4:00)

  • Algorithms can be profoundly smart, however, this doesn’t mean it is “AI.”
  • Systems have to learn. Even in the case of Google search, it seems magical and “smart” as if it was learning, however, in the early days, it was all programmed by someone.
  • We are still pretty far from an AI-powered world.

Hearing about a small company called Google – (5:30)

    • Marissa started out by working for the Union Bank of Switzerland in the research lab where she worked on a technology that looked at where people went on the web and did collaborative filtering.
    • After returning from Switzerland, her mentor Eric Roberts mentioned to Marissa that, “There’s these two guys on the fourth floor……They just dropped out to do a startup and I can’t remember what it’s called….”
    • Marissa’s response? “I can’t mess around with a startup right now…”
    • That “startup” was called Google.

Marissa had 20+ job offers after college…. “At one point I was debating between Google, McKinsey, and a teaching position at Carnegie Mellon” – (8:25)

Mentorship – (9:00)

    • Focusing on finding mentors that are directly related to the challenges and goals you’re facing is critical.
    • “The right mentors often present themselves, and as the mentee, you need to do the work.” – Click to Tweet

Before coming on board to work at Google… (10:45)

  • On her backpacking trip before starting full time at Google, she saw someone in Europe using Google in a cafe and realized, “how quickly a product that works well can scale.”

It took all-nighters and long days to deliver on the Netscape & Yahoo contracts that Google won – (13:10)

  • Google won the Netscape contract and would be 1 of 5 search engines offered
  • The following year, Yahoo dropped their search provider and switched to Google to power their search engine
  • Marissa commenting on the hard work that went into these product launches and partnerships: “When you’re doing strategic sleeping where you can be asleep for these two hours and not these two hours, you know it’s rough.” –Click to Tweet

NYT article discussing how Larry and Sergey were not afraid to raise their voice in certain situations – (19:45)

  • When you have a scarcity of resources and time, in those moments it is not considered rude to raise your voice, it’s just a matter of getting things done in a concise way: “In a world of startups and fast-moving technology, people are pretty forgiving of this.”
  • “No one took offense at the fact that someone spent 2 minutes to explain why the answer was ‘no’ instead of 15 minutes.”

It took 6 years for Google to go public, which was abnormally long for startups during that time –  (22:00)

  • “In 1999 you were either going to go public in 18 months to 2 years, or you weren’t going to.” –Click to Tweet
  • The bubble bursting was beneficial for Google’s overall mentality to creating a business.
  • Because of the bubble bursting, Google’s IPO was put off as they had to focus on running frugally, becoming profitable, and creating a quality product.

Wisdom from Google’s IPO – (22:45)

  • Stock prices are often noisy and a trailing indicator.
  • “You don’t want the stock ticker to affect the employees’ mood. You don’t want people making decisions on forward-looking things based on the mood of a trailing indicator.” –Click to Tweet
  • Sergey didn’t even attend the IPO in New York. He made a point of visiting engineers in their cube in Mountain View, CA, to see how their projects were going.
  • Chad: “Jeff Bezos has discussed this previously, saying that the stock price of Amazon today is reflected on work they did 4 years ago.”

“Bezos scrawled ‘We are not our stock price!’ on the white board in his office in a shambly old VA hospital atop a hill south of downtown. At the time, it seemed, everyone was panicking except the boss. He reminded his ragtag band of employees, many of them rushing for the exits, that ‘in the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it is a weighing machine,’ borrowing a phrase often attributed to renowned investor Benjamin Graham.” – Bloomberg article

Marissa is happily working in Google Maps, and Yahoo reaches out to hire her – (23:45)

  • Marissa had her whole plan locked and loaded (launching Maps on mobile, planning for her upcoming maternity leave, etc.) and was unsure about taking on a new role
  • Talking to a local gallery owner helped her decide to join Yahoo… (27:00)
  • “…His theory was, one, life is too short to work with people who aren’t nice. But two, for an artist you feel their mood and their temperament in the work. And I think the same thing is true in technologies.” Click to Tweet
  • The Yahoo opportunity was so special, along with the people and culture being amazing, she knew he had to take it.

As CEO of Yahoo – (30:35)

  • “I was the 7th CEO in 61 months.”Click to Tweet
  • The people at Yahoo were used to new CEOs that came in with a new strategic presentation, and Marissa decided to just talk and listen for 90 days before presenting her strategy. “You have to listen to the people who are there… I would go down to the cafeteria every day and just talk to people.” Click to Tweet
  • 1 in 4 people were leaving Yahoo during the 6 months before her joining.

To create a meritocratic, transparent, and respectful culture… – (33:15)

  • Every meeting during the first 6 months ended with an “around the room” to make sure everyone got to speak up.
  • Favorite book that helped guide Marissa: The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley describing information brokers vs. information fountains.
  • She created a very transparent environment. “By giving people the responsibility of information, there was almost no leaks, where previously there was one a day.”Click to Tweet
  • When employees began to feel that the company trusts them with confidential information, that helps create mutual respect.

Advice to CEOs and Business Owners – (38:45)

  • “You want to have a very good intuition for where industries are going. And that should inform your strategy.” –Click to Tweet
  • Watch where the growth is, even if it means giving up enticing offers.
  • Marissa saw platforms (such as HTML5) offering incentives to develop on their platforms, however, she decided to pass on those offers to get their products on faster-growing platforms (Apple App Store and Google GPlay), even though it meant giving up free labor and free product development help.
  • “You have to have a clear sense of priorities.” Click to Tweet

Lumi Labs is hiring! – (44:45)

Lightning Round – (49:45)

  • Favorite book: The Design of Everyday Things
  • Apps: Yahoo Finance, Uber, Tiny Beans, Gmail, Apple News
  • Movies/TV: Grays Anatomy, The Good Doctor, This is Us, The Crown

Current side project: The Corner House – (52:45)

  • Marissa has reinvented a mortuary into a center for working moms, kids, afterschool enrichment, and community events.

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Marissa Mayer is a co-founder of Lumi Labs, and former President and CEO of Yahoo! and an executive and key spokeswoman for Google. In this exclusive interview, Marissa talks to Chad about the lessons she’s learned from helping build those companies.

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