The way to determine where an industry is going is to pay very careful attention to the leader. Judging from the snippets that came out of
six-hour analyst meeting Thursday -- gleaned from a 25-minute interview afterward with President and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Mallett -- the future for Yahoo! and the Web portal industry is threefold: wireless, corporate and global. Each is a huge opportunity for Yahoo! and its competitors, and each just as easily could be where Yahoo! trips up if it fails to execute.
Mallett explained in clearer language than I've heard elsewhere why everyone is so gaga over the wireless opportunities on the Internet. He says that research shows that far more people will gain access to the Internet
for the first time
through wireless applications than over land lines. That's why Yahoo! is joining up with the likes of hardware suppliers
and wireless carriers
to offer nifty services like mapping and stock quotes.
"Tens of millions of people will have their only access to the Web through wireless," says Mallett, the No. 2 guy at a company lauded for its top-heavy management team. He notes that Yahoo! is able to take advantage of its position as the No. 1 Web portal in the new realm; the phone carriers will promote Yahoo! services for free to build up usage, and the hardware vendors will actually pay Yahoo! as part of their drive to boost sales of wireless devices.
Yahoo!'s new focus on what business folks call the enterprise is noteworthy, too. Up to now, Yahoo! steadfastly has focused on consumers. With its tritely named Yahoo! Enterprise Services (YES!), the company is making a major move into the corporate suite. The company will port its successful MyYahoo! service into an OurYahoo! offering -- with a fire-wall-software assist from
and integration help from
-- which will enable corporations to construct an internal portal that embeds Yahoo!'s services. MyYahoo! aggregates email, customized stock quotes and automatically updates information on topics of personalized preferences from various other sites.
This is big stuff. Yahoo!, which gets the lion's share of its revenue from advertising, will try to exploit the licensed software approach to pricing that companies such as
Mallett's mum about customers but says they'll be among the
and that several are in trial and therefore close to being announced. He says the revenue -- which won't have an impact on Yahoo!'s earnings statement until next year -- will come from a one-time installation fee and then a per-seat license fee. That model worked great for the enterprise-software companies until the bottom fell out of their market, in part because of Internet-based competition.
Why go after the enterprise now? "We're taking advantage of the huge presence we have on the corporate desktop," says Mallett, referring to the 65 million users Yahoo! had in March that came to the portal through a high-speed line, most of them at work.
Given the interest in Europe because of the
deal, Mallett says the company dwelt at some length on non-U.S. markets at Thursday's meeting.
About 40% of Yahoo!'s traffic comes from distant shores, but only 14% of the revenue is non-U.S. Mallett says that Yahoo! has learned that most big non-U.S. markets are two years behind the U.S. in nearly every way. Translation: It will take about two years before the percentage of Yahoo!'s overseas revenue matches its overseas usage.
Yahoo! also opened the kimono a bit on its "X-Vision" program, a plan to create Webcast networks that will present streaming video programming on various high-profile topics. So far, that program has included only the FinanceVision product, on which
journalists (including me) frequently appear. Mallett won't say what the next "visions" are, but he notes that sports, news, shopping and auctions are among the most popular "channels" of Yahoo!'s static sites. Expect Webcasted products around those topics soon.
Oh, there was also the normal financial stuff. Yahoo! did not guide Wall Street up or down in its estimates of gross margins, net profits or expenses as a percentage of revenue, despite all the talk of new projects. This perhaps best demonstrates the company's confidence (audacity?) that it can throw so many new irons into the fire -- a new sales model for a portion of the business, new content products, new distribution venues -- without putting a damper on profits.
The implications for everyone else are clear. If Yahoo! continues to be a leader, then any big Web-based media player without a wireless, corporate and global strategy will be toast. Follow the leader.
A Modest Proposal on B2B
It's time to drive a stake through B2B. No, this isn't a diatribe about how business-to-business e-commerce isn't for real; it is for real, no matter how many lookalike companies will go out of business pursuing the same customers with the same business model. It
a suggestion that we stop using the expressions B2B, B2C and a host of other, even more annoying alphabet-soup labels like B2B2C or B2G and on and on and on.
My objection to B2B in particular is that, take a deep breath first, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS B2B. The "real" economy provides some instruction here. Businesses that sell products to consumers are called retailers. Their suppliers are wholesalers. The people who make the stuff from components are called original-equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, an expression most of us don't use at cocktail parties.
Now follow the e-logic. Web sites that sell products to consumers are retailers. Online concerns that sell software to other Web sites or who provide a marketplace for businesses to trade products in are, respectively, the business-software and business-middleman business. We're rapidly moving out of the phase in which slapping a B2B in front of one's name is worth a few points of multiple expansion, just as a year ago it stopped being chic to attach a dot-com to one's name to get a bigger valuation.
Call it what it is: business software, online retailing, electronic exchanges, etc. English is so much easier to understand than B2Bese.
The Upside and Downside of Size
Buried in one of
James J. Cramer's
many columns Thursday was a fascinating nugget. Cramer explains how his relatively small hedge fund can game certain movements in a stock like
because his is nimbler than the funds once run by
. "We couldn't play that game if we ran billions," Cramer
opines of his arcane bet that investors would be pleased by a so-so quarter from Dell. "But we can play it at our size."
This is an endlessly fascinating subject. He's basically saying that a smaller fund can maneuver in ways that the big boys -- from the aforementioned hedge funds to
-- cannot. "A smaller investor has much more flexibility to migrate the way the market migrates," explains Stuart Francis, head of technology investment banking for
in San Francisco. "They don't have to worry that their movements will move markets."
This, of course, has everything to do with macro market dynamics and investor psychology and nothing to do with individual-company fundamentals. But the voodoo sometimes is nearly as relevant as the nuts and bolts. Sometimes more so.
Adam Lashinsky's column appears Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Lashinsky writes a column for Fortune called the Wired Investor, and is a frequent commentator on public radio's Marketplace program. He welcomes your feedback at