A note to Marissa Mayer with a potential fix for Yahoo!

I recently read that Marissa Mayer was planning to focus her efforts on Yahoo’s home page. I understand she was the gatekeeper at Google for years, protecting the branding of their home page. That’s a great responsibility  But I’m not sold on the fact that redesigning Yahoos home is the path to success for the company. Search is one of their core strengths but Yahoo has some big issues. Outside of floundering for years, most people could care less if the actual site went away. We all have our fav widgets. I use the finance section to track my stocks, the IM (which never works just right) and mail for my junk. Other users I’m sure have their fav parts as well but the value just isn’t there at the moment.

What could Yahoo do to get people to come and use it in force? Give people a compelling reason to return because they want to, not just because they have something that is convenient and free. On top of that challenge, what could the company do to create a stream of revenue so solid, it would bolster the stock value and add value for its users?

In the late 90’s I had an idea to open an online mental health clinic. This was my first dive into User Experience, wire-framing and working with developers directly (outside of some website design work I was doing and managing). At the time i was a clinic administrator at UCSF so understood clinical workflow. Designing an online clinic was challenging but it was a matter of figuring out how the workflow differed from a physical clinic and transposing that into a virtual environment.

The effort took about 5 years front to back including domain registration, initial wires, finding a developer and a business partner. I wont get into the thick of it, but starting a service based self-facilitation clinic where therapists could sign up, and post a profile, specialties, and pricing for 15, 30, and 60 minutes sessions was half the battle. Bringing in visitors was the second challenge. I spent a lot of time on Ad Words and in mid 2004 started driving a ton of traffic in. The site hit profitability in mid 05 and we closed early in 2006 due to some unforeseen liability issues and nowhere near enough legal backing or funding for it. The secret most people don’t know about health care online is that there are a lot of crazy’s out there and they want to blame you for all of their problems.

Reflecting on that experience i realized a couple things about business. First off, there are very few places you can get solid advice online or at least at that time there were only a handful (Keen, Kasamba, and About).

Services aren’t easy but they are rewarding for all participants (providing the service provider is offering an affordable, easy to access, easy to use solution). Bringing services that require no physical support online (i.e. law, mental health, golf advice, astrology, etc) are prime if served via the right interface.

In the case of Yahoo, they have a huge customer base, or at least a semi-regular user base. Mrs. Mayer is focusing on the home page but we know now that it’s all about the landing page. Getting people from point A to G with the least steps possible is critical to a sites and businesses success.

If Yahoo became a service provider with an agnostic self-facilitation tool (imagine Amazon product pages for a service), they could basically write a new chapter. And Marissa would not be off-base in focusing on the home page. That could be a conduit to the service providers.

Now you’re asking… how do they make a profit?

Service providers charge a fee for their service offering. At our online mental health clinic we took 25% of all transactions, and cut a check end of month. 2 things have changed since 2005. Money is much easier to transact, and more people have high-speed connections. Yahoo could create an interface for facilitating (a listing of providers for a certain domain in list and grid format) with excellent yet simple elegant filtering. “I want to talk to a lawyer for 15 minutes, and i have $25 to offer”. Natural language search right off Mrs. Mayer’s new home page takes you to a list of just those providers with contextual filtering. Then once they pay off some debt, and get some money in the bank??

Become a financial institution where the providers can access their cash, and either use it for purchases through Yahoo (where Yahoo gets a kick back), leave it in the bank where Yahoo makes interest, or pull it. Yahoo in turn creates greater financial stability and gives back to the community of not only its service providers and merchants, but also the users that have for so long hoped in the back of their minds that Yahoo might potentially become a destination again.


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