Jerry Yang: Tech icon re­turns to startup roots

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHANG JUN in San Francisco junechang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Jerry Yang has left be­hind the pres­sures of run­ning a ma­jor tech company to re­turn to his startup roots.

The co-founder and for­mer CEO of search-en­gine gi­ant Ya­hoo Inc now con­cen­trates on his ven­ture cap­i­tal firm AME Cloud Ven­tures in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia. Yang said he started the VC firm to get closer to the startup scene.

“I am hav­ing the time of my life learn­ing about new trends, tech­nolo­gies and in­no­va­tion in Sil­i­con Val­ley and beyond,” he said.

Cur­rently, the fo­cus of his company has been to help en­trepreneurs build datadriven busi­nesses.

“Most of our port­fo­lio com­pa­nies have some em­pha­sis on data — the more data the bet­ter!” Yang said. “We also pri­mar­ily fo­cus on com­pa­nies in the early stages — seed, an­gel, in­cu­ba­tion. As long as that con­tin­ues, I am hop­ing that I can be a part of help­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of great en­trepreneurs build some world­chang­ing com­pa­nies.”

Yang also is get­ting more closely in­volved with Chi­nese com­pa­nies in their US and global business ef­forts. Start­ing as an ob­server for China’s lead­ing PC maker Len­ovo Group Ltd, Yang is now a board di­rec­tor and is con­fi­dent in the lead­er­ship and man­age­ment team led by CEO Yang Yuan­qing.

“The other rea­son I joined Len­ovo’s board is be­cause I feel I can learn a lot from the first Chi­nese tech­nol­ogy company to be­come a global company,” said Yang, who said Len­ovo is al­ready quite global — with a huge US-based business in North Carolina, and the an­nounce­ment this week that it would soon start sell­ing Mo­torola phones in China. “It is mov­ing well beyond PCs into tablets, phones, and soft­ware ser­vices,” he said.

The company that Yang said he has been “lucky to be in­volved with for many years is Alibaba. Clearly, the world of e-com­merce con­tin­ues to have mas­sive po­ten­tial.”

“With­out a ques­tion I see that in the fu­ture, more Chi­nese com­pa­nies will be­come even more global,” he said.

Yang, 46, spent his first 10 years in Tai­wan be­fore he im­mi­grated with his wid­owed mom and brother to San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, in 1978.

The Chi­nese cul­ture he was im­mersed in and the Chi­nese val­ues he had been taught since child­hood — per­sis­tence, re­silience and per­se­ver­ance, for ex­am­ple — “have al­ways had a large in­flu­ence on me”, said Yang, who said he grew up with a good dose of fam­ily val­ues and read­ing a lot of kung fu nov­els.

In his early 30s, Yang was an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing ma­jor at Stan­ford Univer­sity. In 1994, he and David Filo co-cre­ated a web­site made up of di­rec­to­ries of other web­sites and named it “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”.

The two men re­al­ized the business po­ten­tial after re­nam­ing the web­site Ya­hoo! and de­cided to quit their doc­toral stud­ies and ded­i­cate their en­er­gies to in­creas­ing the web por­tal’s traf­fic and branch­ing out into an ex­ten­sive range of prod­ucts and ser­vices.

One of the lead­ing In­ter­net brands and the most traf­ficked net­work on the World Wide Web, Ya­hoo’s suc­cess led to Jerry Yang be­ing named by MIT Tech­nol­ogy Re­view in 1999 as one of the “Top 100 In­no­va­tors in the World un­der the Age of 35”. At Ya­hoo

Dur­ing his two-year stint as CEO of Ya­hoo from June 2007 to Jan­uary 2009, Yang en­coun­tered ca­reer crises as his company op­er­ated like a boat sail­ing against the cur­rent. Many in­vestors and stake­hold­ers crit­i­cized Yang for not be­ing able to in­crease rev­enue and Ya­hoo’s stock price, and many ex­ec­u­tives de­parted.

In­vestor dis­con­tent with Yang in­ten­si­fied in May 2008 after he re­jected a takeover bid by Mi­crosoft Corp, which he con­sid­ered hos­tile. In an ef­fort to in­crease its mar­ket share and com­pete more ef­fec­tively against Google Inc in on­line search and ad­ver­tis­ing, Mi­crosoft wanted to pur­chase Ya­hoo. The soft­ware gi­ant sent then- CEO Steve Ballmer to ne­go­ti­ate with Yang.

Yang, de­ter­mined to make the takeover as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble, asked Mi­crosoft to raise the of­fer to $37 per share. Although Mi­crosoft went to $33, which would have pumped up Ya­hoo’s mar­ket value to $44.6 bil­lion, Yang walked away.

Ya­hoo’s stock price plunged as Mi­crosoft with­drew the bid, which re­sulted in waves of crit­i­cism from in­vestors di­rected at Yang and Board Chair­man Roy Bostock for their han­dling of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. Later, Yang ini­ti­ated a com­mer­cial-search ad­ver­tis­ing ar­range­ment with Google, but the plan was scut­tled after US au­thor­i­ties ex­pressed con­cerns over pos­si­ble an­titrust is­sues.

In De­cem­ber 2008, ru­mors were that Yang would step down as CEO as Ya­hoo was ac­tively search­ing for his re­place­ment. On Jan 13, 2009, Ya­hoo con­firmed it would hire Sil­i­con Val­ley veteran Carol Bartz as CEO.

Yang left Ya­hoo in 2012, re­sign­ing from the board of direc­tors and all other po­si­tions at the company, along with seats on

In ad­di­tion to Len­ovo and Alibaba, com­pa­nies such as Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd and Xiaomi Corp are ex­am­ples of con­tin­ued in­no­va­tion. Many of th­ese com­pa­nies, such as Baidu Inc, are also set­ting up R&D cen­ters in the US, said Yang.

“I also con­tinue to be­lieve there will be tight col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Sil­i­con Val­ley and Chi­nese tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies,” he said.

Yang’s ad­vice to Chi­nese en­trepreneurs start­ing new ven­tures has been to fo­cus on a large mar­ket op­por­tu­nity.

“Fur­ther­more, re­ally re­cruit the best tal­ent pos­si­ble,” he said. “Lastly, look for strong, de­fen­si­ble dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion — ei­ther through deep tech­nol­ogy, or time to mar­ket, or tremen­dous ease-of-use.” On Chi­nese-Amer­i­can iden­tity

Un­like a cen­tury ago when Chi­nese im­mi­grants suf­fered from dis­crim­i­na­tion and mis­treat­ment, the chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics of the US are such that in the next 20 years, Lati­nos and Asian Americans will pos­si­bly make up the majority in the pop­u­la­tion, said Yang.

In ad­di­tion to tech­nol­ogy, “We are al­ready see­ing some progress of Asian Americans in lo­cal pol­i­tics, arts and business,” Yang said. “Hope­fully, the progress of Asian Americans ad­vanc­ing in all fields of so­ci­ety can con­tinue.”

Yang sees him­self very much as Amer­i­can. Only in Amer­ica can an im­mi­grant from Tai­wan start a business like Ya­hoo, he said. “I’m proud of my Chi­nese her­itage, and I am very lucky to con­tinue to have strong as­so­ci­a­tions in China and other parts of Asia.

Yang is not only about business; he is a noted col­lec­tor of cal­lig­ra­phy.

I re­mem­ber when I was young, in Taipei, I would take cal­lig­ra­phy lessons. While it was not all that fun back then, it planted a seed in me,” said Yang, who started col­lect­ing cal­lig­ra­phy works in the late 1990s.

“I pur­chased my first cal­lig­ra­phy in 1998,” he said. “Since then, my wife and I con­tin­ued to col­lect Asian art, in­clud­ing more cal­lig­ra­phy.”

Yang’s col­lec­tion of cal­lig­ra­phy was dis­played in ma­jor exhibitions at the San Francisco Asian Art Mu­seum in 2012, and at the New York Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art in 2014.

CHANG JUN / CHINA DAILY

Co-founder of Ya­hoo Inc

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