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Could the Sale of Yahoo become the Next Google

When we think about who the next Google or Face­book might be, we’re usu­al­ly con­sid­er­ing star­tups, fledg­ling com­pa­nies, or even ideas that haven’t been prop­er­ly trans­lat­ed into busi­ness­es yet. It’s not often that “the next big thing” is actu­al­ly an old thing that just still exists. The prover­bial phoenix from the ash­es. And if some­one said that the sale of Yahoo could become this phoenix yet to rise, I would have laughed out loud. Until recent­ly, anyway.

Yahoo has been in steady decline for years, and even though Maris­sa May­er seemed a promis­ing sav­ior for the floun­der­ing for­mer online king of the hill, she was­n’t able to bear the weight of the sink­ing ship. Okay, maybe not sink­ing, but Yahoo isn’t exact­ly gain­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty either. It’s float­ing around with its head above water, unable to fig­ure out how to move for­ward. Work­ing at Yahoo is still con­sid­ered pres­ti­gious, but not like work­ing at Google. Cus­tomers aren’t leav­ing in droves, but they are leav­ing. They have assets and infra­struc­ture, what they need is a vision and some guidance.

So it was­n’t a huge sur­prise when May­er announced back in Feb­ru­ary that Yahoo would be lay­ing off 15% of the jobs at Yahoo and auc­tion­ing off its inter­net busi­ness, along with var­i­ous patents and property.

Could the Sale of Yahoo go to Warren Buffett and Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans?

Enter the next pos­si­ble sav­ior of Yahoo, but this time it isn’t a new CEO (although that could hap­pen), it’s a (prob­a­ble) new set of own­ers, a con­sor­tium that includes Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quick­en Loans. While that’s inter­est­ing, what’s more inter­est­ing is that the con­sor­tium is being backed by War­ren Buf­fett. If there’s one thing that Buf­fett does real­ly well — bet­ter than pos­si­bly any­one — it’s make a prof­it. He’s known for buy­ing and turn­ing around com­pa­nies that are in decline but still have a large cus­tomer base, the exact sit­u­a­tion Yahoo is in.

Buf­fett and Gilbert, the founder of Quick­en Loans, have been good friends since 2012 when Gilbert signed on to Buf­fet­t’s (and Bill Gates’) Giv­ing Pledge, to give away half of his wealth before or when he dies.

The con­sor­tium is cur­rent­ly in the sec­ond round of bid­ding for the sale of Yahoo. Gilbert is obvi­ous­ly more suit­ed to the tech­nol­o­gy space than Buf­fett, hav­ing start­ed Quick­en Loans, and is lead­ing the con­sor­tium in the effort. Buf­fet­t’s Berk­shire Hath­away has rarely been involved in tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies, and Buf­fett admit­ted on April 30, dur­ing Berk­shire’s share­hold­ers con­fer­ence which Yahoo live streamed, that the com­pa­ny had been slow to adapt to new tech­nol­o­gy when investing.

But Yahoo isn’t real­ly new tech­nol­o­gy, as we’ve already cov­ered, and Buf­fet­t’s inter­est in the invest­ment is baf­fling to some Wall Street ana­lysts. If you’re look­ing for jobs in adver­tis­ing, Yahoo would­n’t be the place to start ‑their adver­tis­ing growth rate has been nonex­is­tent for about five years. Their rev­enue has been flat dur­ing that same peri­od. RBC ana­lyst Mark Mahaney won­dered recent­ly where Buf­fet­t’s inter­est is com­ing from, call­ing Yahoo the “most fun­da­men­tal­ly chal­lenged” com­pa­ny in the inter­net sector.

Despite all the bad, Yahoo still draws  a bil­lion users to the site every month. Maybe Mr. Buf­fett has an idea or two about how to serve a ready-made audi­ence of one billion.

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