Chinese American Jerry Yang, who emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10 and went on to co-found Yahoo and revolutionize the way we use the internet, is often lauded as a Silicon Valley success story. Mochi had the opportunity to ask Jerry some questions about the secrets of his success, inspirations and the future of Yahoo and the internet.
Q: You have been labeled as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. To what do you attribute your success?
A: David Filo and I began creating a directory of the web, which would become the foundation for Yahoo in 1994, as engineering graduate students at Stanford University. We were fortunate to live in a country that enabled entrepreneurs to flourish, innovate and thrive due to a strong commitment to R&D [research and development] and education, access to capital and a culture that encourages innovation.
Living in Silicon Valley, we had access to mentors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers and a very talented workforce. Risk-taking is a key ingredient to success and failure often a badge of honor. Growing up in this type of environment and hearing the stories of other entrepreneurial companies like Apple, HP, Intel and Cisco gave me the courage to take an entrepreneurial path, innovate and follow my passions.
Q: How does today’s Yahoo compare to your vision for the company when you first founded it?
A: It’s pretty similar, although the internet has gone through enormous growth since we started Yahoo in a small campus trailer. Our vision has always focused on providing access to the things that matter most to our users. When we started Yahoo, there were less than 20,000 websites and fewer than 10 million people globally on the internet. Today, there are more than 200 million websites with 90,000 created daily, and the internet population is nearing 2 billion people.
Fundamentally, we’ve also always believed that the majority of content on the internet should be free, as it represents a great social tool for the world. Fifteen years later, we’re serving hundreds of millions of people globally with free content and communications tools and have built a very successful business on an advertising-based monetization model.
Q: What is your vision for the future of Yahoo? What types of projects are you working on now for Yahoo?
A: The future of Yahoo looks very bright. There are a few big industry trends right now—more and more devices are internet-enabled, from mobile phones to tablets to televisions. This means that people need more ways to organize and deal with the information on the internet. Yahoo’s original mission to help people navigate the massive amount of information remains truer than ever.
We recently launched new mail and messenger apps for the Android platform, as well as HTML-5-based mail and news sites for the iPhone and a custom-entertainment app for the iPad. Yahoo also announced plans to acquire Associated Content, which provides high quality, personally relevant content. Its 380,000 contributors, creating 50,000 content pieces each month, will enable us to provide even more localized content for our users.
Q: What continues to inspire you and your vision for Yahoo?
A: I’m always amazed at how much the internet continues to change people’s lives. As fast as the internet and Yahoo have grown, and as remarkably as our lives have already changed, we are just at the beginning of this great transformation. The internet really does have the ability to transform lives and create socio-economic opportunities for people around the world, especially for those living in emerging markets.
Half of the next billion Internet users will come from emerging markets and most will access the Web on a mobile device. I’m excited to think about how we can create even more relevant and compelling tools and content for the next generation of Internet users.
Q: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your teenage self?
A: I would have told myself to study harder in school (although I studied pretty hard!) and play more sports, especially golf, which I wish I had learned to play when I was young. I would spend more time with my friends and really spend more time listening to my mom, uncles and aunts. Now that I’m getting older, I see they sure were right about a lot of things!
This interview, conducted over e-mail, has been edited for clarity.