This Fast Company story on the significance of Yahoo in building the internet we know today is right on point.

I started as a ‘senior’ producer for Yahoo! Australia & NZ in the second half of 1997. I was ‘senior’ but I didn’t have anyone reporting to me. I’d have to build and launch products on a tech stack I’d never used before while also hiring a team to help build products faster.

I got to launch Yahoo products in Australia and NZ that were mostly localised versions of products the company had built for US customers but gradually we started building our own from scratch.

I moved to Product Director when the product, dev, ecommerce, mobile, and customer service team that worked with me got bigger, and then took a regional role across Asia Pacific including fascinatingly unique markets like Singapore, India and South Korea.

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I left Yahoo in 2002 but until about 2000 I felt like I had the authority and the trust to do almost anything I thought our customers would love from Yahoo next, if we could find a way to pull it off.

Any time I had questions or doubts, I could talk to anyone at any level about it and if I’d considered it, had some ideas of my own, and wasn’t just wasting their time, they’d help. They wouldn’t just hand out pat answers but they’d consider the question and give me insight that would help me find a way.

When I asked for help from design, product and dev people they’d get it done because they wanted me and my team to succeed as much as they wanted their own team to succeed.

If I tried to list all the Yahoo product, dev, legal, PR and sales people I still owe favours to, it would be most of the company.

I’ve experienced that kind of culture in smaller tech startups since Yahoo but never in companies that large.

I felt like everyone at Yahoo would have done everything they could to help me succeed, and in return I felt like I owed them everything in return.

Bleed purple? I would have bled any colour you asked of me.

How do you build a culture like that? I don’t think we knew how we were doing it, it was just a function of the people building out the company and the challenges they’d been given. And maybe that’s how you do it:

  • Hire people on their intelligence rather than their qualifications or experience (if you’re asking people to do things nobody has ever done before, experience is irrelevant and learning fast is more important than inflexible skill sets)
  • Keep it as free of hierarchy as you possibly can (if people aren’t encourage to bring problems and questions to leaders, how can the business know what’s really going on?)
  • Give lofty goals and celebrate those who achieve them rather than disciplining those who fail to achieve less lofty goals.
  • Set the goals, don’t define the way people achieve them.
  • Relate wholeheartedly, with everyone, and exhibit your real self, always.

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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