Though I frequently celebrate the lunches to which we lucky Google fools are treated, the title above refers to a lunch I had on Friday at Yahoo!. (Is that how I punctuate such a sentence? I thought I would check how Yahoo! themselves do it. However, it appears they have an unwritten PR rule against ending a sentence with the word "Yahoo!".)
Anyway, I headed over to grab a bite and catch up with my friend Jeff Bonforte. Jeff and I met when he was heading up Sipphone and I was trying to bake some thoughts on what would later become Google Talk. Soon after launching the Gizmo Project, Jeff was offered a sweet gig at Yahoo! heading up a bunch of their communications efforts.
I had never been to the Yahoo! campus, so my eyes were wide as I was repeatedly struck by the comparisons to the GOOG. I have never been much of a documentarian, suffice it to say, it is a very different place. The lunchroom itself had good energy and there was a wide variety of food from which to choose, but it was hard to miss the price tags next to each of the selections. (Note: sometimes I do wonder if Google should charge a nominal amount for the food just to remind folks of how fortunate we are for such a perk and hopefully deflate the few entitled jerks who seem to take it all for granted. Alternatively, maybe we could only charge the ungrateful lot. Hmm.)
The lunch conversation was interesting and almost reassuring. Essentially, two former startup guys comparing notes on what its like to be staying afloat inside very big, if very different, companies. Despite the fact the walls where he worked were all purple and yellow and not in primary colors like chez moi, our experiences of navigating increasingly diffuse and polarized organizations were very similar. As these places get bigger, employees and their roles are increasingly specialized. In contrast, startups require and encourage wholesale generalism. In a startup, you basically help wherever you can. Not so in a big company. People have clearer roles and territories start to emerge. That said, rest assured neither of us have ever been known for being constrained by bureaucracy and I doubt it will start now.
Overall, I enjoyed getting a chance to stop by that place. I like Yahoo! and think they keep us on our toes. So far, they have played very fair and proven to be a formidable competitor. I think Yahoo! inspires a good deal of our effort and creativity.
One funny note: as we were getting up to leave, we walked by a table in the lunchroom and heard this snippet from one Yahoo! employee to another:
"If I take this job at Google . . . "