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Marissa Mayer's moonshot: Yahoo on every device

With more than 700 million users Yahoo has a good start, but getting the next billion users will be a challenge.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at the Wired Business Conference in New York.
Dan Farber

NEW YORK--Marissa Mayer has clear vision of what a moonshot -- an epic accomplishment -- would be for Yahoo. She wants Yahoo persistent on every smartphone, tablet and PC for every Internet user.

"The nice thing is that we are not that far off," the Yahoo CEO said in conversation with Wired senior writer Steven Levy at the Wired Business Conference.

Mayer could add wearable computers as well. She said that Yahoo is experimenting with developer versions of Google Glass to see how users can operate Yahoo's apps using the digital eyewear.

With more than 700 million users, including about 300 million on mobile devices, Yahoo has a good start, but getting the next billion users will be a challenge. Facebook has more than double the number of mobile users, for example.

In nine months of running Yahoo, Mayer has initiated a number of "sprints" to reinvigorate the company. Her first task has been energizing the culture and hiring a management team to help carry out her grand vision. "My job as executive is to play defense and let the team play offense," she said. Mayer shared that she has been successful recruiter, landing her first choices for many key positions.

In the last several months, she has introduced product updates at a more rapid rate, killed a bunch of products, launched new video programs, focused on mobile, extended its search relationship with Microsoft, and acquired several small companies, including Summly. But there has been no silver bullet to catapult the company into a new orbit.

Yahoo Weather app with Flickr pictures. CNET

As an example of where Yahoo has been able to create a unique product from its assets, Mayer pointed to the company's new weather app, which includes geo-tagged images from its Flickr photo sharing app that appear for a particular location and time.

Mayer also used the Yahoo Weather example to explain her edict banning staff from working from home. The app would not have happened without on-site collaboration, meaning someone on the Flickr team running into someone working on weather. She also noted that there are lots of exceptions to the ban.

Levy asked Mayer about Yahoo creating its own search engine. "Most of the innovation in search is in terms of the user interface, being able to construct results in different ways. It's like being a wine maker. You can grow your own grapes or buy them from someone else and still make a wine with your own style," she said. Yahoo will continue to buy its grapes from Microsoft now, with a guaranteed level of revenue.

In her most recent earnings call, Mayer cautioned that "getting the company growing at a rate we would like to will take several years." Yahoo's first-quarter earnings delivered more profit but less revenue than the first quarter of 2012. And, Yahoo's display ad business fell 11 percent compared with a year ago.

That said, Yahoo's stock has been up more than 50 percent since Mayer took over as CEO in July 2012. The stock closed at $26.07 Tuesday, up from $15.35 a year ago.