Insider’s book offers detailed look at rapid rise and spectacular fall of Yahoo

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Jeremy Ring is telling the inside story of the rapid rise and ultimate collapse of the pioneering search engine Yahoo and how the company’s missteps contributed to today’s domination of the internet by Google and Facebook.

Ring knows the inside story. He was one of the earliest employees at Yahoo when it was the ascendant force online. He became its director of sales in early 1996 and stayed until the middle of 2001, becoming wealthy along the way.

But the company, which rode high during the 1990s tech boom and started falling during the dot-com bust in 2000, made a series of well-publicised missteps over the years, and ultimately was sold to Verizon in 2016, tarnished by the news that all 3 billion of its user accounts had been hacked in 2013.

“It’s a story of incredible missteps, probably some ego involved,” Ring said. “The decisions that Yahoo made shaped the world that we live in today. We pioneered the digital information age; I think everyone agreed with that. Those decisions allowed Facebook and Google to grow and become the behemoths that they are. … Those two organisations control our lives.”

Ring started with Yahoo by opening its East Coast office in his Hoboken, New Jersey, apartment and ended in California. A Florida financial disclosure form from 2016 said his net worth was US$12.6mil (RM48.94mil).

Ring, who moved to South Florida in the middle of 2001, was a Florida state senator from 2006 to 2016, when he left office because of term limits. He’s currently seeking the Democratic nomination to run for state chief financial officer. Publicity from the book could be helpful to his campaign, but he said the book doesn’t contain anything political. “It has zero to do with it. (The timing) is coincidental.”

He said he started writing the book in 2011 as a cathartic activity when he was recovering from two surgeries to replace a bad aortic valve. “I was dying. I was down to 138 pounds. I didn’t have much longer to go.”

He said he put it aside for several years. When Yahoo was sold in 2016, he said he realised he had half a book already written and decided to finish it.

“It talks about how we built the company. In the heyday, we were worth US$120bil (RM466.15bil) – more than Ford, Chrysler and GM combined,” he said, adding it then goes into the “missteps and decisions” that followed.

Among the blunders, which in hindsight are obviously huge: Turning down the chance to buy Google for US$1mil (RM3.88mil). A deal to buy eBay that fell apart. Negotiations to buy Facebook for US$1.1bil (RM4.27bil) that fell apart when Yahoo tried to get a lower price.

In the end, Yahoo’s Internet business was sold to Verizon for US$4.5bil (RM17.48bil), US$120bil (RM466.15bil) less than its highest market value.