Koprol – The Inside Story. Part 4

Part 3 :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/03/04/koprol-the-inside-story-part-3/

The process for acquiring Koprol was kind of a chaotic one at best. For my part all I could do is step aside and let the corp development team work their magic. I was involved in helping to complete the technical due diligence process and to act as a chaperone for all the comings and goings to the Koprol team. I was not involved in any of the deal negotiations at all since that is the responsibility of the corp dev team and by design the people agreeing to the tech or the initial product desire are not involved. This is to keep it from getting personal and to make sure there is no funny business.

One of the big worries was how much strain the acquisition would put on such a small company since the needs and wants of the Yahoo deal could easily put too many requirements on the small team. My singular worry was that in the event the acquisition did not go through how would Koprol survive? This one was tough cause the due diligence process and the post acquisition integration needs were already keeping the senior management quite busy but the rank and file needed to keep working like nothing would happen. So my goal, not sure I kept it, was to try and stay close enough to keep the acquisition moving forward and to help mitigate any issues while encouraging the team to keep building according to their plans and goals. Of course I was in and out of their office all the time and was talking to the management team daily. There was much to do in both prepping for the acquisition and planning for post acquisition activities.

At this point the process of closing the acquisition was in place and it was just going to take time on the due diligence side plus working through the negotiation and legal process. So in other words I sat back and let the corp dev machine do their thing. We had lawyers, integration specialist, security specialists and even had the Yahoo APAC marketing team working on the acquisition message plus post acquisition marketing. Even the outside PR companies were brought in – will talk about the post acquisition press plans later. It felt pretty incredible but also scary as shit since anything could go wrong and of course something did.

This is something never mentioned in the press or the public story cause no one was suppose to talk about it, it nakedly exposes how big companies are so messed up, but as we neared the due date we suddenly lost our core sponsor. To be clear the due date is the CFO of Yahoo being presented with all the info, the price, the plans and then deciding at the moment to sign or to bail. My feeling was as we neared this point there was no bailing out but turns out even at this juncture it is quite easy to not close the deal.

As I stated in the beginning the person running product at the time and who also was overseeing the IGTF was the sponsor of the deal. Without a sponsor there is no deal but I never really thought about what would happen if prior to closing the deal we would lose our sponsor. I don’t blame our sponsor at all – life goes on and people leave companies and at that point more people were leaving Yahoo than ever. Of course the sponsor did the best he could to transition the deal and to make sure that the CFO knew what was going on but unfortunately at big organizations the sponsor is key and without the sponsor deals generally just die.

I remember the call with trepidation – all of us involved with deal, on the line from various corners of the world with the CFO making a case that the deal was almost concluded, the IGTF would go on, the corp dev team was still for the deal but that yes – we lost the sponsor. Shit. Already I was coming to grips with how to tell Koprol and how to unwind something that was months in the works. I was a nervous wreck. The Indonesian country manager and I were discussing how to tell the market if the news leaked out that we tried to buy Koprol but pulled out knowing that no matter what we would say the market might paint us as the big evil company. Keep in mind, as stated before, Yahoo already tried to by one Indonesian company but pulled out for various legit reasons.

What can I say other than I am very thankful that at the time the APAC Yahoo management, who used to carry a lot of power, decided to lobby heavily to keep the deal alive. They had plenty of good reasons – Yahoo could use a good SEA story, Indonesia was (is) a hotspot and the ramifications of a failed deal might be worse than a small deal, closed, possible going south due to a lack of sponsorship. In theory APAC stepped in to play the sponsor role. It took a lot of convincing and unfortunately the downside was having to agree to some APAC metrics that now forced us to push things a lot more than the original IGTF plans. In hindsight this is another juncture that probably influenced the overall outcome.

We did the deal with the devil. Deal was closing but now we had to push things harder and faster than what made logical sense.

Part 5 :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/04/27/koprol-the-inside-story-part-5/

More on Koprol soon but this is interesting…


I keep waiting for Yahoo to build something new and cool but still don’t see it. In the meantime they just keep buying and closing which remains to be seen if this is a good strategy or not.

Reputation wise I think it is hurting Yahoo some.

Koprol – The Inside Story. Part 3

Part 2 :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/03/01/koprol-the-inside-story-part-2/

Open Hack Day is probably the event that lead me to looking more seriously around the region for interesting companies – having never really spent time looking for companies to acquire I can’t say there is some rulebook or process to follow. I am sure others have some but in this case I was simply looking at the list from the IGTF team and thinking about areas of growth for Yahoo. With that in mind it was just a matter of getting out there and looking. People might laugh when they read this since they might be expecting some great process or process driven method but I was just planning on keeping my eyes and ears open since I was not expecting to ever do an acquisition in SEA. I won’t get into the specifics but Yahoo had tried to acquire in the region before but it didn’t work out for various reasons. So the expectation was that finding the right company and the right deal was probably never going to happen anyway. I was just excited to even be thinking about trying to do it.

On a side note – lots of companies in some parts of the region tend to have funky company setups or have not always been a legit company which can make an acquisition by a public American company almost impossible.

Yahoo Open Hack Day, http://developer.yahoo.com/hackday/, is a long standing tradition in the company but something I never followed until joining Yahoo. I was sent to Open Hack Day New York within my first few weeks of starting work with Yahoo. It was awesome to be on the road again, in New York and seeing lots of old friends. The idea was to study the event some to see how we could pull one off in SEA since I think at that time only India and Taiwan had hosted one. So at some point during 2009 it was decided that Indonesia would be the place for Open Hack Day Southeast Asia and that we would need to host it in Jakarta.

Wheels were now in motion.

One of my ideas for Open Hack Day was to showcase a few local products/companies who would have integrated with some of Yahoo’s Open APIs but the problem was most of these API’s were not that useful in markets like Indonesia. I won’t waste your time by digging into the Yahoo APIs or the pitch we had for developers since it wasn’t that great but we did have a lot users and most of our users would sign into Yahoo to use Yahoo services. So offering developers a chance to use Yahoo’s login credentials and get some press from Yahoo was not a bad thing for a startup.

So in prep for Open Hack Day I ran (mostly by plane) around the region trying to drum up interest in the event, helped to run a contest (managed by e27) to bring a developer from each country in the region to the event and evangelized startups to try and build something cool on Yahoo that I would highlight at the event. The idea was to find a cool startup (or 2 if possible), most likely in Indonesia so they didn’t have to travel, and use that company to show off the Yahoo APIs. I just felt like using a local to talk to locals made more sense than having someone from Yahoo do it. Of course lots of Yahoo folks fly in for the event to offer ground support but I was hoping to show off a local company more than show off Yahoo.

Given that in Indonesia and the Philippines we had a country manager and local teams, it made it easy to talk to the local Yahoo people to get some intros into small companies that they found interesting for whatever reason or another. Once I had that short list I went to those companies to intro myself, pitch them on Yahoo and lay out my OHD offer. Build something on Yahoo, get up to show others how and get some free press for your startup. That’s all I had to offer folks and for a lot of startups I knew it wasn’t enough to entice them or that they were too busy to bother with it but I wanted to try anyway.

As luck would have it not too many cycles into visiting places I was introduced to the Koprol guys. What can I say other than we just clicked – it was fun to meet them, learn about their product, their staff, their office and their way of looking at the local market. They also loved Yahoo and were just great people to hang out with. We left the meeting with Koprol promising to get back to me soon to see what they could do with the APIs and confirm whats possible to demo. In the back of my mind I was already assuming I had found my local celebs for OHD. I felt an immediate connection to the team, the product and the fanatical user base.

Sure enough the team got back to me to confirm what they could build or fake what I needed and I met with the founders to work out the plan. It is easy enough for anyone to Yahoo, or google, to find out what happened with OHD but looking back I am pretty sure everyone saw the event as a success. I also think Koprol got a nice uplift from it and was being seen as a cool company to talk to in Indonesia. It is important to highlight that OHD did not make Koprol but I think it was good for them and good for Yahoo. Enuff said.

Here is the slide deck from the event: http://www.slideshare.net/daniel.armanto/koprolcom-yahoo

With the event in the can, it was time for me to move on to other things but for some reason I always found myself visiting the Koprol office and staying in touch with the gang. It is through these meetings and hanging out that I started to feel like we should do something more with them but of course it was tough to figure out exactly what. I started asking the local corp development team what they thought, this is a rockstar team based in Singapore managing a lot of the International acquisitions for Yahoo, and was educated on the process for working with companies. Yes – I needed the education because I had no idea what the process would be. I talked to the Bizdev team in Asia and the other product managers to get some sense of what we might be able to do with Koprol. Keep in mind I did not immediately think acquisition but was more open to any working relationship that could benefit both parties.

Ideas could be:

– promoting the product
– integrating the product into some other yahoo product – things like messenger came to mind
– seeing if we could evolve advertising around the product – think deals or location based stuff
– license the product as a yahoo product or whitelabel it

In general the thought was just see if there were any worthwhile possibilities to explore.

So of course I started talking to folks from IGTF and the product team in Sunnyvale. At this time the product team for things like messenger and mail was being run by the same guy who created or at least managed IGTF. The core group around this time was also very connected to one of the top technologist at Yahoo, a VC now, and it wasn’t long before they suggested trying to acquire. The idea was messaging (conversations) was interesting, location is interesting (maps, user generated POIs, location based news) and that Indonesia was interesting. As a side note there was also the theory that Yahoo explore having more engineering outside of the normal India/China offices. At the time, now also gone, was an engineering site in Brazil.

So pretty much in a short period of time the basic idea was to see if we could acquire Koprol since it checked a few boxes for a few teams. I will add though that foursquare envy had nothing to do with this exercise. I, for one, never used foursquare and never really even compared the two products. I saw Koprol as location based conversations and more focused on non smart phones and emerging markets than trying to be like foursquare. I think the Koprol team will tell you they built it before foursquare and were fans of dodgeball. Point being is that the whole idea that Koprol was a backup for a failed foursquare acquisition is comical. I was never privy to the foursquare discussions or can even confirm they happened but I doubt Dennis would work for Yahoo – whatever the price.

Part 4 :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/03/25/koprol-the-inside-story-part-4/

Koprol – The Inside Story. Part 2

Part 1 :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/02/28/koprol-the-inside-story-part-1/

The path a company takes with the products and services they offer to customers is highly dependent on who is running the organization coupled with how the organization is constructed. At Yahoo this is no different but in my experience it might actually suffer a bit by how the company is organized at its core. This is an important topic to cover since this ultimately influenced how Koprol was managed – it also points to some of the core issues with Yahoo in general.

I must confess that I am 2 years plus out of Yahoo now with many of my good Yahoo friends already working at other companies. So my inside knowledge is obviously much reduced. This means I am going on what I personally experienced but from all outside appearances the overall structure of Yahoo has not changed much in the last few years apart from better food and phones.

Yahoo primarily is broken down into 3 distinct regions – America, Europe and Asia but there used to be an Emerging Markets group that covered Southeast Asia, Middle East and India separately. The HQ for that group was in Singapore which at the time made Yahoo one of the biggest players in the region and with a big head count in Singapore. What this meant was their was bizdev, legal, sales and even some product folks were aligned especially with the needs of that region. This can be seen as both a good thing and as a bad thing depending on the angle since this group would focus entirely on growth but at the same time the Sunnyvale HQ was not always supportive of the separate region. I think it was for the most part a good thing since it meant the team would move fast and try to evolve quickly enough to keep the region growing but Sunnyvale wanted to start reeling things in to make the company function better as a global unit. This was a tough time for the region cause it meant that SEA and India would now fall under APAC and the ME went to EMEA. Tumultuous times all around.

Once this decision was put in place the Singapore HQ started to let folks go and move people around to fit the new world order. This actually was a good start to get the region receiving more attention from HQ but it also meant a lot of changes. Looking back I don’t think this transition went all that well and might even be a good marker for the overall downward trend for Yahoo in some of these markets. However in a lot of places the downward trend was already happening anyway but I think what made the old organization unique was the ability to act quickly and make a lot of independent decisions. That autonomy was now gone.

For Yahoo Southeast Asia it makes sense to give you some overview of this org and the countries it operated in since this lead a lot to my decisions for where to focus my efforts on looking for small acquisitions.

Yahoo HQ for SEA was Singapore but also home to Yahoo Singapore. This group was a pretty good size since the revenue from Singapore was the largest when I was there even though the audience size was the smallest. This is important to note since it always made for an awkward situation of having to decide where to focus resources – on an area where the users are but not the dollars or where the money is.

Yahoo Malaysia was another proper office that had a small editorial team and sales. Yahoo Malaysia had lots of room for growth but there was always the issue of how much to localize and how to find the right mix to attract the local users. I didn’t spend much time there at all so I can’t really speculate as to how well it was or is doing but it was never really booming for Yahoo.

Yahoo Thailand was never really an office. Used to be some Thai folks would help to manage it from Singapore with some Thai content but it never really grew. When I was there I helped a few times, I didn’t lead the effort but was supportive of it, to try and push harder in Thailand. Anyone could look at the stats for growth of the internet and mobile internet and make a case for trying to take some market share. Problem was MSFT practically owned some of the market and Google was quickly taking over the rest of it. At some point in time Thailand was very Yahoo friendly with people advertising with their Yahoo email addresses or their Yahoo messenger ID’s but those days were long gone. Yahoo couldn’t make a valid case for trying to go back in and win. Yahoo Thailand looks like now it just points to Yahoo.com – so essentially they have given up on the place.

Yahoo Vietnam was one of the early success stories of going in with a local office and hitting it hard. The numbers looked good and the growth was good for a while but this came with it’s own complexities due to the rules in Vietnam. I won’t get into it much cause I am not a legal person but essentially once you setup shop in Vietnam with feet on the ground you are subjected to some level of government scrutiny and intervention. This makes is hard to really try and go big in the region. Yahoo’s work in news/entertainment is labor intensive and requires localization so it means that to build a great business around that you have to be as local as possible but that also means you are competing with truly local companies who might be willing to do what a multinational cannot. I will leave it at that. So Yahoo did quite well there but suffered some black eyes with the closing of some very local products and just dealing with trying to be a big local presence. At some point one could argue Yahoo owned Vietnam with products like Yahoo 360, messenger and email but I am sure those days are gone.

Yahoo Indonesia was another place the local org chose to focus on due to the size of the market, the relative openness around news and the fact that Yahoo seemed to get a warm reception from the population around Yahoo products. So Yahoo Indonesia became another decent size local office and there was even a lot of attention from Sunnyvale. Revenue wise though Indonesia was a tough nut to crack at the time. High user growth but low revenue makes for interesting times. At the present time I think Yahoo is fairing well in Indonesia but has lost a lot of employees and I think the competitors are beginning to cement a solid lead over Yahoo in many areas.

Yahoo Philippines also was a large local market with a decent size local office. This country was largely getting the same treatment as Indonesia since the brand was doing well there and the country was big. It had some of the same issues of needing to grow revenue but also to try and just grow the user base. The news/entertainment market was vibrant and fit well with the Yahoo suite of products. From what I remember, like Indonesia, the growth was good but Yahoo was beginning to lose share in some core products cause there was now competition in the marketplace where there was not before.

So with that background in mind I figured I would focus my efforts for scouring the region in Indonesia and the Philippines. Vietnam was out because it was too sketchy to put an engineering org there due to lots of legal issues. Personally I had a hard time connecting with Malaysia and just didn’t feel equipped to make a difference there. Singapore felt like it was going to be an expensive place to acquire and didn’t check the boxes for a place to expand engineering long term. Thailand was out cause we just didn’t have a big enough presence and with all my personal experience there – I just don’t trust Bangkok as a place to invest in. Look at current events to get a sense of that. I love the country but would I convince a large multinational to go all in – not with a straight face.

I even considered ways to look into Cambodia and Laos but the general consensus was Yahoo wasn’t going to try and expand the region. Keep in mind Yahoo was known for doing joint ventures to expand in some regions – this is how Yahoo Australia and Yahoo Japan were created. There was some people at the time who felt Yahoo should have done more of this. I tend to agree even though it is hard to create the joint ventures. Yahoo can offer brand, technology, and consulting – the other side of the venture brings local expertise, money and government connections. Many of us felt Yahoo could have pushed into a lot more countries with this model but it is probably too late now.

Small side journey – Yahoo was very early in all these regions and probably could have been a lot bigger if it tried to buy or build more things locally. I think this is the crux of the issue with the emergent markets versus the stable or developed markets. Yahoo’s core product suite wasn’t really appealing to the emerging markets young generation and if the region was left alone quite possibly the strategy would have been to build products, acquire, partner or white label whatever was needed to try and win the region over for the long haul. Instead what become the strategy was to take whatever Sunnyvale made and try to shoehorn it into the region. Not sure anyone can answer what would have been the best thing to do but if it were up to me – I would have probably tried to tweak for the local market as much as possible. This is what Yahoo did in Taiwan and for the most part it worked however the strategy stopped at some point and it looks like the market share in Taiwan is falling. I don’t think it will be like Korea where Yahoo made a full retreat but I doubt it will return to its former dominant position.

Deciding whether the global command and control technique of building products for the globe is better than localizing for the region is an age old question. If one looks at facebook or google you see very little localization apart from language and for those companies it has worked. Yahoo for a long time was straddling both fences of localization and global products but not doing either well. It seems under the new regime it is going to be back to global products with language and content localization. It remains to be seen what will turn Yahoo around at this point. My opinion is the the current management is mostly focused on the USA and to some extent Europe while waiting to capitalize on the Alibaba IPO. Apart from the core aspects of Asia it seems me Yahoo is now withering on the vine some in places like SEA and India.

Part 3 :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/03/04/koprol-the-inside-story-part-3/