Ask Jason: Culture change/Changing Cultures

Our first question for “Ask Jason” is from Adam. Adam writes:

>> Pick one of the following and explain:
>> 1. AOL’s corporate culture has changed me
>> 2. I’ve changed AOL’s corporate culture
>> Why? because I like anything that Valleywag can misquote

In regard to AOL corporate culture changing me I’d say the positive impact is that I’m learning how to run a huge portal. I’m also getting to spend time with the top brass looking at how you steer such a huge machine, do budgets, and “move the needle.” In my world–the startup world–you pick a direction in go. Every third or forth thing you do moves the needle in startup land. It’s not that simple in this world. In this world you might do 10 to 20 things and the needle won’t even move. You then sit there and wonder if those were the right things to do or not. Sort of like Yahoo buying delicious or Flickr–did it move the needle? Probably not on a revenue or traffic level, but on a culture and design standpoint it’s had huge impact.

When you’re huge you don’t win with home runs, you win with lots of singles and doubles.

Now, we’ve speed things up considerably since I’ve gotten here, and I’m not letting things slow me down. However, I still feel like we’re moving waaaaaaaay to slow. I’ve been trying to reconcile my need for speed with what is best for AOL. Perhaps I’m trying to impose a pace on the organization that it shouldn’t have. I don’t believe that in my heart, but I am considering it. I’ll keep you posted on that.

In terms of negatives, our team has to waste hours and hours a month suffering through insane red tape to get our simple things like expenses done. Also, when you have huge traffic you start to look for distribution instead of creating viral experiences. We call this “begging for the homepage” here at AOL. Some folks spend there time making great content that people discover, some folks beg for the homepage. I’ve been forcing my people to consider any homepage action they get as icing on the cake and to focus their energy on making world class content.

Last week’s E3 is the perfect example. AOL didn’t send us any significant traffic, but we had record traffic on Engadget and Joystiq. The reason? We did amazing content that people blogged about and forward to their friends.

AOL’s filled with a lot of great folks, but it’s tough to be in a business that’s in transition. Last quarter we lost almost 1m paying subscribers–that’s just stunning. However, we had 26% growth–second only to Yahoo–in our advertising business. That is also stunning, but in a good way. Some folks sit there and cry in their coffee and I just shake my head. I’ve never cried in my coffee–not once in my life. The growth in this business is in advertising not in subscribers, and we’re killing it in advertising. That’s all that matters–the future.

I haven’t had to sit here through the “dark years” so I have the advantage of coming in and only seeing upside

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