AOL's Garlinghouse talks 'startarounds,' calls Yahoo Sybil

"The first part of fixing a problem is admitting the problem. At AOL we have a big F-ing problem," says Brad Garlinghouse, president of consumer applications at AOL.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

There are second acts on the Internet and AOL is looking for one, but the first step in a turnaround is admitting that you're a train wreck.

That was the message from Brad Garlinghouse, president of consumer applications at AOL. "The first part of fixing a problem is admitting the problem. At AOL we have a big F-ing problem. There's no confusion about that." AOL has branding, monetization and other challenges.

And Garlinghouse, well known for his Peanut Butter Manifesto at Yahoo, couldn't help but make a comparison with his old employer. "I refer to Yahoo as Sybil. It's entirely schizophrenic," says Garlinghouse.

Garlinghouse was speaking at the Supernova conference in Philadelphia about second acts and the topic was right up his alley. Obviously, Garlinghouse believes in second acts since he's at AOL.

His big theme was that great products set in motion a chain of events that lead to great brands. Great people---probably only one or two of them---are behind most hit products. So where does that leave AOL?

AOL is trying to bring in the right people and rebuild with legacy employees that were stifled from taking risks. "There's no doubt that AOL is making an effort to go through a massive turnaround. We call this a startaround," says Garlinghouse.

Garlinghouse was then asked what AOL had going for it in this startaround attempt. Garlinghouse said the management is new and CEO Tim Armstrong has collected a bunch of people that have a track record of winning. "Across the board I see people who do believe that there's a second act on the Internet," he said.

The big question is whether that turnaround comes. The company has bet on reinventing and monetizing content, but Garlinghouse acknowledged that a turnaround "is harder than I thought it would be." Garlinghouse characterized AOL's challenge: How does the company become nimble enough to compete with something like TweetDeck and then leverage its scale and distribution?

Garlinghouse said that it starts with changing culture at AOL. Garlinghouse said that 80 percent of management under him are no longer there. But the rest "have far exceeded expectations and I'd hire them at any company."


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