Internet pioneer Esther Dyson continues to work as a venture capitalist in Eastern Europe and also sits on the board of Yandex, a Russian-language search engine described as the “Google of Russia” even though it started first, in the late 1980s.
Dyson likes the company’s work environment and its wit. For example, in her words:
“At the bottom of every escalator in the Moscow metro is a glass booth for the escalator monitor—usually a grumpy-looking woman. There’s a sign on the booth that says, ‘The monitor does not give consultations.’ Meaning, don’t ask her for help. It’s a Soviet-style formulation that evokes the opaque past. Yandex bought ads in about half the subway cars, saying, ‘The conductor does not give consultations … so please address your questions to Yandex.’ Everyone got the point.”
A few lessons from Yandex:
Lesson 1: Its honchos used humor to be liked—and to make money.
Lesson 2: They also used humor to create hope. “As Yandex does things like that,” Dyson says, “people’s expectations of what is possible start to change, even in Russia.”
Lesson 3: Yandex leaders are fearless. They might have concluded there was no way they’d be allowed to run that ad. They might have censored themselves for being too cheeky or even for making too bold a claim.
They did none of those things.
That’s why Yandex now leads Russia in search.
— Adapted from “Esther Dyson: The Thought Leader Interview,” Art Kleiner, strategy + business.