Two Yahoos on a Roll: The Early Years of Jerry Yang and David Filo

They started off as two graduate students at Stanford University. Today, they have a combined personal net worth of $5.1 billion. That is all thanks to Jerry Yang’s and David Filo’s attempts to find anything they could do to avoid working on their doctoral theses. Bored one day, the two decided to play around with the newly emerging Internet and create a list of their favourite sites. That list has since grown into Yahoo!, one of the world’s most popular online search portals, with more than 130 million visitors each month and revenues in excess of $6.7 billion.

Jerry Yang was born on November 6, 1968 in Taipei, Taiwan. His father died when he was just two years old. Soon after, Yang moved to San Jose, California along with his mother and brother. Yang’s mother was an English teacher, but still, her son’s knowledge of English was limited to just one word: shoe. It took no more than three years in the U.S. for Yang to master the English language.

Yang attended Sierramont Middle School, followed by Piedmont Hills High School. After graduating, he would go on to receive his B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford University. During this time, Yang also became a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

David Filo was born in 1966 in Wisconsin, but moved to Moss Bluff, Louisiana with his family when he was six years old. He attended Sam Houston High School and later, Tulane University, where he earned the Dean’s Honour Scholarship and graduated with a B.S. in computer engineering. He then went on to attain his M.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

Both Filo and Yang decided to pursue their doctoral degrees at Stanford University, where they became fast friends. After all, they had something in common: they both grew bored with their theses quickly and looked to other things to keep them engaged. “For those of you who've done any kinds of thesis work, it's pretty laborious and tedious, to say the least,” says Yang, “so at the beginning of 1994, we started to procrastinate and spend a lot of time on the newly emerged ‘web.’”

“I was terribly bored,” Filo recalls. “Really, we'd do anything to keep from working on our theses,” Yang adds. “And then, a funny thing happened.”

It was 1994 and Filo and Yang were surfing the Internet late one night, when they decided to organize all of the interesting sites they had found. “It was the real early days of the Net,” says Filo. “We'd wander around the Net and find something interesting, and then I'd ask Jerry, 'Hey, where was that cool page we saw the other day,' and we could never remember where it was. I mean, it could take us hours to just get back there, to find it.”

The two start putting together a “hotlist” of their favourite sites. “We called it ‘Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web,’” recalls Yang. “Before we knew it, people from all over the world were using this database that we created.”

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