I know we're not normal," Jerry Yang says with a boyish grin, making a halfhearted effort to straighten up his cubicle for his visitor. It's not much of an office by mogul standards: just a nondescript desk, a couple of cheap plastic milk crates bulging with papers, an old futon. Magazines are piled in a corner, and a window offers a distinctly declasse view of the parking lot.
Of course, by the standards of David Filo, 32, Yahoo's other co-founder, 29-year-old Jerry's digs are West Coast Donald Trump. Filo's office is truly a Goodwill collection truck of a workspace, with dirty socks and T shirts jumbled in with books, software and other debris. Even more startling is his office computer: a poky clone running an outdated Pentium 120 chip. Why wouldn't the chief technologist of the Internet's No. 1 website use the top of the line? Filo just shrugs. "Upgrading is a pain."
Could this be the face of 21st century capitalism? You'd better believe it. Two years ago, conventional wisdom still derided the World Wide Web as an amusing toy with little practical application. No more. With striking speed, the business that Yahoo (or, as the company formally calls itself, Yahoo!) has been pioneering has grown into nothing less than a new economic order, a Net Economy! whose exclamation point came last week, when shares of Yahoo surged to more than $200 (closing at $181 on Friday), making billionaires of two young men who just a generation ago would only be beginning their climb up the organization ladder.
Instead they're already creating a world that is about to become your own. The Net economy that Yang and Filo are building doesn't exist merely in the 115 million Web-page views that Yahoo serves up to hungry surfers every day nor in the stock-market pyrotechnics that have given their venture an explosive $8 billion valuation. The real economy exists in the thousands--even tens of thousands--of sites that together with Yahoo are remaking the face of global commerce. Want to snag a $900 suit for $150? Try countryroadfashions.com (but be warned: they're based in Thailand, so you'll have to take your own measurements). Looking for that hard-to-find anthropology book? Amazon.com is your best bet. Yearn to have your weekly groceries delivered to your door? Peapod.com exists to make your grocery shopping easier--and it even lets you specify how ripe you like your bananas. How about if you want to know the difference between several brands of stereo receivers? Try Compare.Net, which offers a free online buyer's guide that allows users to compare features on more than 10,000 products.
And that's the pitch for this new electronic world: faster, cheaper, better. It's the same line we've heard for decades from computer manufacturers, stereomakers and software firms like Microsoft. "Information at your fingertips" is what Bill Gates called it as far back as 1990. Then it was an unimaginably seductive vision. Now it has become a lucrative reality for a select few. Compare.Net, for instance, has grown from four employees to nearly 40 in less than two years, and its revenue growth is a stunning 25%--every month. Yahoo's lucre spreads beyond Yang and Filo. Just ask the dozens of other post-pubescent millionaires who prowl the firm's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. Barefoot.