I’ve been living and working in San Francisco for the better part of five years, but I’ve remained on the periphery of the tech phenomenon: I work for a large non-tech corporation that is doing well financially, but is not heaping money on over-the-top parties (or worker compensation, unfortunately).
So, when a chance to suck at the teat of a well-established Silicon Valley juggernaut arose, I jumped. I put on my best coat, hopped in an Uber, and headed to the outskirts of the city to attend the Yahoo end-of-the-year party.
The venue was a giant warehouse on a pier in a no-man’s-land called the Dogpatch. The check-in area alone looked like it could have accommodated thousands. Some nice young people found my name on an iPad and the curtains that led to the venue were parted.
All the booze was top shelf and no variety was left out. A burlesque troupe warmed up the crowd
I proceeded down a long, wide, mostly empty, black-lit corridor decorated with crystal chandeliers and massive white urns spouting what looked like giant ostrich feathers.
When I reached the actual party, the first thing I saw was CEO Marissa Mayer herself behind a series of velvet ropes, dressed in a long sequined gown and seated on a pure white arm chair. Attendees could sit next to her on an adjacent couch and pose for a photo. She was very pregnant and ended up giving birth to twins less than a week later.
(I should point out that for the majority of the night I mistakenly referred to her as "Melissa.” I am, after all, a tech outsider who just so happens to live in San Francisco. I can only assume that the people I talked to thought I had an imaginary friend.)
The rest of the cavernous room was filled with even more chandeliers and urns and a vintage Rolls Royce. Swinging flapper aerialists pouring champagne towers and Gatsby-esque costumed actors walking around like vintage cigarette girls (but peddling only candy) were everywhere.
Buffet stations were set up throughout the party. Each had a different offering. There were mini bread bowls with clam chowder, dim sum buns and dumplings, kale salads, Indian curries. Whatever the heart desired. All the booze was top shelf and no variety was left out. A burlesque troupe warmed up the crowd.
How could something like this be sustainable, I wondered, especially for a down-on-its-luck company like Yahoo which, as we speak, is poised for a fire sale of epic proportions?
The reported cost of the party is in the millions. (Editor’s note: One shareholder pegged the price at $7 million; a source with knowledge of the cost of the party told Motherboard the price was less than a third of that.)
The theme? “The Roaring 20th.”
Although it was a roaring ‘20s themed party, the main entertainment for the evening was a Canadian boy/girl cover band whose opening number was none other than “Rock Your Body” by the Backstreet Boys. Gyrating, thrusting and lip syncing ensued.
At that point, I was lured into a "speakeasy" by a giant sign. Inside was a gambling hall complete with pool tables that had custom “The Roaring 20th Year End Party 2015” branded felt tops. I made my way over to the roulette table and pulled out my $500 fake bank note. Each person was given one at the entrance with the explanation that we could put our winnings towards any of the Yahoo featured charities. Yahoo would then donate an unspecified amount toward the charity with the most gambling contributions, and the others would get a consolation donation.
The faux gambling hall.
Of course, I quickly lost all my "money.” After all, the house always wins, even when you're gambling for charity, apparently.
After I realized I had already visited each of the internationally themed buffet stations, the urge to flee came suddenly. Conscious of the danger of being stranded at the witching hour in no-man’s-land with nary an Uber in sight, I left around 11 PM.
Editor’s note: On Monday, CNN Money reported that “an activist shareholder is calling for Yahoo to radically change its strategy, fire CEO Marissa Mayer and even revert to its old logo.” The shareholder, Eric Jackson, explicitly criticized the company for the cost of its corporate parties. Yahoo declined to comment.