Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The Google Story
The Google Story
David Vise, Mark MalseedBantam Dell, A Division of Random House, New York, NY, 2005
Would you want to read a technology startup version of When Harry Met Sally?, a story about two doctoral students building the most amazing internet success of our time? Only this story entails transforming a mathematical term into a popular verb used in daily conversations for research and web surfing by students and business professionals. All of this and much more has been compiled in a chronology of events associated with the early beginnings in The Google Story. The story tends to follow a similar tone and theme to the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, but with less drama and industrial espionage. The founders are portrayed as the “rock stars” of the technology world.
The book details the early lives of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, beginning when they met as computer science doctoral students at Stanford University. Ironically, the derivation of the company’s name, (googol, one followed by 100 zeroes) equates to the depth of the journey to build the technology phenomenon called Google. Throughout the book, it is clear that the indelible influence of their families provided the strong foundation of work ethic, character, and respect for education. Sergey and Larry were relentless to retain control over the operation, ownership, and strategic development of the startup with incredible drive and discipline. Maybe more importantly, the friendship and relationship of the founders never veered from mutual respect and avoided any ego expansion. Their strong personality characteristics were threaded continuously through a series of challenges consisting of business growth, venture capital investors, development of the business model, public stock offering, and the appointment of a chief executive officer.
The story also includes its complement of amusing and interesting events. “Hiring a pilot” (chapter 9) tells the events associated with the 16-month adventure to convince the founders to hire a CEO while they rejected one applicant after another. This endeavor consisted of a “push and pull” effort between one venture capitalist and technology rock stars of Google. Finally, the investor convinced Eric Schmidt to meet and chat with Sergey and Larry. Schmidt, a former CTO of Sun Microsystems and then current CEO of Novell, recalled walking into a room to meet the founders. Almost immediately after he sat down, “Sergey laid into him about what he termed the ‘stupidity’ of the strategy Schmidt as executing at Novell” (p. 107). An intriguing first meeting for Schmidt, who would later be offered the position of Google’s first CEO.
The bright (and naïve) talents of the early computer science PhD students proved to be fascinating as Page envisioned the early Google model. He thought of a “crazy idea” to download the entire web onto his computer, promising his advisor that the task would be completed in a week However, after “about a year or so, I had some portion of it (web)” (p. 11). While the estimate of the timescale was a bit unrealistic, it was a preview of coming attractions for Google’s technology model.
Similar to some successful business initiatives, the creative variations of the Google logo came about by accident and not carefully planning. The early influence of Sergey and Larry to create a “non-traditional” and university environment led to the “Burning Man” retreat in a northern Nevada location. A few months after this event, Sergey was working in the early morning on Halloween eve. Still fresh with the energy from the retreat, he created a Halloween-themed logo consisting of substituting orange pumpkins for the Os in Google. After receiving the lukewarm assessment as “clip artsy” from another early morning worker, Sergey asked to have the artwork placed on the homepage. The graphic gained significant attention and positive responses (p. 75). So, the creative, holiday-oriented logo transformation stuck.
The story also conveys its share of business principles and organizational strategy development. The founders were extremely focused on three words: product, product, and product. The strategic decisions to offer the early Google technology infrastructure to Stanford and then to other academic institutions, which targeted early technology adopters while creating a “buzz” about the product with intelligent web users. An affirmation of the success of Google’s product from several technology leaders confirmed the product focus. Steve Case conveyed that “the Google story is all about product” and referred to Google as building a product that was better while accentuating its exciting, new approach (p. 115). Steve Berkowitz (Ask Jeeves CEO), while discussing whether to buy or build its own search technology, added, “Google’s product is superior to anyone else’s” and “the key to success is a great product.” (p. 126).
Their product focus was complimented by the founder’s intelligent and visionary nature of the technology and business industry. Their proactive marketing initiatives such as licensing agreements with academic institutions and business corporations, other internet-based businesses (AOL), and international markets (China) continued to expand their market share and popularity, not to mention their company’s value, sales, and profits. Their aggressive marketing nature combined with their talented passion ratcheted a “done deal” with AOL’s European internet service from Yahoo!. Larry and Sergey were relentless to convince AOL that Google should be the choice instead of Yahoo!. Google won, Yahoo! lost (p. 206).
Their university-oriented organizational style created a very positive, creative, and incubator-type environment. The founders believed that the implementation of the academic 20 percent rule would create a flexible, creative environment for its employees. The policy encouraged Google employees to allocate one day per week to work on activities that they were interested in and believed had merit. Many of the new product offerings were a direct result of employees developing and presenting proposals from these “side work” activities.
The book acknowledges the importance of this organizational culture by devoting an entire chapter to the influence of Charlie Ayers on Google (chapter 19). The chapter, titled “Charlie’s place” introduces the decision to hire Ayers as the chef at the Google campus. Brin said that “good, healthy, free meals for employees were going to set Google apart from other firms” (p. 192). The founders believed that by offering this benefit to employees would maintain a sense of teamwork and togetherness instead of leaving the campus for lunch. Also, they believed that it would also prevent them from poor eating habits that would diminish productivity. The chapter even contains the recipe for buttermilk-fried chicken that Elvis loved (p. 199)
The book is organized into chapters documenting a specific event. One note of caution: the chapters are not written in sequential order, so the reader sometimes requires a short thought to organize the event in proper chronological order. However, the story is a great tribute to the effect and influence of leaders with strong character, focus and determination, who maintain clear, unwavering vision over the development of a business. The book is an easy read and would be a great addition to a business class on entrepreneurship and business leadership.
This review was originally published in Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 16 No. 1, 2007. Reviewer: Kenneth J. Sousa, Bryant University, Smithfield, Rhode Island, USA.