In 1998, two Ph. D. students set out to change the world with a small startup company; a company we now know as Google. Planet Google is a history and insight into the rapid rise of the global juggernaut, and the various challenges founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have faced along the way.
The Big Idea
A Passion Driven BHAG
"Mastering the entire Web interested them not because it offered the greatest likelihood of future profits, which did not seem to be the case at all in 1998, but because it was an absorbing technical challenge."
In his landmark book Built to Last, Jim Collins’ coined the phrase “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” (or BHAGs, for short), suggesting that no company achieved greatness without first striving for greatness; pursuing that which was laughable to the outside world. Google’s goal of “organizing all the world’s information” is possibly the most audacious corporate objective to date. To most the mission was laughable, especially in 1998 at the company’s creation. And yet, it is this single purpose, this passion driven objective, that has spawned the growth of every new asset of the Google empire.
Keep in mind that Sergey Brin and Larry Page met as computer science students, not as MBA pursuants. Despite the billions in current annual revenue, the driving force was never money. The motivation behind Google’s success has always been (and continues to be) curiosity, passion and a constant, never ending pursuit of a product that completely fills the needs of its audience.
Know Your Advantage
"By developing the ability to stamp out data centers cost-effectively in bulk, Google has the means to expand its data collection without limits, to scale its business without pausing."
Google gets it. Their product is credible, reliable search capabilities. Their advantage, however, is the thousands and thousands of computers they have in their data centres. For those who don’t know, Google’s search capabilities are based on their robots or “crawlers” scouring the internet and logging the contents of every single web page. The logs, effectively virtual “snapshots” of all web pages, are stored on Google owned servers. Picture warehouse after warehouse after warehouse filled with computers; computers not unlike the one you’re reading this on right now. Google has these warehouses stationed all over North America, just to allow you a half-second faster response time on your search request. While data moves at light speeds, having a physical building closer to you actually does impact Google’s response time by fractions of a second. Their advantage is that fraction of a second. While it may seem ridiculous (to some) to spend billions of dollars of real estate, hardware and fiber-optic wiring for the sake of a few nano-seconds, Google’s pursuit of a product that best served their audience was all the justification needed for the project.
As an interesting aside, the creation and maintenance of the Google data centers has also allowed the necessary capacity and speed for the creation of Gmail, YouTube, and Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Not a bad “collateral gain” for holding true to their guiding principles.
Embrace the Critics (Some of Them, Anyway)
"Ideas at Google do not burst forth from the heads of geniuses and then find their way unimpeded to huge audiences of receptive users. Rather ideas emerge, are torn to shreds, reformulated, torn to shreds, prototyped, torn to shreds, launched to internal users, torn to shreds, rebuilt and relaunched, torn to shreds, refined some more… and launched, whereupon they are torn to shreds by bloggers, journalists, and competitors."
I love the process: idea, polished idea, prototype, internal testing, beta testing, public launch. And between every step is a full overhaul and rework. Following the idea of “two steps forward, one step back”, Google understands as well as anyone that feedback is crucial to the success of a new product. In general, Google has an extremely strong reputation for high quality products. As a company, Google is respected for its ingenuity and dedication to making life easier for “the rest of us”. That sort of recognition could go to your head. Just like Google, it’s important to realize that critique and feedback is a necessary part of the process. Just remember – praise is always nice to hear, but it doesn’t help you get any better. Embrace the critics, and use them to fuel your projects to greater heights.
Seth Godin writes about “the dip”, and his belief that without passion for what you do, it’s near impossible to realize success. Money is not a strong enough driving factor for true success. Financial gains alone will not provide the motivation to drive to the office at 3am because of your new, brilliant idea. Know your passion, and find a way to monetize it. Don’t go looking for money and hope to find your passion.
You’ve got to admire the audacity of Google’s goals. Imagine Brin and Page pitching venture capitalists for funding with the mission statement “to organize the world’s information”. It sounds ludicrous. And perhaps, in 1998, it was. But it had passion behind it, and two brilliant men who believed in their goal above all else. As it turns out, passion goes a long way. Whether Google will achieve their goal within their 300 year projected time frame is yet to be determined. If the first 10 years are any indication, though, what with YouTube, Google Maps, Earth, Docs and AdWords, the next 290 years should be one hell of a ride.