Having a vision, building a working prototype, getting others to believe and invest in you...these are the first steps to starting and growing your own technology company. You might think you have to have it all figured out from the beginning, but you don’t. Intel famously had a one page business plan. Google had the “beta” moniker on it for what seemed like an eternity. Get it out there and begin the perpetual improvement cycle that will define your future.
Google is one of the the most successful, innovative and valuable technology companies ever created...but it had humble beginnings, just like everybody else.
When I was a junior in college, I did a semester abroad in Florence Italy to study the Renaissance. I greatly admire the disruptive and game changing philosophies that came from that unique time and place. An interesting tidbit about the people living at that time is that they knew they were living in a renaissance (a period of rebirth and illumination). As such they began to think of themselves and what they did as being important and they started to keep personal journals and collecting memorabilia. It was pretty clear to me at the time that 1999 Silicon Valley and Google specifically was a special time and place. I’ve built a fine archive of early Google memorabilia- my own Smithsonian Google exhibit of sorts. I’m going to share a tiny sample of it here.
Google was started by two Stanford Computer Science Ph.D drop outs. Most of the early employees were just out of college and had never had another job. By the time Omid Kordestani and his original business team (including me) joined from Netscape in early ’99, the company had already written a business plan and was shopping it around. Google got its $25 million in funding with the following as its Business Model slide:
(this is a scan of the actual 1999 business plan page + my watermark)
As you can see...we did NOT have it figured out.
Its pretty obvious now that our Advertising program was to become the elusive and mysterious “Revenue Stream #3”, but even that had a bumpy start. As I stated in a previous post, Larry Page’s vision was that “advertisements can be as relevant as search results”. In the “reinvent the wheel” culture that we worked, this meant looking for any and all potential solutions to the problem of creating RELEVANT advertising. What is unknown to most of the world, is that before Adwords, Google created and went live with its first attempt at advertising in October 1999. That program lasted for less than one hour. Google Engineers had devised a theory that we could do a good job matching search queries to relevant books on amazon.com using a certain grouping technology. We signed up for Amazon’s affiliate program and started showing books with links to purchase. These were our ads. I happen to have printed and keep a few examples from that short lived experiment. Many of the results ranged from mediocre or funny to outright scandalous. Below is the most innocuous of my examples. I wish I could show you some of the racier ones, but my wife made me promise her that I wouldn’t :-)
(click to enlarge- the search query is: "ugly girls". the ad is: "Just for you : A Picture Book of Helen Keller")
Google is a great company. It got that way, not because it was perfect, but because it was filled with smart people who were willing to learn and adapt...and that’s the way to end up not sucking.