"The Google Story" by David Vise
David Vise is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post and author of three books. This book was written together with Mark Malseed, who is a researcher for Bob Woodward. The book is a detailed account of how Larry Page and Sergey Brin built Google. It includes interviews with a number of key people, both at Google, plus venture capitalists, users, advertisers, and Google's chef. Recipe for fried chicken included.
The Google Story by David Vise, with Mark Malseed. Published November 15, 2005, Delacorte Press. 326 pages, photos, notes, 3 appendix, index. $26. Review by Andreas Ramos, andreas @ andreas.com
Executive Summary (for Larry and Sergey)
Pretty good corporate history. Just in time for everyone on your Christmas list.
More Stuff (for Everyone Else)
If you want to know how Google started, how (and why) it was funded, how it became the most significant technology on the web, and how it is affecting everyone else on the web (incl. companies not on the web), here's the book for you. Vise and Malseed lay out the story of Google with a wealth of details. They interview many of the people who were involved in the key decisions at turning points in the life of Google.
Until now, the best article about Google appeared (of all places) in GQ magazine (yes, a men's fashion magazine) (John Heileman's Journey to the Center of Google, GQ, April 2005), which had a remarkable account of the battles over the funding and IPO of Google.
The book describes Page and Brin's office at Stanford and how they worked together to come up with the idea for Google and build the first prototypes. Step by step, you follow along as they dealt with Stanford professors, angel investors, venture capitalists, and other advisors to get the funding for the company. You basically have to live and work in Silicon Valley to know how this process works, and very few outsiders understand it or can explain it. Vise's book has a solid account.
This is a business book, not a technical book. There's quite a bit about how Google builds its own PCs, piece by piece (and much of the early Google was bought at Fry's in Palo Alto), which made it possible for Google to combine these standalone PCs into one of the largest supercomputers in the world. Page and Brin's graduate school experience at scrounging for parts at Stanford carried over into Google Corp, and where other corps waste tens of millions on hardware, Google still builds their own components. Vise points out this lets Google get 3X computing power for the same amount of money.
This build-your-own-super-computer-in-your-garage attitude (yes, they did it in a Silicon Valley garage) also leads to Sergy "why waste perfectly good money on a graphics designer when you can do it yourself?" Brin fooling around on GIMP to create the Google logo. With more fooling around, he created the first Halloween logo, which led to the various whimsical Google logos.
There's a point to that. Google not only built a supercomputer for nickels and dimes, they also built one of the largest advertising companies in the world on, well, a few pennies. GIMP is free software. The Google logo, the Google interface, and pretty much everything you see about Google was done for free. No Madison Avenue marketing company, no $250,000 New York graphics designer wearing a dog collar, no marketing, no branding, no Super Bowl ads, no sock puppets, nothing. Google proved something about advertising that advertising people have forgotten: advertising exists only if there is oversupply in production. If demand is high but production is limited, then the manufacturer doesn't need to advertise at all. This was true in manufacturing up until the early 1800s. Advertising arose in the mid-1800s only when industrialization raised production to a level that was higher than demand.
Page and Brin ignored the usual rules about dealing with VCs (they told the two largest VC companies in SV to buzz off). They ignored rules about buying hardware. They ignored marketing. And they also ignored Wall Street. The Wall Street investment bankers basically manipulate IPOs in order to hand huge amounts of money to their friends, loot the investors, and overcharge the client. When Page and Brin brought Google to IPO, they continued to ignore the experts and do it their way. Heileman's GQ article gave more details, but Vise covers the IPO story fairly well. Wall Street's investment bankers gave warnings of dire consequences if it wasn't done their way, but, in short, Google also told Wall Street to buzz off. The IPO was done Google's way, which benefited the small investors and Google, but Wall Street was forced to take less than half of their usual exorbitant and unjustified commission.
Okay, so a lot of people hate Google. It's an open secret in Silicon Valley. Marketing experts, investment bankers, VCs, and other CEOs hate Google, Page, and Brin. Why? Because Google consistently bucks the establishment, ignores prevailing wisdom, and refuses to pay off companies which basically only leech on their clients. The experts confidently predict failure but Google becomes much larger each time. That's so annoying, isn't it?
Buried way in the back of the book are a few numbers. In 1999, Google's revenues were $220,000. In 2000: $19M. 2001: $86M. 2002: $440M. 2003:$1.5B. 2004:$3.2B. For 2005, Google will make $6 billion or so in revenues. Do you see the trend? Their revenues are doubling or tripling each year.
The following page has another list of numbers. Google's market cap on August 18, 2005 (when the book went to print) was $79B. On Nov. 15, 90 days later, its cap is $100B. Google grew by $20B in 90 days. $220M per day. (and Nov. 17, they went to $117B. That's $8 billion per day.)
Google's cap is roughly 5X General Motors and 2X eBay, Yahoo, Disney, or McDonalds. Walmart is about $200B and Microsoft is $300B: Google is coming up very fast after them.
How large will Google grow? What's the limit? Is there a limit? Google is a technology company run by computer scientists. They are not a media company; they are not an advertising company. Yet they are already one of the largest media and ad agencies in the world, and there's no barrier to becoming the largest one. What would Google's market cap be then?
Which makes it all the more amusing to read that Page and Brin offered to sell their search technology to Yahoo back in the 90s for a million dollars. Yahoo said no, and joined the list of the dumbest business decisions ever.
The book has interesting chapters on how Steve Berkowitz took over Ask Jeeves, turned it around, and built a partnership with Google. How Krishna Bharat, a Google engineer, came up with the idea for Google News, which has become indispensible to journalists. How Craig Neville-Manning, another Googler, came up with Froogle. And a very charming chapter on Charlie Ayers, the chef for Google, and how he got the employees hooked on organic gourmet food. Long rumored that he had been the chef for the Grateful Dead, Charlie points out that he only helped out a few times for the Dead. But that's modesty: he really is a good chef. I've been to Google a number of times for lunch or dinner; the food is spectacular and one of the best places to eat in the Bay Area. This book may probably be the only book in the Business section in your bookstore that has a complete recipe for Elvis Fried Chicken (p. 199). Okay, it calls for 30 cluckers, but you can scale this down for your table.
There's a few chapters about Google Books, genetics, and Microsoft. If you want to work at Google, try the engineer's job application test in Appendix 2.
It's a pretty good book. With open cooperation from Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and many of the principals behind the story of Google, including Google's chef, the book lays out how the company was formed and gives a fairly good understanding of the motivations and goals of the founders and the company. If you work with Google, get this book.