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Inside Track of Life in the Googleplex
on 21 June 2011
Most people know that Google is a bit special. To evolve from a two man operation in 1996 to become one of America's biggest companies, not far short of Microsoft or Apple, is some achievement. Clearly they only did this by breaking the mould in a fairly significant way. It is pretty obvious that they are different. You only have to look at their main webpage to appreciate this. As the book explains, it is not so much what is there, but what is not there. The leading search engine in the late 1990s was Yahoo and their main page was so crammed with facts, adverts, links etc, that it was quite hard to spot the search box. Google decided early on to go in a completely different direction and keep their main page very simple. That is the way it is to this day, mimicked by the likes of Bing, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. They have never been afraid to be different and to think outside of the box.
The author was Google's 59th hire, hence the title of the book and joined the company in 1999. He was employed to head up marketing rather than being a techie in a very tech led company. This book covers his experiences between 1999 and 2005 and is a fascinating insight into how the company was run and what made it different. Google had a very flat management structure so everyone got involved in all aspects of the organisation and you get the inside track from Douglas Edwards on how these decisions were made. Innovation covered every aspect of Google. For example, unlike most start up internet companies, they did not go for state of the art hardware. Instead they put together a huge number of the cheapest servers they could cobble together and did not worry when some of them failed as there was always redundant capacity. They relied on viral marketing rather than a huge ad campaign which was very innovative as most internet startups at that time spent fortunes on advertising. To begin with they had no idea how they were going to make money, but had supreme confidence that money would follow success.
I think this is an interesting read for anyone but it certainly helps to put what is being discussed in perspective and to appreciate the depth of the innovation if you have a smattering of knowledge about the main business drivers for Google which are principally technology and marketing. Basically the company started off with a neat idea to rank search results more logically than anyone else was doing and then exploited the difference superbly. This should be required reading on any business management course - it demonstrates that an entrepreneur should not be afraid of turning perceived wisdom on its head and trying something different.
Apart from being an interesting read, you do learn a lot about what makes Google tick and come to appreciate not only that it is different, but why and how it is different. What a pity Mr Edwards left in 2005. Google have not stood still since then and it would be fascinating to get the inside track on what has happened subsequently.