Google, The Most Successful Dissertation Of The 20th Century
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you've probably heard of Google - the world's most popular web-based search engine. Its success became so massive that on June 16th, 2006, it was even incorporated as a verb with the meaning 'search on the Internet' in the Oxford Dictionary!
But in 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn't have the slightest idea what they were getting themselves into - they just wanted a topic for their dissertation! When they set up Google's basis in their Stanford' dormitory rooms, crowded with empty boxes and two massive desks, they weren't aware that it would become the ground-zero of a project that would soon revolutionize the way people use the Internet!
The Love-Hate Relationship Between Larry And Sergey
'When I first met Sergey, I thought he was obnoxious' - Larry recalled the first get together with Sergey from 1995 in one interview. The 22-old Sergey got the chance to explore Stanford’s campus after being accepted there to study computer science, and of course, he was excited!
What Sergey didn’t expect was a campus-guide like Larry, who was already an exceptional Stanford student and wasn’t fond of the idea of being a freshman's guide. At the time, these two men didn’t know they shared an incredible number of similarities, but they would soon discover all of them, and it would pull them together.
Both Larry and Sergey were born the year Watergate happened and were raised in slightly similar family environments, filled with computer science magazines, books about technology and talks about the potential revolution of data usage. Blame it on their parents - they were computer science worshipers and university professors. Sergey’s mother was even a NASA researcher! When you combine all these traits, it’s no surprise why they weren’t each other's biggest fans - they were mirroring each other!
They both had exceptional academic success and in 1996, it was time for Larry to choose a topic for his dissertation. He was obsessed with the mathematical problems of the World Wide Web, specifically link structure, and he was thinking about using those links to determine the value of a certain webpage. Just like with books and academic papers, the more valuable the citation marks - the better the book, so Larry had a thought - why not do the same with the Internet?
After getting support and additional guidance from their professor Terry Winograd, Larry and Sergey started working on this project. Larry assumed that building a backlink algorithm from scratch would be a piece of cake - according to him, all they needed to do was to download a specific chunk of data from the Internet and start from there. Of course, that took years and wasn’t as nearly as simple as he planned!
The One Terabyte Miracle Project In Larry’s Dorm Room
Larry and Sergey named the project BackRub. The original purpose of it was to crawl web pages and to find the original link sources. But there was one puzzle missing - a piece that would help turn all the data BackRub collects into a grading system. That's why the duo created PageRank, an algorithm that analyzed the relevance of the backlinks on one webpage, named after Larry. Of course, they didn't do all of it by themselves - Hassan, their college friend saved the day with his programming skills.
Once they started to test BackRub and combined it with PageRank, they experienced shocking revelation - their search results were far more comprehensive and user-oriented, no current search engines could top them!
However, developing such a huge project in the Stanford dormitory didn't go unnoticed - and people started talking. Their colleagues wanted to know what goes on behind closed doors and what kind of academic project you need one terabyte disk-drives?
It was time to let everyone on their college campus in on the project. Neither Larry nor Sergey were good writers, but they combined their passion for technology and wrote the "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine", a research paper that would become the most downloadable document in the history of the Internet at that time.
As everyone on the campus was satisfied with BackRub, Larry and Page started thinking way out of the box - the Silicon Valley type of out-of-the-box thinking! The only thing missing was a better name, and The Wet Box, Larry's initial idea, wasn't too family-friendly and didn't sound very positive. Larry's roommate suggested using 'googol' - a mathematical term referring to the number 1 followed by 100 zeros, which fitted perfectly.
One tiny letter modification later, and Google was born! The official domain name - google.com was registered on September 15, 1997 and with that, the time came for one of the most recognizable names in the world to see the light of day!
A Garage, Two Partners And One Genius Idea
It wasn't long until Google was handling more than 10,000 search queries a day, which consumed most of Stanford internet capacity. Larry and Sergey knew it was time to pack up and move their business somewhere else.
They knew the potential of their idea, so they decided to approach one of the biggest search engine companies of that time - Yahoo. They made an offer of $1 million for the software, but Yahoo turned down the deal. This remains one of Yahoo’s biggest mistakes, but it was the turning point for the duo, who decided they'd do this without Yahoo!
But they still wouldn't be alone, and here’s where things started to get interesting.
Larry and Sergey always had guardian angels – sometimes their professors, other times their closest friends. In 1998, these angels had deep pockets, ready to empty them up into Larry's bank account.
Their first potential investor was their professor Dave Cheriton. He quickly arranged a meeting between them and his business partner Andy Bechtolsheim. Andy was so smitten by the entire idea, he cut the meeting short and wrote them a check for $100,000 – right there on Cheriton's porch! To say that it caught them by surprise would be an understatement – the two of them didn’t even have a bank account for the company! Larry and Sergey celebrated with a Burger King breakfast and didn’t even deposit the check for a month after receiving it.
That month, another guardian angel took a liking to Google. Susan Wojcicki, Sergey’s friend, helped them move the project from the university campus into her garage in Menlo Park, California on September 4, 1998. They started to assemble the A-team - among them, fellow Stanford student Craig Silverstein, who helped them compress the crawled links, as well as an office manager. Each one of these first employees knew their job perfectly, so nothing stood in their path towards making this idea into a highly-profitable business.
After this, investments started to pour in, really quick!
The second investor was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Ram Shriram, whose company was purchased by Amazon.com. Impressed by the idea, Ram invited Larry and Sergey to meet his boss, a certain Jeff Bezos, then a big supporter of the duo's idea to place any ads on their homepage. So, by the end of 1998, their pockets were a million-dollars of angel money deeper!
By the end of 1999, Larry and Sergey decided to give it another go on their idea to sell Google - this time to the internet portal company Excite. The initial offer remained the same - $1 million, but the leading negotiator from Excite cut the deal down to $750,000. Even under these conditions, Excite CEO George Bell turned down the deal. At this point, it was clear that they needed to do this on their own terms!
As luck would have it, in 1999, another round of investment followed, bringing in a total of $25 million from two rival companies - Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital. As companies who have been part of the ups and downs of many businesses, they suggested for Google to hire a CEO before things started getting too eccentric. In March 2001, Google got its first CEO: Eric Schmidt.
One by one, investors chipped in and became an essential part of Google's road to success. On top of that, Larry and Sergey had a few irreplaceable friends to provide additional professional and personal support. Aside from their financial guardian angels, they also had a well-developed social circle on their side, as well as a fair bit of luck!
The Google We Know And Love Today
Some of the first elements of Google are still present and valid, even today: the colorful logo, the clean, minimalistic design, and the initial desire to help people get better answers faster.
Of course, a lot has changed in the last 20 years too.
For starters, Larry's initial 'no-ads policy' was quickly struck from the plan. In 2000, Google started selling ads for certain keywords – with it, creating the term pay-per-click. Unfortunately, goto.com, a spin-off company that later changed its name to Overture Services, sued Google for stealing the pay-per-click pattern. The case was settled in court, to the benefit of both parties. Another major change came in 2003, when the company moved its headquarters to Mountain View, California.
As more and more people started to have Internet access, the number of services Google provided started to grow. From early 2000 until 2014, the company was mostly focused on two things - launching new products and creating a better market position in comparison with popular competitors like Yahoo! And Microsoft. Google developed multiple products during these years, including their own mail service (Gmail.com), their own browser (Google Chrome), Google+, Google Earth, Google Maps, Cloud storage for businesses and individuals, computers, and many more products that facilitate everyday life for every user.
In November 2014, the company had offices in more than 40 countries around the world. Because of its fast growth, organizational changes had to be made which led to launching a holding company, Alphabet.Inc, with Google as a leading subsidiary.
Today, Google is one of only three tech companies in the world worth $1 trillion. The Silicon Valley company made the jump from $900 billion to $1 trillion in market value in 47 trading days, according to research from Dow Jones Market Data. It's not only a search engine company - it's the Hulk of today's tech world!
From a users' point of view, Google receives more than 63,000 searches per second! It became the go-to tool for most of the Internet users, despite having other search engines available on the market like Bing, Yahoo, etc. It was simply superior, and because of that, preferred by users!
The founders decided to step down from their CEO roles in 2019, and were replaced by Sundar Pichai. As they would say, it’s not their style to hold any management roles when there’s someone who could run things better. With their creative mindset and hardworking habits, Larry and Sergey set innovative standards that are hard to reach even with the current rate of technological development. Their closeness and similar beliefs paired up to build a product that changed the way we use the Internet – forever!