Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) was the cool kid on the block when it went public seven years ago. Its leadership seemed smarter and better than that of its competitors. And its motto "don't be evil" declared to the world that Google held itself to a higher standard.
Sadly, a new neighbor has moved in next door, and he's a lot hipper and much more popular. Facebook has already taken a lot of talent away from Google, and it now aims to take away its advertising business, too. Over the next few years, we will witness one of the greatest corporate showdowns in history. Who do you think will win the contest?
I recently read each company's introductory letter to its SEC registration for going public, and I thought it might be helpful to see which company put forward a stronger case for its business. Here are the results:
Round 1: Title of introductory letter
Facebook: It went with "Letter from Mark Zuckerberg." It's short, sweet, and to the point. Nothing fancy about it.
Google: Similar to Facebook, it went with "Letter From the Founders." But then it added a subtitle, "An Owner's Manual for Google's Shareholders." In a footnote, Larry Page and Sergey Brin stated that the subtitle was inspired by Warren Buffett, who used the term "Owner's Manual" to explain how Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) operated to its shareholders.
Winner: Google. Adding the Buffett touch was a nice way to show its future and existing shareholders that it cared about them.
Round 2: Opening lines
Google: Its opening lines were, "Google is not a conventional company. We don't intend to become one." This is good. No one likes a conventional company, even if they are not quite sure what one is. This is an effective, anti-establishment message.
Facebook: It leads with, "Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission -- to make the world more open and connected." Google doesn't want to be a conventional company? Well, Facebook didn't even intend to be a company. This is a much more effective message to the anticorporate crowd, which loves to invest in billion-dollar tech companies.
Winner: Facebook. No one likes anyone who ever actually wanted to start a company. It's much better to stumble into a massively successful enterprise.
Round 3: Best line
Google: "Don't be evil."
Facebook: "Move fast and break things."
Winner: Facebook. This is a controversial decision. The "don't be evil" line was great, and it really resonated with the public. But there's also something self-righteous and self-conscious about it. "Moving fast and breaking things" is much, much cooler, and more suitable to our nihilistic times.
Round 4: Self-image
Google: Page and Brin refer to their employees as "Googlers."
Facebook: Zuckerberg sees his employees as "Hackers."
Winner: Facebook. Sorry, but the term "Googler" seems sort of creepy to me. If someone told me a "Googler" was in my backyard, I'd call the police. "Hacker," on the other hand, makes me think of a guy in jeans and a T-shirt who can move billions of dollars across Swiss bank accounts with the click of a mouse. Which guy do you want to hang out with?
Round 5: Cool cultural feature
Google: 20% time -- each Google employee gets to spend 20% of their time on things they choose.
Facebook: Bootcamp -- engineers and managers are required to learn Facebook's codebase, tools, and approach.
Winner: Google. 20% time is about individual empowerment. Bootcamp sounds like, um, bootcamp. And that's only hip to people who've never actually been through real bootcamp.
Round 6: Closing lines
Google: "Sergey and I, and the team will do our best to make Google a long term success and the world a better place."
Facebook: "We believe that we have an opportunity to have an important impact on the world and build a lasting company in the process. I look forward to building something great together."
Winner: Facebook. Both companies have very strong closing lines that show they care about making the world a better place. But Facebook wins, in my opinion, by saying it wants to build something great together. That's an important distinction, I think, and shows that Facebook wants to empower its users.
The winner is...
Totaling it all up results in Facebook defeating Google, four rounds to two. It was a close battle, but ultimately Facebook seemed sharper and less pious.
All three authors -- Zuckerberg, Brin, and Page -- seemed a bit too pleased with themselves, however, when talking about their efforts to change the world. In Groupon's (Nasdaq: GRPN ) recent SEC registration, its CEO poked fun of that impulse by writing, "After selling out on our original mission of saving the world to start hawking coupons, in order to live with ourselves, we vowed to make Groupon a service that people love using."
Perhaps one takeaway for Zuckerberg, Brin, and Page from this exercise would be this: Don't take yourselves so seriously, guys. And may the best billion-dollar advertising company win!