Are the Guys From Google Crazy?

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are the latest great American success stories. Which prompts the question: Are they crazy?

A history of crazy
In his recent book, The Hypomanic Edge, Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor John D. Gartner shows "the link between a little craziness and a lot of success in America." Famous Americans from Alexander Hamilton to Netscape co-founder Jim Clark all benefited from "infectious energy, irrational confidence, and really big ideas."

Infectious energy, irrational confidence, and really big ideas? That sounds like Google! So I figured it couldn't hurt to apply Gartner's diagnostic criteria to Brin, Page, and their brainchild. Here are a few of those criteria:

  1. Filled with energy and flooded with ideas.
  2. Driven to achieve wildly grand ambitions.
  3. Feels destined to change the world.
  4. Overspends in business and personal life.
  5. Makes enemies and feels persecuted by those who do not accept his vision.
  6. Acts out sexually.

And here goes my amateur diagnosis:

Filled with energy and flooded with ideas
There's no doubt Brin and Page are filled with energy and flooded with ideas. A visit to Google Labs will confirm this fact. After all, their energy and ideas helped them build Google into a $120 billion company -- roughly four times larger than competitors Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) and already half the size of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) -- in just eight years.

Driven to achieve wildly grand ambitions
If you've seen EPIC 2014, then you know about Googlezon -- the fictional company created by Google's merger with Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) that bankrupts the media, wars with Microsoft, and takes over our daily lives.

Do Brin and Page actually have these ambitions? Only they can tell you for sure, but they've set out to digitize the world's knowledge, provide free wireless access to urban centers and computers to Africa, and record and maintain more consumer data than is probably healthy. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt said a few months ago, "Google tests everything." And public companies don't test just for the fun of it.

Feels destined to change the world
Google's recent 10-K says the company's mission is to "organize the world's information." Moreover, the company has initiated a billion-dollar philanthropic plan to help change the world. According to recent article in The Economist, it has always been Page's goal to "change the world." At the age of 12, the article reports, "Page decided that he would be different [from role model Nikola Tesla]: a great inventor and an acknowledged world-changer to boot."

Overspends in business and personal life
Google just purchased and is customizing a Boeing 767. But we're not judging.

Makes enemies and feels persecuted by those who do not accept his vision
The frequent and often heated disagreements between Brin and Page have been well documented. Brin and Page even started collaborating through a series of heated arguments, and according to Brin, "We both found each other obnoxious."

Nowadays, lots of folks and competitors find Google obnoxious. Yet this is exactly what the company's founders set out to do. In the IPO prospectus, Brin and Page wrote, "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one."

Do Brin and Page feel persecuted by all of the forces that have come to oppose the company's growth? Brin has said publicly he'd "like to feel a little less scrutinized."

Acts out sexually
I can't speak to this, but maybe I'll get some interesting reader email.

The benefits of crazy
If Brin and Page are hypomanic, that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it takes a little bit of craziness (as Gartner writes) to have the confidence to succeed in chasing your dreams. And it's the companies that succeed in chasing their dreams that make big money for investors. For its part, Google is up nearly 300% since its 2004 IPO.

Moreover, by hiring Schmidt to serve as CEO, Brin and Page have already avoided the hypomanic's Achilles' heel: The static responsibilities of staying on top once they get there.

The Foolish bottom line
While potential hypomania (remember, I'm an armchair psychiatrist at best) has worked out well for Google investors, finding the hypomanics in American business isn't a sure thing in the market. Recently delisted DHB Industries just had to put its possibly hypomanic founder David H. Brooks on indefinite administrative leave. That stock is down 95% since the beginning of 2005.

Zealous Oakley founder Jim Jannard also hurt his company's stock in 1998 by trying to go toe-to-toe with multinational giant Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) . Now Under Armour (Nasdaq: UARM  ) founder Kevin Plank thinks he can do it. We'll soon find out if Under Armour can compete with Nike in the athletic-footwear industry, but what's for certain (if you know Under Armour's history) is that Plank has had Nike in his sights for a long time and won't just walk away without a fight.

At Motley Fool Rule Breakers, our team of business-focused investors is dedicated to finding the kinds of paradigm-shifting ideas and confident-to-make-it-work leadership teams that, together, can thrash the market and make investors boatloads of money. These are companies with Google-like vision that still have room to add lots more shareholder value. And if that means we're putting our money behind a few hypomanics, then, well, so be it. We all have to be a little crazy to think we can beat the market. Click here to learn more.

Tim Hanson does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Amazon.com and eBay are Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is an Inside Value recommendation. No Fool is too cool for disclosure.


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