Mac Greer: What do you see as being ultimately behind Google's success?
Bill Taylor: What was so clear is that from very early on, Google communicated to the outside world two really important things. First of all, Google's founders wanted everybody to know from day one this is the value system we adhere to and believe in, and these are the ideas we are fighting for. So very early on, for example, long before it was a public company, Google posted on its website "10 things we know to be true." . This is a company that from day one had a clear value system.
The second thing they did very early on was to post on the website the top 10 reasons to work at Google. From very early on, when Google was maybe a couple dozen people in Silicon Valley, they understood that long-term, the success of the company depended fundamentally on whether it could attract the best programmers in the world, the best project managers in the world, the best marketers in the world. And it was going to be going up against Yahoo! and Microsoft
So again, when the IPO came out, in the very first line in the letter from the founders was, "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one." This was met with great consternation on Wall Street, but to me, that was absolutely the maverick spirit of the times we live in. . Obviously, Google can't always live up to the values it espouses, the stuff in China being a good example. But nonetheless, very few companies dared to be that explicit about "these are the ideas we are fighting for, and here is our strategy for attracting the best people in the world."
Mac Greer: And Bill, let's talk a bit more about that. You mentioned the IPO statement that Google made -- the quote again: "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one." Now, that was then -- August of 2004. Now Google has a market cap of well over $100 billion and all sorts of public pressures and all sorts of disclosure requirements that they didn't have as a private company. With all that in mind, can Google stay unconventional?
Bill Taylor: Well, the hardest thing in the world -- and it was true for IBM in the '50s and '60s, it was true for Microsoft in the '80s and '90s, and we will see how Google handles it in the early years of the 21st century -- is maintaining the original formula that made you successful in the first place. And so I would say two things.
First of all, let's not be naive about the challenges. To me, what is amazing is [that] with every new generation of technology and every new generation of the business cycle, the half-life of runaway success seems to be getting shorter.
So, IBM -- the world was IBM's oyster for what? -- 35, 40, 45 years. It just ruled the waves. IBM is still a wonderful blue-chip company, but no one lives in fear of IBM. No one believes that IBM is in an unassailable position of power. Microsoft had, what, a 20-year run where it sort of dominated the world and the very word "Microsoft" inspired fear in the hearts of competitors and visions of sugarplums in the minds of investors? I don't think Microsoft today inspires either that fear or the visions of sugarplums.
We will see how long Google's run can continue. Capitalism has a way of being a very powerful, self-correcting mechanism, and so somehow or other, time and again, your very success, and particularly runaway success, contains the seed of its own -- if not failure, and Lord knows it is hard to imagine Google somehow being a failure -- but it creates the seeds of a return to the baseline performance, let's say.
I am in no position to offer Google advice, but I think the great challenge going forward for Google is to figure out how on earth, when we now have these massive amounts of financial assets at our disposal and so much cash on hand and so on, how do we possibly continue a path of not growth -- because I think they will be able to ride the online advertising wave for some time now -- but a sense of innovation and really operating on the cutting edge.
How do you keep that sense of "we are the major game in town"? How do you keep that going for years and years? On the one hand, Google has developed a tremendous culture of experimentation that is fantastic. On the other hand, for all of these amazing experiments they have got going, obviously nothing has yet begun to move the needle in the way that the initial advertising algorithms do.
So I think they have got a great ride ahead of them. But looking back in history, it is amazing how a combination of technology, new competition, and the sense that among really talented people, there is always the new game to want to be part of -- how one way or another, companies that seem all-powerful, unassailable at some moment in time, one way or another get brought back to earth.
Mac Greer: In the book, you wrote about Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen and his ultimately losing battle with Microsoft. Andreessen seems to think there may be another battle brewing --- namely, between Google and Microsoft. I think his quote was, "Google is being led through the nose into a direct confrontation with Microsoft." Is that the way you see it?
Bill Taylor: Well, there is sort of a zero-sum feeling in terms of the competitive dynamic between and among the technology leaders, and for one company to win, another company must lose.
And so if you go back to Marc Andreessen in the Netscape days, they had an amazing product, an amazing innovation with the Web browser, but very quickly, that breakthrough product and incredibly successful IPO led to just a palpable executive arrogance. And Marc and his colleagues, I am sure, would plead guilty to it today as they did in our book, [that] somehow they desperately wanted to bring the industry giant back then -- Microsoft -- bring it to heel, and so they started doing any number of things basically designed to goad Microsoft into responding. And Marc Andreessen famously derided Windows as nothing more than a buggy device driver to run your printer and that somehow Netscape was going to take over the desktop.
Be careful what you wish for. At some point, the lumbering giant woke up and pretty much squashed Netscape like a bug -- legally or illegally; it doesn't really matter to Netscape. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and I think among certain parts of the Google culture and team, there is kind of an unmistakable arrogance going on.
Secondly, now with Google releasing a spreadsheet and other sorts of things, you sort of feel like they, too are, for whatever reason, being seduced into wanting to tweak Gates and Ballmer and their colleagues up in Redmond. I think Google is richer and more powerful than Netscape ever was, but nonetheless, there is this high-testosterone sort of macho sensibility to competition in Silicon Valley. I think Andreessen looks at it today and says, "I learned my lesson; why do we need to do it this way?" [This is a] there-is-room-enough-for-everybody kind of deal, so I don't know how it is all going to play out, but you do feel this zero-sum logic kicking in again.
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