Solving real problems: lessons on how to build one of the most successful companies in history

Google is one of the most successful companies in the world, that does almost everything is essential for modern life, from email to smart phone apps, with a very clear business focus: improving the ways people connect with information. Since its beginning as a university project, same as many of its contemporary digital empires, Google (now part of Alphabet Inc.) became part of the history of modern times, and a good example of successful entrepreneurism, which reported revenues in 2015 were $74.5 billion.  

The original idea: solving a practical problem

The beginning of the history of the most important digital empire started with the idea of solving a practical problem: how to change the way search engines compared search terms and find relevant results. At that time, AltaVista and Lycos were the most popular search engines. They did their job by matching texts similar to the searched term, taken from a database of websites, in a process which not necessarily returned logical results. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both PhD candidates at Stanford in 1996, were studying a better way to analyze website relationships through a new technology that determined the relevance of a particular website by the number and importance of those pages that linked back to the site evaluated. They called their system “BackRub”, which soon delivered unusually relevant results compared to the previous search engines. “BackRub” was used on Stanford servers for more than a year, but was finally abandoned because the amount of bandwidth required for its operation. On 1997, Page and Brin decided to rename the system and Google.com was registered as a domain. The word Google refers to the mathematical term “googol”, the number represented by the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.

(Photo:  Google’s First Server)

Google's First Server_american financial titans_patrick dwyer
Image courtesy of Erik Pitti at Flickr.com

From a garage in Menlo Park to the whole world

On August 1998, Sun Microsystems co-funder Andy Bechtolsheim, decided to make a contribution of $100,000 to the team, in order to develop the real potential of the search engine. At that moment, Google did not exist legally, since it was a project at Stanford’s computer science department, so Google was incorporated on September and Page and Brin moved out from the university to the new the headquarters in Menlo Park, California, the garage of friend Susan Wojcicki. Craig Silverstein, a fellow PhD student at Stanford, was the first employee hired by the company and at the end of the same year, “PC Magazine” recognized Google as the search engine of choice in the “Top 100 Web Sites” for 1998.

Google rapidly increasing in traffic (at the beginning of 1999 it was more than 500,000 searches per day), attracted new partners like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, which invested $25 million on the highly valuated project. From its initial public offering that gave Google a market capitalization near $23 billion in 2004, numbers grew to $397 billion by 2014. Today, despite company’s diversity of products areas (which include operating systems, platforms, advertising, enterprise and hardware), the core business focus is still the search engine.  

Google’s business lessons

Page and Brin had a problem to solve

For them, changing the way search engines find relevant results was part of their doctoral theses at Standford, they were not trying to create a company. They understood that the way search engines worked was an opportunity for innovation, since thousand results weren’t as useful as 10 good ones, liked they proof.

Word of mouth was Google marketing campaign

Once you have an excellent product, consumers will be very happy to share the experience with others. The beginning of Google was at Standford, and by 1996, BackRub was handling 10,000 searches a day, all of them, happy customers.  

Focus on your product strengths

Google has a huge variety of products, some of them web based (advertising services, communication and publishing tools, security, maps), operating systems, applications for desktops and mobiles, hardware, etc. However, since to most people finding information is the main reason to go to Google, they keep that as the core of Google’s business.  

They invest heavily in research and development

Since the company has access to everything that people do in the Internet, they rely on data to strategically move to other business sectors. And those decisions are supported by their results in R&D. More than half of the 150 employees Google had in 2000, were engineers at the R&D department.   .

They made their company part of our daily life

Every time we need products or services, we “google” for them, which means the company is strongly attached to our emotions, and that is the key factor to create loyalty. Google users come back frequently and strongly advocate for the brand: a good example is the number of times the Chinese government has shut down Google, but its popularity is strong enough to make them to give the access back.  

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