In 1996, as the World Wide Web was taking off, Larry Page and Sergey Brin watched from the sidelines. Unlike the rest of Silicon Valley, they weren’t interested in using the Internet to buy and sell stuff, or to read and publish stories, or even to score Grateful Dead tickets. They wanted to use it, rather, to get their doctorates. The Web was the uncharted frontier of computer science, and Page and Brin were hardly interested at all in the Web’s content—what they wanted to understand was its shape.
As such, Google, in its capitalist incarnation, was kind of a mistake—an accidental by-product of graduate-student whimsy and curiosity and preposterous dreams. The company itself was almost literally founded at Burning Man, which is apt, because the true point of Google was always to get as far-out as possible: to build cars that drove themselves, an elevator that could reach into outer space, even someday (a day that seems to be approaching rather quickly) a true, general artificial intelligence.
Page, Brin, and Scott Hassan—the rarely acknowledged “third founder” of Google—were building a machine that converts the time we spend exploring the Internet into money as a means to an end. Money was just the first step in the grand plan. Hassan, who bailed out of Google early, is still trying to cure death and colonize the solar system. Page and Brin stayed on, and changed as Google did—monetized, and thoroughly civilized. “It’s really depressing,” said one early employee.
This is how it really went down, and how it ended up changing everything in its wake. This oral history, gathered from a mix of original reporting and previously published and unpublished reflections, is an excerpt from Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (as Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom), published by Twelve.
Part I: “To Rule the Earth”
David Cheriton, Stanford professor and Google seed funder: Back in 1994 or ’95, I remember Sergey was Rollerblading in the Computer Science building—Rollerblading around the fourth floor with some of my graduate students.
Scott Hassan, programmer in the C.S. department: So, Sergey and I are good friends, and we would go around picking locks and things like that. We could open any door in the whole entire place!
Heather Cairns, Stanford administrator turned Google employee number 4: Sergey would come into my office with bad paintings, because he knew I had a history in art and ask me what I thought. They were abstracts. He’d just kind of have a black blob on a brown background. He was probably trying to imitate Rothko or something, I’m not sure. I told him to keep his day job, but you’ve got to admire the spirit. Sergey was sort of a showboat, definitely an extroverted kid.
Scott Hassan: Then the next year, Larry comes as a first-year PhD student, and Larry is very different.
Heather Cairns: Larry’s an introvert.
Larry Page, co-founder of Google: I was interested in working on automating cars when I was a PhD student in 1995. I had about 10 different ideas of things I wanted to do.
Heather Cairns: Building a space tether to propel people into space was also an ambition.
Terry Winograd, thesis adviser to Page: So, the basic idea of the space tether was you put a rock out in space, in orbit, swinging around the Earth with a string all the way down to the ground, and then it’s an elevator. You can just climb up the string like Jack and the Beanstalk, right?
Heather Cairns: Yes, the space tether. In those days they were still talking about it. I never thought it was serious, but apparently it was.
Terry Winograd: They just enjoyed speculating. “Oh, could we build a space tether? What would it take to build a space tether?”
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google: I was interested in data mining, which means analyzing large amounts of data, discovering patterns and trends. At the same time, Larry started downloading the Web, which turns out to be the most interesting data you can possibly mine.
Larry Page: I had one of those dreams when I was 23. When I suddenly woke up, I was thinking, What if we could download the whole Web, and just keep the links and . . .
Scott Hassan: . . . surf the Web backward! Mainly because it seemed interesting. You can say, “Oh, I’m on this page, what pages point to me?” Right? So Larry wanted a way to then go backward to see who was linking to whom. He wants to surf the whole net backward. . . . So what Larry did was he started writing a Web crawler. So what a Web crawler does is: you give it a starting page and then it downloads that page, looks through the page, finds all the hyperlinks, then it downloads them and then it just continues to do that. And so that’s how a Web crawler works.
Terry Winograd: Getting hundreds of thousands of pages and downloading them was a big deal.
Scott Hassan: In the fall of ’95, for some reason, I started hanging out with Larry in his office. . . . At the time, Larry was trying to download a hundred pages simultaneously. And I was fixing some of the bugs that he was having with Java itself, and this went on for weeks, if not months. And I remember thinking, Wow, this is insane!, because I was spending a lot of time fixing this underlying tool. And so one weekend, I just took all his code, I took his whole entire thing, and threw it all out, and rewrote the thing that he’s been working on for months very quickly—over a weekend—because I was just sick and tired of it. I knew I could get the thing working if I used a language I knew very well, called Python. I wrote it in such a way that it could download 32,000 pages simultaneously. So Larry went from barely downloading a 100, to doing 32,000 [pages] simultaneously on a single machine.
Terry Winograd: Scott was a programmer. I was not in the meeting, so I don’t know, but the basic model is Larry said, “O.K., we need a piece of code that does X, Y, Z,” and Scott went off and built it.
Scott Hassan: I was really happy to show it to him on Monday, but Larry took one look at it and goes, “Great, it looks like you have this problem here, you have this problem here . . .” He pointed out like three different problems immediately. So very quickly it turned into him telling me what’s wrong with it, and then me fixing it—the thing that I was trying to avoid in the first place.
Larry Page: Amazingly, I had not thought of building a search engine. The idea wasn’t even on the radar.
John Markoff, Silicon Valley reporter for The New York Times: There were so many search engines at the time. They were all over the place. Building the crawler and downloading the Web was not Google’s breakthrough. The breakthrough was PageRank.
Terry Winograd: I can remember Larry talking about a random walk on the Web. “Random surf,” he called it. So, you’re on the Web at some page and it’s got a bunch of links. So you pick one of them at random and you go there. And then you do this again and again with a zillion bots. So, if everybody’s doing this, where would you end up most of the time? The point is if lots of people point to me, you’re going to end up with me more often. I’m very important—so I’m getting a lot of traffic. Then if I point to you, you’re going to get a lot of them even if there’s only one link from me to you: you’re going to get a lot because I’m getting a lot. So think of this traffic moving through this network, just statistically. Who would get the most traffic?
Scott Hassan: Larry came up with the idea of doing a random walk, but Larry didn’t know how to compute it. Sergey looked at it and said, “Oh, that looks like computing the eigenvector of a matrix!”
Sergey Brin: Basically we convert the entire Web into a big equation, with several hundred million variables, which are the page ranks of all the Web pages, and billions of terms, which are the links. And we’re able to solve that equation.
Larry Page: Then we were like, “Wow, this is really good. It ranks things in the order you expect them!”
Sergey Brin: And we produced a search engine called BackRub. It was fairly primitive, it only actually looked at the titles of the Web pages, but it was already working better than the available search engines at the time in terms of producing relevant results. If you’re searching for Stanford you get the Stanford home page back, for example.
Scott Hassan: So then I sat everyone down and said, “Hey, let’s build a full search engine!” Right? And both Larry and Sergey thought it was going to be a lot of work. I was like, “No, no, no, actually it’s not that much work. I know exactly how to do it.”
Butler Lampson, computer scientist, winner of the Turing Award: A search engine has two pieces. One piece crawls the Web and collects all the pages, and the other indexes them. And then, of course, nowadays there is a third piece, which does the relevance part. It has to figure out what answers to show in response to the query.
Scott Hassan: Very quickly, in six to eight weeks, we were able to build the whole structure of Google. It was mostly just Sergey and I from 2 A.M. to 6 A.M. in the morning. We just worked on it in the middle of the night, mainly because, if I worked on it during the day, I would get yelled at by my boss, because building a search engine was not considered research. . . . We got the search engine to a certain point and then Larry built this little interface. You go to this Web page, and then on top of the Web page there was a single box, very similar to Google’s search box today, right? It’s just a single box, and beside the box was another drop-down box, and “Which search engine do you want to use?”
Brad Templeton, internet pioneer and pundit: There was a bunch: Excite, Lycos, AltaVista, Infoseek, and Inktomi—that one was done at U.C. Berkeley.
Scott Hassan: You could select one of those other search engines, and then you’d type in your little query and you’d hit Search, and . . . on the left-hand side it would just pose that query to the search engine you chose, and then on the right-hand side it would then pose it to our search engine, so that you could compare the results side by side. So Larry set up all these meetings with all the search-engine companies to try to license PageRank to them.
David Cheriton: They went off on that particular venture of trying to license it, and I think some of the interesting early stories of Google date from then—who could have bought the whole thing for $2 million or something of that flavor—if they had decided to pounce on it.
Scott Hassan: I remember going to this one meeting at Excite, with George Bell, the C.E.O. He selects Excite and he types “Internet,” and then it pops up a page on the Excite side, and pretty much all of the results are in Chinese, and then on the Google side it basically had stuff all about N.S.C.A. Mosaic and a bunch of other pretty reasonable things. George Bell, he’s really upset about this, and it was funny, because he got very defensive. He was like, “We don’t want your search engine. We don’t want to make it easy for people to find stuff, because we want people to stay on our site.” It’s crazy, of course, but back then that was definitely the idea: keep people on your site, don’t let them leave. And I remember driving away afterward, and Larry and I were talking: “Users come to your Web site? To search? And you don’t want to be the best damn search engine there is? That’s insane! That’s a dead company, right?”
Sergey Brin: Searching was viewed as just another service, one of a hundred different services. With a hundred services, they assumed they would be a hundred times as successful.
David Cheriton: I think it was approximately a year later that they came back to me and said they weren’t getting anyplace with the licensing, and I didn’t say, “I told you so,” but I think I felt a little bit smug inside.
Sergey Brin: It was the summer of 1998. At that point we were just scrounging around to find resources, we had stolen these computers from all over the department, sort of. We’d assembled them all together, but they were haphazard, like a SUN, an IBM A/X computer, a couple PCs.
Heather Cairns: They were taking servers off the loading dock. They were crashing them with traffic just through word of mouth.
Larry Page: We caused the whole Stanford network to go down. For some significant amount of time nobody could log in to any computers at Stanford.
Heather Cairns: And they were, essentially, nicely asked to leave because of that.
Larry Page: Stanford said, “You guys can come back and finish your PhDs if you don’t succeed.”
David Cheriton: They thought they had a big challenge of raising money, I thought that money wasn’t the big problem, and so I kind of put myself in the spot of having to prove this, so I contacted Andy Bechtolsheim.
Sergey Brin: One of the founders of SUN Microsystems, and a Stanford alum.
Andy Bechtolsheim, electrical engineer, investor, and entrepreneur: The question, of course, is, “How do you make money?” And the idea is, “Well, we’ll have these sponsored links and when you click on a link we’ll collect five cents.” And so I made this quick calculation in the back of my head: O.K., they are going to get a million clicks a day at 5 cents, that’s $50,000 a day—well, at least they won’t go broke.
David Cheriton: Andy just got up and walked back to his Porsche, if not ran, from the porch to the Porsche, that is, got the checkbook, came back, and wrote them this check.
Sergey Brin: He gave us a check for a $100,000, which was pretty dramatic. The check was made out to “Google Inc.,” which didn’t exist at the time, which was a big problem.
Brad Templeton: Then they went to Burning Man.
Ray Sidney, Google employee #5: Sergey put up a Burning Man logo on the Web site. It was the first Google Doodle.
Marissa Mayer, Google employee #20, former C.E.O. of Yahoo: It was more of an out-of-office notification than anything else—it said, “We’re all at Burning Man.”
Brad Templeton: There was a Google contingent that camped at Burning Man. I remember saying something rude to Marissa that I shouldn’t have said about wanting to see her naked. She won’t remember that, I hope.
Marissa Mayer: Remember, we were all young, and we were all, in addition to being co-workers, friends.
Scott Hassan: I was responsible for the shelter and Sergey was responsible for the food. So he went to the Army Navy supply store and just bought all the rations—M.R.E.s. They were pretty fascinating. You would pour water in this little bag, and it had some sort of chemical in there, and it got really, really hot—and cooked it. So you didn’t even have to have a stove, you didn’t have to have anything! And we drove his car to Burning Man and just went around.
Heather Cairns: They handed me a folder full of checks for like $100,000, $200,000, from Andy Bechtolsheim, Jeff Bezos, David Cheriton. They sat in the back of my car for weeks because I couldn’t get out of work in time to even get a bank account opened.
Ray Sidney: I had never worked at an early stage start-up before, and you know what? It was intense. My first week at Google I did two all-nighters. We saw this big opportunity and at the same time there was so much in doubt, so we wanted to do whatever we could to make it work, and so we worked hard. We had visions of greatness.
Heather Cairns: We didn’t have a business plan, and they would tell me that their actual mission statement was “to rule the Earth.” I’m thinking, Well, whatever you want, just make sure to sign my check and I’ll go on my way when it crashes and burns in a couple of years.
Kevin Kelly, founding editor at Wired, futurist, and best-selling author: When I met Page, I said, “Larry, I don’t get it. What’s the future of search for free? I don’t see where you’re going with this . . .” And Larry said, “We are not really interested in search. We are making an A.I.” So from the very beginning, the mission for Google was not to use A.I. to make their search better, but to use search to make an A.I.
Heather Cairns: To rule the Earth!? Here we are. There are seven people inside of someone’s house, working out of bedrooms, and that’s what they were saying then.
Part II: “Well, Now We Have a Chance . . .”
Ray Sidney: The first Google digs was half of Susan Wojcicki’s house, including a garage.
Heather Cairns: We were allowed to use Susan’s washer and dryer that was in the garage. But we were working out of bedrooms; we weren’t in the garage. That’s the folklore, because every start-up is supposed to be in a garage. . . . The parties would be rocking—like, they’d be rocking by anyone’s standards, let alone an office-party standard. We’d have a hundred people come and we have props from movie-theater companies. And we had a hot tub, too, so you can take it from there.
David Cheriton: The office they had on University Avenue was a step in the right direction.
Brad Templeton: It was this office space in downtown Palo Alto, C.A., that had all the giant balloon chairs and stuff, which became their motif.
Marissa Mayer: The lava lamps were a thing because they came in every color of the Google logo. The bouncy balls were a posture thing, but also a fun thing.
Charlie Ayers, Google’s first executive chef and, therefore, a member of an early executive team: I remember going in for an interview and Larry bounced on by on one of these big balls that have handles on them, like you buy at Toys “R” Us when you’re a kid. It was just a very unprofessional, uncorporation attitude. I have a pretty good understanding of doing things differently from the Grateful Dead—I’ve worked on and off with them over the years—but from my perspective, looking from the outside, it was an odd interview. I’d never had one like that. I left them thinking that these guys are crazy. They don’t need a chef!
Heather Cairns: I was very surprised that they hired this ex–Grateful Dead chef, since clearly everything that goes with that is coming with Charlie. Talk about a counterculture person!
Charlie Ayers: Larry’s dad was a big Deadhead; he used to run the Grateful Dead-hour talk show on the radio every Sunday night. Larry grew up in the Grateful Dead environment.
Larry Page: We do go out of our way to recruit people who are a little bit different.
Charlie Ayers: There was no under-my-thumb bullshit going on where you all had to dress and look and smell and act alike. Their unwritten tagline is like: You show up in a suit? You’re not getting hired! I remember people that they wanted showing up in suits and them saying, “Go home and change and be yourself and come back tomorrow.”
Heather Cairns: We said it was O.K. to bring pets to work one day a week. And what that did was encourage people to get lizards, cats, dogs—oh my God, everything was coming through the door! I was mortified because I know this much: if you have your puppy at work, you’re not working that much.
Douglas Edwards, Google employee #59: We would go up to Squaw Valley, C.A., and attendance was pretty much mandatory. That became the company thing.
Ray Sidney: The very first ski trip was in the first part of 1999. That was definitely a popular event over the years.
Charlie Ayers: On the ski trips in Squaw Valley, I would have these unsanctioned parties and finally the company was like, “All right, we’ll give Charlie what he wants.” And I created Charlie’s Den. I had live bands, D.J.s, and we bought truckloads of alcohol and a bunch of pot and made ganja goo balls. I remember people coming up to me and saying, “I’m hallucinating. What the fuck is in those?” . . . Larry and Sergey had like this gaggle of girls who were hot, and all become like their little harem of admins, I call them the L&S Harem, yes. All those girls are now different heads of departments in that company, years later. (A spokesperson for Google declined to comment.)
Heather Cairns: You kind of trusted Larry with his personal life. We always kind of worried that Sergey was going to date somebody in the company . . .
Charlie Ayers: Sergey’s the Google playboy. He was known for getting his fingers caught in the cookie jar with employees that worked for the company in the masseuse room. He got around.
Heather Cairns: And we didn’t have locks, so you can’t help it if you walk in on people if there’s no lock. Remember, we’re a bunch of twentysomethings except for me—ancient at 35, so there’s some hormones and they’re raging.
Charlie Ayers: H.R. told me that Sergey’s response to it was, “Why not? They’re my employees.” But you don’t have employees for fucking! That’s not what the job is.
Heather Cairns: Oh my God: this is a sexual harassment claim waiting to happen! That was my concern.
Charlie Ayers: When Sheryl Sandberg joined the company is when I saw a vast shift in everything in the company. People who came in wearing suits were actually being hired.
Heather Cairns: When Eric Schmidt joined, I thought, Well, now, we have a chance. This guy is serious. This guy is real. This guy is high-profile. And of course he had to be an engineer, too. Otherwise, Larry and Sergey wouldn’t have it.
Part III: “Some Things We Actually Did”
Charlie Ayers: A lot of people internally in the company were really happy to see him coming because he was now the official old guy. Before Schmidt, you’d look around the building for an adult, and you’re not seeing too many of them.
Heather Cairns: One of his first days at work he did this sort of public address with the company and he said, “I want you to know who your real competition is.” He said, “It’s Microsoft.” And everyone went, What?
Terry Winograd: I can remember some higher-level meetings I was in, which were about what Google could do that would stay under Microsoft’s radar. In fact, “Canada” was the code word for Microsoft, because it was big and up north, right? There was basically a sense that if Microsoft decided Google was a threat they could squash it, and they wanted to make sure they didn’t trigger that reaction.
Ev Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium: There was quite a bit of angst and existential concern that the next version of Windows was going to have search built into the OS. And how were we going to compete with that?
Heather Cairns: So, I remember thinking, Huh, wow. He thinks we’re a threat to Microsoft. Are you kidding me? So I think then, that speech made me realize that maybe we had more gravity than I understood.
Marissa Mayer: It was a bigger vision than we had really tangibly talked about before. That was a big moment for us.
Douglas Edwards: If you read Larry and Sergey’s original paper that they wrote at Stanford, where they talked about creating a search engine, they specifically said that advertising was wrong and bad and it would inherently corrupt the search engine if you sold advertising. So they were adamantly opposed to the notion of having advertising on Google.
Ray Sidney: Then people started reading about how much money was being brought in to various other companies by search advertising, and it was kind of decided that we were leaving money on the table.
Douglas Edwards: There was a lot of pressure to generate revenue, and so Larry and Sergey decided that advertising doesn’t have to be evil—if it’s actually useful and relevant.
Paul Buchheit, inventor of Gmail: Sometime in early 2000, there was a meeting to decide on the company’s values. They invited a collection of people who had been there for a while. I was sitting there trying to think of something that would be really different, and not one of these usual “strive for excellence” sort of statements. I also wanted something that, once you get it in there, would be hard to take out.
Brad Templeton: “Don’t be evil” was the phrase.
Paul Buchheit: It just sort occurred to me.
Sergey Brin: We have tried to define precisely what it means to be a force for good—always do the right, ethical thing. Ultimately, “Don’t be evil” seems the easiest way to summarize it.
Paul Buchheit: It’s also a bit of a jab at the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time were, in our opinion, kind of exploiting the users to some extent. They were tricking them by selling search results—which we considered a questionable thing to do, because people didn’t realize that they were ads.
Sergey Brin: We think that’s a slippery slope.
Brad Templeton: By that point, they had become a pretty big company.
Heather Cairns: We were moving into the old Silicon Graphics campus, where there’s still old Silicon Graphics people working there, and they weren’t too happy to see us.
Marissa Mayer: At that point S.G.I. was doing poorly, so there were about 50 people on that whole campus.
Jim Clark, founder of S.G.I., then Netscape: It was a sinking ship.
Heather Cairns: We are like, “Yay! Here are our pool tables and our candy! Yay! We’re Google!” And they’re looking out the windows at us playing volleyball and they’re like, “Fuck you!”
Jim Clark: They were upset that they had missed out on being part of Netscape.
Marissa Mayer: We’d been so disrespectful—loud and annoying.
Heather Cairns: We weren’t trying to be disrespectful. We were just stupid. We didn’t have a sensitivity to the fact that those people probably wouldn’t have jobs in a few months. They were clear on that. And they’re just watching the new blood come in—happy, eager, just bouncing off the walls.
Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter: Google was a weird place—like a weird kid land. Adults worked there, but there were all these big, colorful, bouncy balls. Eric Schmidt had a twisty playground slide that he could exit his office from—which now seems almost perverted.
Heather Cairns: I did the employee manual and I modeled our culture after Stanford—because that’s where most of our people were coming from.
Sean Parker, founder of Napster, first president of Facebook: Google really did set themselves up to get great engineers by trying to make their environment feel as similar to grad school as possible. Google could make the case: “Oh, don’t worry, this is going to feel a lot like when you were a researcher. This isn’t like selling out and going into the corporate world, you’re still an academic, you just work at Google now.” They ended up getting a lot of really smart people because of that.
Biz Stone: Google was not a normal place at all. There was just all kinds of weird stuff going on. I would just walk around and check stuff out like the kid in Willy Wonka going around the chocolate factory.
Heather Cairns: Larry and Sergey would be doing crap with LEGOs, building stuff with LEGOs.
Larry Page: LEGO Mindstorms. They’re little LEGO kits that have a computer built in. They’re like robots with sensors.
Heather Cairns: I remember them making a rubber wheel and moving it over paper. I was like, “What are you doing?” “Well, we want to scan every book and publication and put it on the Internet.” I’d say, “Are you crazy?” And they’d say, “The only thing that holds us back is turning pages.”
Biz Stone: One day I walk into a room and there was just a whole bunch of people dazed out on these automated contraptions with lights and foot pedals and books. And I was like, “What are you guys doing?” They said, “We are scanning every book published in the world.” And I was like, “O.K. Carry on.” And then I distinctly remember going into what I thought was a closet, and there was this Indian dude on the ground with no shoes on and he had a screwdriver and he was taking apart all these DVRs. He looked like he had been up all night or something. And I said, “What are you working on in here?” And he said, “I’m recording all broadcast TV.” And I was like, “O.K. Carry on.”
Marissa Mayer: I was there the day we did the first Street View experiments. It was a Saturday and we just wanted to blow off some steam. We rented an $8,000 camera from Wolf Camera that was considerably less when rented per day. We drove around in a little blue Volkswagen Bug with the camera on a tripod in the passenger seat. We just started driving around Palo Alto taking a photo every 15 seconds, and then, at the end of the day, we took photo-stitching software to see if we could stitch the pictures together.
Heather Cairns: Larry and Sergey were first and foremost, and probably still are, inventors. That was their true love.
Marissa Mayer: I hosted weekly brainstorming sessions because we wanted people to think big. One week I started the session with the space tether. We started brainstorming about building it out of carbon nanotubes, and could we use it to do pizza delivery to the moon?
Douglas Edwards: Sergey would just throw out these marketing ideas. He wanted to project our logo on the Moon. He wanted to take the entire marketing budget and use it to help Chechen refugees. He wanted to make Google-branded condoms that we would give out to high schools. There were a lot of ideas that were floated and most of them never became full-fledged projects. But if Larry and Sergey suggested something you pretty much had to take it at face value for a while.
Marissa Mayer: Some things we actually did go out and build—like driverless cars. We brainstormed that.
Biz Stone: It was just strange, it was really weird, but it was awesome, too.
Charlie Ayers: The whole climate of the company was a focus on growth, growth, growth.
Heather Cairns: I would say that by 2003, it’s a very different place than when we started. We’re like 2,000 people, and people were talking about going public.
Heather Cairns: Going public. Being rich. Going public. Going public. That was really on the forefront of so many people’s minds.
Charlie Ayers: At that point there were a lot of us who had been there forever, who pretty much would just come to hang out. They were waiting, not even working anymore. You were seeing that happen with a lot of people.
Ray Sidney: I got burnt out. I was not feeling very productive. I thought, You know what? I need to get away.
Charlie Ayers: A lot of the early-timers were looking at, like, How much does this island cost? There was a lot of distraction.
Ray Sidney: Originally I thought, You know what? I just need to take a month or two off, and then I’ll kind of get that fire back in my belly. And that never happened. I left in March of 2003.
Charlie Ayers: As the I.P.O. got closer, the level of distraction got greater and greater and greater. Their eyelids were too heavy with dollar signs.
John Battelle, founding editor of Wired, entrepreneur, author: With the benefit of hindsight, Google’s I.P.O. in 2004 was as important as the Netscape I.P.O. in 1995. Everyone got excited about the Internet in the late 90s, but the truth was a very small percentage of the world used it. Google went public after the dot-com crash and re-established the Web as a medium.
Douglas Edwards: After the I.P.O., it became more buttoned-up, more metrics driven—which was good for the company, probably. But it was not the culture that I was used to and had enjoyed when I was there.
Charlie Ayers: They’re like, “We’re publicly traded now.” So 2004 was not the best year at Google, morale-wise. They started sending more of us to Dale Carnegie classes.
Heather Cairns: Larry and Sergey used to hold their forks and knives in a fist, scooping. They used to scoop food into their mouths, which would be a couple of inches from the plate and I’d be like, I can’t even watch this. I can’t. I’m going to be sick. They had to be taught not to do that.
Charlie Ayers: There were a handful of us that would go to public-speaking classes, media-training classes, leadership classes.
Heather Cairns: Nobody has superbad, disgusting behavior anymore. It’s really depressing. The personality has been coached out of them—all of them.
This article has been adapted from Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (as Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom), published by Twelve.
Cludo Custom Site Search