How Google Went from a Search Engine Startup to a Global Tech Giant
Not too long ago, Google was just another startup struggling to make it in the Silicon Valley business world. Although the company would eventually become one of the most successful companies in the world, it had to make its way there through perseverance and determination — in fact, Google went through four different names before it became Google, from BackRub to Urchin Software to Applied Semantics to finally Google! In this article, we’ll share how Google was able to become the global tech giant that it is today.
The Early Days
When they first started out, Brin and Page had only one real business strategy: making money. When Google made its first round of hires in 1999, it was primarily engineers; anyone who wasn’t an engineer was mostly there for customer support. Their role was simple: answer questions about how search worked. The idea was to make sure people understood what Google search could do and how it worked before monetizing it later on. It would be three years before that happened when Brin and Page formally launched their AdWords platform in 2002 (and even then, there were less than 20 employees). But as you can see, establishing that foundation early on—that technical component—has been key to everything they’ve done since.
Hitting Rock Bottom
Much of what we know about growing an innovative business is based on successful companies’ stories, and one company that had success is Google. Its business strategy was so revolutionary it almost ended up costing them their startup dream. Before Larry Page and Sergey Brin created their search engine in 1998, it was practically unheard of for two college kids to start up a tech company—let alone succeed. Their rock-bottom moment came when they failed to raise funding for their new venture despite getting 40 rejections. After trying again and being rejected another 50 times, Page and Brin decided they had no choice but to give up.
Pivoting into New Product Categories
Another strategy that has worked for several startups is pivoting into new categories. LinkedIn, for example, started as a social network for professionals but eventually morphed into an online resume hub; Airbnb began as an apartment-sharing service but quickly evolved into one of the largest hospitality sites on Earth. As your company matures and you gain more resources and experience, think about whether it’s time to expand your horizons by adding new product lines or entering into new markets. If you have an innovative idea or are tackling a particularly promising industry sector—such as 3D printing—but lack certain skills or don’t have enough capital (to mention just two things), consider looking at acquisitions of smaller companies that can help fill in your weaknesses.
Key Moments in the Company’s History
1996-1999: During its startup phase, Google operates as an online advertising company, selling text ads in search results. The company’s original name is BackRub and it’s run by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin out of a Stanford University dorm room. Over their first two years, Brin and Page refine their search engine technology and secure $25 million in funding from angel investors like Andy Bechtolsheim. They change their name to Google, Inc., but are unable to sell ads through traditional channels due to technical issues involving cookies. So they start selling text ads on websites directly—the model that would eventually lead them to global success. 2000-2002: In 2000, Google secures more than $25 million in additional funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) and Sequoia Capital. This money helps fund growth into other markets such as web portals (Yahoo! Answers), news aggregation (Google News), internet video (YouTube), social networking (Google+), mobile applications (Android) and cloud computing (Google Apps). It also allows for research into new technologies like self-driving cars, robotics and artificial intelligence. 2003-2004: In 2003, Google goes public at a value of $27 billion. Just three years later, it surpasses Yahoo! to become the most visited website on Earth with more than 100 million unique visitors per month.
Tips and Lessons Learned
While it may seem surprising today, Google wasn’t always one of tech’s biggest companies. In fact, until 2011, when it acquired Motorola Mobility, Google was mostly a search engine startup that you might use on occasion if you were looking for something specific online. In fact, it didn’t even become profitable until 2001, despite making over $1 billion in revenue. The path to success was less than straightforward: It took several years for Google to develop its product and figure out how to make money off of it. That said, there are plenty of lessons we can learn from its journey—no matter what kind of business you run or startup you’re launching. Here are some tips and lessons learned from Google’s growth story. 1. Be willing to change your mind If you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, it helps to have an open mind. When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in 1998, they did so with a mission statement—to organize all of humanity’s information—but they weren’t quite sure how they’d do it yet. Page and Brin knew they wanted to create software that would help people find relevant content faster than before but didn’t know what exactly their users would be searching for just yet. Instead of trying to come up with answers ahead of time, Page and Brin decided to simply test their ideas out by tracking which queries returned useful results—and which ones didn’t. 2. Don’t let early setbacks stop you You don’t need to invent a new technology to launch a successful company. But if you do, at least keep in mind that things won’t always go according to plan. For example, back in 2002 Google launched Gmail with more storage space than most other email services at the time—including AOL and Yahoo Mail—at 1 gigabyte (GB). However, shortly after launch Gmail had technical issues due to high demand; instead of being able to access their accounts like usual, many users received error messages stating Gmail is temporarily unavailable. Despite these initial problems (which were fixed within hours), Gmail ended up becoming extremely popular and continues to grow today. 3. Keep improving your product Once you’ve figured out how to solve a problem and created a solution, it’s important not to rest on your laurels. As Google grew in popularity throughout its first decade, Page and Brin kept working to improve their service. Today, they’ve introduced features such as voice search, custom emojis called Gmail Smilies, offline support for mobile devices through Gmail Offline, read receipts through confidential mode, private browsing using Incognito Mode and more.