It is just about a month since Google celebrated its 20th birthday. The most popular search engine which is now synonymous with the World Wide Web has an amazing history which is a combination of hard work, entrepreneurialism, and a good amount of luck too.
From its humble beginnings in 1998 to becoming one of the most popular multinational technology companies, the story of Google has a healthy dose of drama, failures, motivation, and a classic tale of starting from the university dorm and making it big.
While you might already be using Google every single day, ever wondered how Google started? Who founded Google? How it became the most popular search engine? Read this post to know all of this and much more.
It was a bright day at Stanford University in 1995 when Sergey Brin, a Ph.D. student at the university, was asked to give Larry Page a tour of the university as the latter was considering Stanford for his grad studies. While their first meeting was nothing as expected and both just disagreed on almost everything, they struck a great partnership in the following year.
By 1996, Sergey and Larry were already working on a search engine known as BackRub. The name was derived from the algorithm the search engine used as it ranked pages on the basis of the “back-links” it had. They used the Stanford servers until 1997 for this search engine which ultimately clogged up the entire bandwidth of the server.
In the same year, the duo decided to rename the search engine as Google which was a play on the word “googol”, a mathematical term for number 1 with 100 zeroes. It is said that they chose this name as it perfectly reflected their mission of organizing the infinite amount of information available on the internet.
From Google to Google Inc.
By 1998, Google already caught the attention of a lot of people from the Silicon Valley. One of them was Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun. A faculty from the Stanford University met Bechtolsheim at his home in Palo Alto and showed him a demo of Google. He was so impressed with the idea that he immediately handed over a check of $100,000 in the name of Google Inc. to Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
However, there was a small problem in depositing this check. There was no registered entity known as Google Inc. Bechtolsheim’s check sat idle in a desk drawer for 2 weeks while Larry and Sergey started working on registering Google Inc. Finally, on 4th September 1998, Google was incorporated as a private company. They opened a bank account in the name of Google Inc. and deposited Bechtolsheim’s check. Simultaneously, they also started searching for new investors.
But where was Google Inc. located? Well, the technology superpower which now owns more than 70 offices in 50 different countries has its first office inside a garage in California. Susan Wojcicki sublet her garage to this new startup from where it operated for around 8-10 months before moving to a proper office space in Palo Alto in 1999. Susan was also the 16th employee of Google and is currently the CEO of YouTube since 2014.
The Sell-Off in 1999
One of the most amazing part of this story of Google is the fact that Larry and Sergey actually wanted to sell Google for $1 million in 1999. Both the founders of Google wanted to be academicians and not entrepreneurs or businessmen. To focus on their studies, they were planning to sell Google Inc for $1 million.
They also approached CEO of another search engine of that time Excite.com, George Bell, with this buyout offer who rejected the “preposterous” offer and after some follow-up negotiations dropped the idea of buying Google. While George might had his reasons for not accepting the offer, he might surely kicks himself with this decision every day. After all, Alphabet Inc., the restructured name of Google Inc. which is listed on NASDAQ currently has a market cap of more than $800 billion.
Soon after, Larry and Sergey also dropped the idea of selling Google and continued searching for investors. It took them around 5 months to get an investment of $25 million from Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. While both these VC firms were known to be fierce rivals, the idea of Google was so amazing that they couldn’t resist being part of this journey.
The Yahoo Story
Yahoo! used to be an internet giant around the 1990s. However, it ended up missing a lot of opportunities and failed to keep up with the changing trends. But do you know the biggest opportunity that Yahoo missed? It was buying Google for $1 million.
When Larry and Sergey were looking for someone to buy Google, they traveled the entire Silicon Valley and finally reached the doors of Yahoo which was satisfied with its directories which helped people view mails and find answers to their questions. Things seemed to work fine for Yahoo and they were not too impressed with the idea of buying a search engine and they turned down the offer.
While this failure story is already very popular in Google history, do you know that Yahoo actually turned Google down twice? First was in 1999 when the founders of Google wanted to sell the company and then again in 2002 when Google was looking for funding.
Google AdWords, the search engine’s pay-per-click service has played a crucial role in helping Google be what it is today. But in 2002, when AdWords was still a new project, Google was looking to raise around $3 billion and approached Yahoo for the same. The chief of Yahoo, Terry Semel, refused the offer and started working on the idea of toppling Google.
In the process, Yahoo acquired Overture, an ad revenue maker, and Inktomi, a search engine, to create a new Yahoo search engine to compete with Google. The rest of the story is unfortunate as Yahoo failed in its endeavors and Google just went from strength to strength over the years.
The Lone Search Engine Monarch
The reason why Yahoo refused the offer was Google’s terrific growth between 2000-2001. In 2000, Google first implemented MentalPlex, its predictive search text, which enabled it to be a part of the popular April Fools day hoaxes in the Silicon Valley.
This was followed by multilingualism, doodle series, launch of Google AdWords, Google plugin which allowed users to search without opening the Google homepage, and Google toolbar. Overall, it was a highly productive year for Google. But 2001 was even better.
Deja.com with its archive of more than 500 million user discussions dating back to the early 1990s was the first company that Google acquired in 2001. This was followed by the launch of Google Images. In the same year, Google also launched its first international office in the heart of Tokyo. By the end of 2001, Google also released the first “Zeitgeist”, a list of things people search for throughout the previous year. Surprisingly, this tradition still continues.
By the time 2002 arrived, Google had already started working with Google Search Appliance to help businesses. Cost-per-click was also added to Google Adwords. In the same year, Google also opened a new office in Australia and Google Labs was born as well.
Then in 2003, it announced AdSense after acquiring Pyra Labs. The expansion of Google was as such that its offices filled up faster than imagined. It is said that there were so many employees in Google offices around 2002-03 that one could only stand up from their desk when others tucked in their chairs first.
When 2004 began, Google already had more than 800 employees in its Palo Alto head office. The rising crowd of employees made the founders of Google move to a new office, Googleplex, in Mountainview, California which is now considered as Google’s home.
After moving to this new office, Google first launched Gmail and then acquired Picasa. Google then continued to grow, acquire new companies, launch new products and services, and turn into one of the largest technology companies in the world.
2004: Enter Sundar Pichai
The success of Google is a bright amalgamation of the success stories of a number of individuals. Apart from Larry and Sergey, another prominent one of Sundar Pichai’s success story. The India-born business executive who is currently the CEO of Google joined Google in 2004 as the Vice President of Product Management where his team worked on Chrome, Google’s native web browser.
Before joining Google, Pichai worked as an Engineer at Applied Materials and then as a Consultant at McKinsey & Company. An M.S. graduate from the Stanford University, Pichai quickly proved his mettle at Google and began receiving more responsibility for products like Google Toolbar, Google Gears and Gadgets, and Desktop Search.
In 2012, Pichai also added the Google Apps division under his portfolio when Dave Girouard, the head of the Apps department left Google to launch Upstart. After a year, Pichai was made the head of Android when Andy Rubin, the CEO and co-founder of Android stepped down in 2013.
Then in 2014, Larry Page stepped down as the CEO of Google to head Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google and Sergey Brin became the President of Alphabet Inc. This announcement was followed by a press release from Larry Page where he announced that Sundar Pichai is being made the new CEO of Google.
The Show Goes On
While this post on Google history has come to an end, Google is still continuing to scale its aspirations. Over the years, Google has acquired more than 100 companies and now has more than 85,000 employees working at its 70 offices in 50 countries. What started as a search engine is now a full-fledged internet-related products and service provider involved in online advertising technologies, cloud computing, hardware, software, and much more.
From the dorm room of Stanford University to becoming a company with one of the largest market cap on NASDAQ, the story of Google is surreal. The company is still expanding aggressively and is also known as one of the best companies to work for. It is also one of the few companies that are still striving to achieve their initial mission of organizing the infinite amount of information available on the internet.
While the mission is a colossal one, Google is well on its way and in the process, has transformed the internet forever.