What I Learned From Reading Every Google Founders’ LetterGoogle is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.Those two sentences in Google’s 2004 Founders’ IPO Letter introduced the company to the public (investor) world.From its unconventional dutch-auction IPO, to giving employees 20% time to explore any interest related to Google, to balloon-beaming Internet projects, Google, and now Alphabet, has been anything but conventional.I read every one of Larry and Sergey’s Founders’ Letters dating back to its 2004 IPO and here’s what I learned: Google, in beta (1998)1/ It’s search, stupidWhy did Google succeed and endure in the Internet battlefield when almost all other startups have faded into distant memory?They had a key insight that almost everyone in the world disagreed with! When everyone thought “search” was done (played out) by Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos, Excite, etc., Google realized that it was very much “early days” in this Megatrend that was at the very core of raison d’être of the Internet.Search remains the heart of Google. — 2006Here’s what most people misunderstood, search isn’t just about finding websites, it’s getting the right information you need exactly when you need it the most.I expect our search engine to become much “smarter” in the coming decade. — 2008Even as Google has grown into a behemoth, they never took their eyes off the prize in search.When we started Google most people thought search was a solved problem and that there was no money to be made apart from some banner advertising. — 2012As the world moves increasingly digital, the core business value (and profit center) of Google is becoming increasingly stronger as they build even stronger network effects into their search business. With the proliferation of ubiquitous computing in both the form factor (mobile) and method of access to knowledge (voice, AI), search is poised to start a new chapter of growth.We are a million miles away from creating the search engine of my dreams. — 2013Takeaway: find a powerful trend that you think is true but most people don’t. Being contrarian and right is where you will find the most outsized outlier opportunities.2/ A is for AlphabetLarry and Sergey mixes a very long term perspective on the business and infinite creative ways to accomplish their objectives.But a long perspective, like that of a human lifespan, is useful in assessing year by year developments. — 2004Many manager work top down where they look for each department to make their numbers every quarter. Google’s long term perspective allowed them to not look at quarterly ups and downs but to approach the world from a long form button-up approach. They are able to focus on areas of technology that are both important and difficult and develop original solutions for those areas.Finding important technological areas where progress is currently slow, but could be made fast, is what Google is all about. — 2009 With the creation of Alphabet as the higher level corporate parent for Google, X, GV, CapitalG, Calico, etc., Larry and Sergey were able to focus on devoting the right amount of resources to new frontiers.Happiness is a healthy disregard for the impossible. — 2012Takeaway: stop trying to only earn an incrementally higher paycheck, but focus on your core life goals and build value from those core ideas.3/ Let a thousand flowers bloomLarry and Sergey created a behemoth on a single really valuable insight — the PageRank algorithm that ranked websites on relevance based on how many other webpages were linking to it.Continuous Innovation, Not Instant Perfection. — 2005But they knew early on that even the most powerful algorithm to organize the more important technology in our lifetimes (the Internet) was not sufficient. From the beginning, Google gave their team members the ability to work on projects outside of search in a 70–20–10 format. Seventy percent of time was spent on core projects, 20% of time was spent on new tangentially related projects and 10% on moonshot ideas. Gmail and many of the tools we find indispensable was a 20% time project.They also created the financial incentive mechanism to reward the very best new projects through the Founders’ Award Program, where people who created the most new value by taking risks were rewarded with millions of dollars as if they were successful founders.We’ve let a thousand flowers bloom; now we want to put together a coherent bouquet. — 2012But one of the biggest innovation Larry and Sergey made was to appoint Sundar Pichai as the CEO of Google in 2015. This gave one of their key leaders a chance to drive Google even faster while freeing up their time and mental bandwidth to focus on new bets for Alphabet.We will move from mobile first to an AI first world. —Sundar Pichai, 2015 Takeaway: if you don’t make lots of small and smart bets along the way, you might not live long enough to make the big bets.4/ Culture eats strategy for breakfastWhile Hollywood had some fun at the expense of Google in the movie The Internship, Larry and Sergey never took the culture of Google for granted. Our employees, who have named themselves Googlers, are everything. — IPO (2004)Larry was reviewing every hire even in 2007 when there were 17,000 people at Google. Let that sink in for a moment.Sergey and I are certain we would not meet the quality bar to be hired as engineers at Google today. — 2005There are a thousand little things that drove Google’s culture, but their north star was established early on to use the core technology to impact people globally, all around the world. Google has always been driven by a powerful mix of ambition, idealism, and intellect.We may do things that we believe have a positive impact on the world, even if the near term financial returns are not obvious. — IPO (2004)So a child in an Internet cafe in a developing nation can use the same online tools as the wealthiest person in the world. — 2008Takeaway: culture is not an afterthought. The bigger you grow your organization, the more important it is to get the culture right from the beginning. You can’t go back and re-engineer culture.5/ If you can’t beat them, buy them!When Google bought Youtube in 2006, Eric Schmidt established an independent operating structure for Youtube to continue to operate in a separate office.What we think of Google and Alphabet today has been a collection of acquisitions (Google Earth, Android, Nest, and many more).Google’s formula for successful acquisitions have involved being willing to pay up, letting companies retain independence, and focusing on creating revenue side synergy through data and users. Takeaway: life isn’t always a competition. Teaming up with the right people can be a huge multiplier.6/ Zip zagWe do not plan to give earning guidance in the traditional sense. — IPO (2004)Good riddance, I wish all public companies moved to this model. Sure there may be some penalties in the short term, but it would do people who act like owners, as oppose to speculators, a lot of good.But this is just one example of Google’s defiance of Wall Street. Google also led the way in creating dual class ownership structure so that the founding team could make long term decisions without fearing overly aggressive activism that tries to optimize for short term stock appreciation.This is just one of many small examples of Google deciding to do things their own way as a public company.Takeaway: think for yourself, don’t do something even if literally everyone else expects you to.Since the two co-founders take turn writing each year’s letter, you get a sense of their individual stories.7/ LarryWhen Larry was young, he read about the life of Nikola Tesla — a brilliant inventor who died penniless because he could not commercialize or take advantage of many of his own inventions.That caution tale has stuck with Larry for his entire life. When Larry came back as CEO in 2011, he focused the company towards increasing its speed and execution.I’ve pushed hard to increase our velocity, improve our execution, and focus on the big bets that will make a difference in the world. — 2012Takeaway: it doesn’t matter how smart or inventive you are, the world doesn’t care and isn’t fair. Focus on execution and getting results.8/ SergeyAs an immigrant, I was particularly touched by Sergey’s 2010 letter. Like Sergey’s parents taking great risks to move their family out of the Soviet Union, my parents similarly faced great uncertainty coming to America.It never ceases to amaze me that when I was born (in 1987), the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain were still up and the Internet didn’t exist yet. Fast forward 29.5 years and we are on a runaway freight train towards our inevitable science fiction future.What is still science fiction today will have worldwide impact almost overnight. — 2010Takeaway: we live in the most exciting time in human history and change is only accelerating globally. We can’t wait to prepare for change to happen, we must evolve now. Thanks for reading,Lip.s. Read the 1st post in the series on Amazon shareholders letters.What I Learned From Reading Every Amazon Shareholders LetterA new mentor of mine suggested I read Jeff Bezos’ Letter to Shareholders to refine my thoughts around building a career…medium.com?? Get to know the people and ideas shaping the products we use every day. Subscribe to Noteworthy — the product & design newsletter written by the Journal team.
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