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Ga-Ga for Google

The Long Haul

According to Danny Sullivan, founder and editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, published by INT Media Group Inc. in Darien, Connecticut, Google's success will ultimately come down to how well its relevancy technology can compete with that of newcomers like Teoma.com. Success will also depend on the company's ability to maintain its sparkling reputation.

Right now, it seems that everyone is singing Google's praises, from diehard Linux enthusiasts to advertisers like Eddie Bauer and Acura. The companies embrace Google's highly targeted advertising programs because its text-only format produces a much higher click-through rate than banner ads and are targeted based on users' searches. What became popular among Stanford students and a largely techie audience has snowballed, as Sullivan puts it, into a slew of fans from every walk of Internet life.

Noting there will be some worthy technological competition to come from the likes of Teoma, whose relevancy technology rivals that of Google, Sullivan says that a waning reputation can often hurt a company. "People always want to know what the hottest thing is, and what they don't want to know is that the hottest thing is the same it was yesterday," he says. In Sullivan's opinion, the company's dedication to Internet search is what makes it stand out from the rest. Says Sullivan: "Google has been good in rolling out new features. Even if the press doesn't want to keep writing about Google, it's not necessarily writing about Google when it writes about the Google Image Search engine.

"I don't think they [do it] just because they know they need to keep press attention. I think they come up with it because they care about search. That's what's going to carry them through more than anything else."

It's hard to argue with that. With everything from Google's PageRank system, which ranks an individual page's value, to availability on WAP-ready phones and Palm Pilots, it's obvious Brin and Page care about what they're doing. "We have a long-term goal of creating the ultimate search engine--one that would understand exactly what users mean and give back exactly what users want," says Page.

In the meantime, they work toward their goal in a pleasant, kick-back work environment. Google's Mountain View headquarters houses an arcade machine with games built by a Google engineer, a piano in the lobby, lava lamps, a gym with locker rooms, and PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast diversions. And to top it off, there are three full-time chefs who cook lunch and dinner. A sample menu includes creamy tomato basil soup with grilled free range chicken followed by a pumpkin cheesecake with walnut crust for dessert.

Sound like the glory days that sent most dotcoms into a downward spiral? "These things aren't that expensive, and they make me happy, which is important," jokes Brin. More seriously, though, he says,"We try to provide an environment where people are going to be happy. I think that's a much better use of money than, say, hundred-million-dollar marketing campaigns or outrageously inflated salaries."

Apart from the opportunities, it was the air of good times that made Ray Sidney join the team back when there were only four people at the company. Sidney admits the intimate feel has changed a bit now that the company has 270-plus employees. Certain protocols are now more necessary than they once were, and the company's structure is more defined. But it sure makes for a more exciting hockey game in the parking lot.

Despite its rapid growth, Google is still a place where CEO Eric Schmidt always leaves his door open, and where the co-founders hit the puck alongside engineers. Because its good name has prompted major portals like Yahoo! and international corporate sites like MarthaStewart.com and Cisco Systems to choose Google services. And because targeted advertising pulls in Google revenue, the company has never had to cut back on hiring. In fact, it's hiring "the best"--be it university faculty for the research division to engineers with doctrates in computer science--that has helped Google advance so quickly. Says Brin, "We look for diversity and talent--both implementation talent, idea talent and more science vs. engineering talent."

Somehow you can just look at the Google logo and know it's run by passionate and fun-loving folk, and that the heart of the company is true. It's the way Sergey Brin and Larry Page decided things were going to be from the beginning. "There are situations now as an executive-hiring people, firing people, ethical quandaries and things you run into where you have to define yourself as a person," says Brin. "I found it's important to set a high standard early and follow it, which we did. That's how you develop trust with your colleagues and companies you work with--and that's how you maintain a really good reputation."

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This article was originally published in the April 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ga-Ga for Google.

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