Innovation at Google: Interview with Marissa Mayer, VP Search Products & User Experience (part 1 of 5)

by David Eckoff · 2 comments

Marissa Mayer photo

I recently had a chance to interview Marissa Mayer, Vice President at Google, who leads the company’s product management efforts on search products. The 90 minute interview was filmed before a live audience at Turner Studios, and I’ll publish excerpts here over the next few weeks.

DAVID ECKOFF: How do you evaluate and screen new ideas and products?

MARISSA MAYER: There’s a vibe that comes from winning ideas. When I break it down:

First, I think of it as a new company within Google, to understand how we should invest. Is there a core piece of technology that would be interesting and repurposeful in any number of ways? For example, with 1-800-GOOG-411, it’s expensive to process the calls and it might not pan out; but we’re building a database that will make it possible to build a more robust speech to text model, which could be used in any number of ways… iPhone based search… it could help us deploy car based computers… it could help us do things like take videos and generate closed caption transcripts off of them rather than having them generated by humans.

Second, is this the kind of product that is easily articulatable and that will grow through word of mouth? Meaning, is it a very simple concept that people can express to each other on the street? Very basic concepts that are easily understood and used, instantly intuitive.

The third thing I look for: the overall vibe from the team. When you look at start ups, and founding teams, a lot of times it comes down to the verve and tenacity of the team. Eric Schmidt, our CEO, and I were talking once and I asked him “When you’re looking across the entire company, what are you looking for? My area has become so broad, and it’s really hard for me to be an expert in everything that I’m hearing about. I can’t even imagine looking over the entire company. What do you look for?” And he said, “Sometimes, it really comes down to the vibe in the room. I’ll just sit there and when a really good team comes in, I just get this visual image in my head of someone trying to take the mountain. I literally will see the presenters there, and I feel like they’re just so fired up that in my head I unconsciously get this image of that team really charging the mountain and no one is going to be able to knock them back.”

So that’s really what you want: a piece of repurposeful technology; and a very simple and easy to understand idea; and you want a great founding team that’s really fired up. So fired up that they won’t take no for an answer and they won’t fail.

I have a lot of friends who are entrepreneurs. I asked, “How do you decide when to start a company? When does that actual moment happen, when you start a company? I think that same thing is true when you start a product or a team.” And he said, “The moment that you start a company is the moment when you won’t take no for an answer.”

DAVID ECKOFF is President of Revolutionary Ventures, a consulting company that helps businesses create new growth through innovation. Previously, he was Vice President, New Product Development & Innovation at Turner Broadcasting (CNN, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network); Senior Director at RealNetworks; and Senior Vice President at He is currently developing a new online business dedicated to aggregating the explosion of news and discussion on the web and filtering/organizing that content by niche topics of interest to passionate fans.

Photo credit: eirikso

Related posts:

  • More from my 1:1 interview with Marissa Mayer (Part 2)
  • Talking with Marissa Mayer: product management, prototypes & 20% time (part 3)
  • Interview with Marissa Mayer: Small Teams and Leapfrogging (Part 4)
  • Marissa Mayer, VP Google talks about Apple and Steve Jobs (Part 5)
  • Innovation Focus: Krishna Bharat, creator of Google News
  • Innovation at Google: Product Management Tenets
  • Interview with Sarah Lacy, author of “Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and Rise of Web 2.0”
  • @ Georgia Technology Summit: Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics
  • { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 jhon June 25, 2009 at 6:25 am

    I interviewed for the associate product manager position at google, you can read it up here


    2 David Eckoff June 25, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Hi jhon, thanks for visiting my blog and for posting a comment. Without making too much judgement about the details of the content in your blog post (some of your perspective I don’t agree with, but it was interesting to read about the details, just the same), I’m sorry to read that it didn’t work out for you with the product manager position at GOOG, and best of luck to you at MSFT!


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