I had a chance to conduct a one-on-one interview with Marissa Mayer of Google last year, filmed before a live studio audience. Marissa leads Google’s product management efforts on search products. In honor of Google’s 10th birthday, I’ll be publishing more excerpts of the interview on my blog.
DAVID ECKOFF: What cultural attributes makes Google special when it comes to innovating and developing new products?
MARISSA MAYER: People like to question the status quo and they like to think about doing things in new audacious ways. If the standard in the industry is to give away 4-6MB of mail space, let’s not make it 20 MB of space, let’s give them a gig.
Try to have big and audacious goals for how to do something and how to approach new problems. Larry and Sergey will talk about, as we start off new ideas within the company, we really want a new idea to have a billion dollar revenue run rate opportunity. That doesn’t mean we think about monetization all the time, what we really think about are the end users and what they ultimately want. But we want them to be big opportunities, things that really matter to people that they will use every day. Because when you work on really big important problems that matter and that are fundamentally useful to people’s everyday lives, you’ll find a way to monetize them. Either it will be so valuable that users will pay for a subscription and/or there will be a way to have advertising.
DAVID ECKOFF: Google has seen tremendous growth in the number of employees. How do you maintain the culture of the company?
MARISSA MAYER: I started when there were 18 people and now there are about 18,000 people. I think we were very lucky when we were small, the people we hired were all likeminded they were all interested in working on products that mattered they all wanted to do good things for the world and work on problems and projects that their friends and family would use every day. As a result, we had a very stable culture then.
As new hires come, you make small talk with new employees. I’d ask “What drew you to Google?” At around 1200 employees, I heard this interesting answer I’d never gotten before: “the culture.” I thought, that’s such an odd reason to go to a company. For me graduating from school and deciding to go to Google, it was about working on really interesting problems involving artificial intelligence and how it gets applied to search. It was the intellectual challenge that drew me to Google. So going for the culture seemed like an odd answer. But then I started hearing that answer all the time. And I noticed as we went from about 1200 employees to 1500 employees, almost 50% of the new people I talked with started citing the culture.
And I realized that the culture was having a very interesting reinforcing effect. There’s the point of maintaining stability up to 1200 employees. But once we hit 1200 employees, the culture became very self reinforcing. Because when you have a majority of employees joining a company for the culture, the last thing those employees want to do when they arrive is change it or screw it up. They came there to experience it, to participate in it, to benefit from it. And as a result, the culture has become very stable.
I think that what one of the most stunning things is how similarly motivated the early Googlers are to today’s Googlers. The conversations that happen every night around the foosball table or in the snack kitchens, you hear the same kind of aspirational language: what could Google do, what would be possible, what’s interesting in technology and how could we combine that with the infrastructure we’re building? What would be a big and audacious goal in this area? Those same conversations happen every night. The people who come now are inspired by the same principles that we had early on.
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 Rivals.com. 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: Esthr