David Vise's "The Google Story"

Jun 25, 2007

I read “The Google Story” by David Vise.

The Google Story cover

I’ve been pretty unfamiliar with how Google came about, so I figured why not go ahead and educate myself about this a bit, to put things in perspective in relation with other notable tech stories like Apple and Microsoft and such.

Google is a pretty young company, comparing to other “big ones” who have been around for decades. And thus, their story is much less drama and mainly builds upon Sergey Brin and Larry Page, as the early days and many decisions in Google were directly influenced by them and I understand they continue to play a big role in the company.

I found the story about Sergey’s emigration interesting. Had the communist system not been as evil, would we now have something Google-like in Russia? Who knows. This story linked from the book’s website expands on it more.

What’s also notable about Sergey and Larry and many other industry veterans is that it’s a family thing – their moms and dads are often both university professors in sciences. I don’t think it’s necessarily a disadvantage for others whose parents are pursuing other careers, but it’s just one resemblance I’ve noticed between, say, Brin and Page and Jobs and Wozniak.

Besides talking strictly business and tech, the book also looks at various cultural aspects of building a company like Google and the founders’ personal preferences and interests, like the Burning Man festival or the role of Charlie Ayers as an executive chef.

I especially liked the stories that showed the founders’ personal passion and commitment in developing the company while maintaining both integrity and quirkiness. One of them was about the “Playboy” magazine article that appeared during their pre-IPO quiet period. They may have violated SEC rules with it and in order to comply, they made the Playboy article as part of the official SEC proceedings as investor information. And jokes then went around about how the government officials were having to go through Playboy without looking at the girlie photos.

The other story was about how Brin heard that they are going to lose their European AOL advertising business to Yahoo, but Google was determined to be the ad provider to AOL in Europe. So they immediately showed up at AOL’s European HQ in London – or rather, they chose a discreet location that wouldn’t arouse suspicion. And they met AOL execs in confidence at a hotel, and both sides summoned their legal/technical teams, and the negotiations and deal got done right then and there. I myself like this way of doing things much more than I like endless back-and-forth official emails and communications.