Douglas Edwards began working at Google on November 29th, 1999 and concluded his work on March 4th, 2005, a little over five years later. When he started, he described himself as a big-company guy at a small startup, and he left as a small-startup guy at a big company. The book is a detailed, insider perspective of the company from its earliest days to Google’s IPO through the eyes of Edwards, who was the Director of Consumer Marking and Brand Management. He was known as the “Voice of Google.” Edwards tells a visual story about his personal career path at Google. He split the book up into four main parts and I will briefly summarize each section.
As I sat on the plane reading this book, the guy next to me noticed the cover and we started to talk. I explained the basis of TechTrek and how we are visiting Google in March. He proceeded to mention how extraordinary Google was, and how they must have had a business plan unlike any other company. What I learned from Edwards, however, was that Google didn’t have a strategic plan. The strategic plan “resided in the heads of Larry and Sergey.” Larry Page and Sergey Brin were two Stanford graduate students, and Google began as a research project in 1996. Within a year they took leave from school and started working out of a garage.
You Are One of Us
As the initial section of the book, Edwards begins with a sketch of Google’s founding, descriptions of Larry and Sergey, and context of his career, not young and fresh out of Stanford, but 41 years old and due for a mid-life crisis. He needed a change from Marketing at a newspaper, Mercury News. He entered the GooglePlex as Google’s online brand manager, taking a $25,000 pay cut, with no idea what was in store for him other than that he made his way into the startup life, which seemed to be completely lacking rules. His family was skeptical.
Edwards would learn his 25 years of experience in Marketing was not the way that Larry and Sergey envisioned Marketing at Google, and he would soon change his outlook. Branding would not differentiate Google from everyone else, but quality would. “Product excellence, user acquisition, and revenue would be the priorities,” and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) would be the system for setting goals and measuring progress. Edwards had stock options that meant nothing at the time, and was working more than ever at a company with little reputation and no revenue.
Google Grows and Finds Its Voice
The second section speaks to Google’s “awkward stage” where the company was beyond a startup but not yet a search behemoth. Google signed a deal with Netscape to be their fall-through search engine and was growing its reputation. In 2000, Google was going after Yahoo. Traffic was increasing, and Google set a goal to crawl 1 Billion URL pages. Google simultaneously met Yahoo’s needs and created the world’s first billion-URL index, two very seemingly impossible tasks.
Later that same year, AdWords, Google’s new “do it yourself ad program” was launched, the term coined by Douglas Edwards. Edwards was building Google’s brand and their “bottom line.” He was Google’s word guy, and took it upon himself to start building a voice by implementing humor where it wasn’t necessarily called for.
Where We Stand
In the third section of the book Edwards speaks about some of the greatest ideas at Google, but also where there were mistakes. Douglas worked well into the morning (1 – 3 am) and hard work and stress paid off with more hard work and stress. New ideas brought challenges, such as winning the war for advertising revenue. Since Google couldn’t trash talk their competitors, Edwards would compile a list of the “Ten Things We Found to Be True” to talk directly to users about what made the company unique. One included, open is better than closed, Google’s preference for “free, community-developed, open-source technology.”
A big deal Google won was America OnLine (AOL). The deal would have a huge network effect for Google, bringing in thousands of sites to kick- start their ad- syndication program. A mistake did occur, when there was a bug in the web server causing advertisements to show up in line with actual search results. Google, however, managed to renew their Yahoo deal and continue working with AOL.
The next billion-dollar idea Google would implement would be content targeting, discovered by Paul Bucheit who was hacking things late one night. Google launched its content targeting before competitor Overture, and again “underpromised and overdelivered.” Google managed to stay ahead of competition.
Can This Really Be The End?
The final section of the book is where Edwards describes Google going public and his exit. Edwards assisted in editing the official S-1 documents for Google’s initial public offering (08/19/04) and was present for the meetings throughout the process. Cindy McCaffrey who hired Douglas Edwards left the company in January 2005 and after her departure, Edwards would report to the director of product marketing. He broke the news to Edwards he had a hard time finding a spot for Edwards, and instead of fighting back, Edwards decided on his departure date of 3/4/5 because it had “architectural purity.”
One part of the book I found interesting was a chapter entitled “Is New York Alive?”. The chapter is about Google’s response to the 9/11 attacks in NYC. Edwards was proud to play a part in the responses, which were “one of the company’s finest moments.” On the Monday after 9/11 Google added a red, white and blue looped ribbon which I included in a picture below. Edwards thought it was simple and respectful. One email response wrote, “Google is obviously created by individuals with a global perspective and a sophisticated understanding of the complexity of the world’s current political and cultural problems. By keeping the standard Google interface, you remained intelligently worldly and open, at a time when these characteristics seem tragically rare.” Google would provide their search services, but they also acknowledged what occurred, thus exposing there was human presence behind the stark homepage. Links to news sources were placed at google.com/currentevents with a pointer on the homepage. During a time of grief and distress, Google made an effort to go above and beyond in a time of national need. The responses proved Google was not just a disinterested corporation. Edwards was very candid, and I could feel the sense of pain and intent from the Google employees.
Additionally, Edwards and others engaged in searching for who was behind the attacks. While ultimately unsuccessful, they tried to identify individuals who displayed a suspicious interest in topics related to hijackings. Google felt strong enough that they had a moral obligation to provide any information that could give answers or save lives in the future.
I believe these efforts speak to the strong character of Google and its employees. In the moment, other projects were put on hold for attempts to work in the best interest of our country.
I would absolutely recommend this book! Edwards was an English major, and the book is well written. His use of visuals and metaphors keep the book engaging for all 400 pages! There are many details I could not include in this summary that make the reader smile (laugh out loud), and of course, want to work at the company even more! To just name a few, Sergey came into Edwards interview in his roller hockey skates, one employee’s dog would sit in the office and received a profile on Google’s directory, and there were so many M&Ms laying around that one employee threw up after eating too many. Not to mention the annual company ski trip, food on the daily menus, and free massages!