I’m Feeling Lucky: Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

This summer I read I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards. I first became interested in learning about the founding of Google after visiting its Cambridge campus last summer. The book’s author, Douglas Edwards, worked at Google from 1999 to 2005 serving as the Director of Consumer Marketing and Brand Management. In his book, he tells the story of Google in its early days and how the company transformed into an internationally recognized brand.

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Summary

 Edwards separates his book into four sections, each describing a step in his, and Google’s, development.

Part 1: “You are One of Us”

Section one focuses on Edwards’ adjustment from life at a highly structured organization to a startup. Before working at Google, Edwards held several marketing roles, his most important being the Online Brand Group Manager at San Jose Mercury News. His time at the “Merc,” as he calls the paper, spurred his interest in the “internet explosion” that was taking place at the time. Longing to be part of an up and coming internet company Edwards applied and was accepted to work at Google; however, he experienced culture shock the first day on the job.  In stark contrast to his former places of employment, the “Googlers” came into the office around 10 AM and stayed late, there was virtually no organizational hierarchy, and the company lacked a strategic plan. On top of that, Edwards quickly realized that he would have to abandon his traditional marketing practices as co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were interested in marketing Google in an untraditional way. For example, Brin once suggested that the marketing budget be used to inoculate Chechen refugees against cholera, arguing that it would build brand awareness. As Edwards was struggling to find his place at Google, Brin and Page were trying to figure out the best way for their organization to generate revenue. They began developing a Google ad program and were obsessed with the idea that ad placements be ethical, meaning that the search listings displayed at the top of the page be the ones most relevant to the user.

Part 2: “Google Grows and Finds Its Voice”

 In section two of the book, Edwards writes about what he describes as Google’s “awkward phase.” In the spring of 2000, Google was performing nine million searches a day, but the company was hoping to achieve even greater numbers by becoming Yahoo’s search provider. The deal with Yahoo forced Google to improve its search engine as the company had to expand and improve the site’s capacity, speed, and quality of results. During this time, Edwards was finding his place at Google. He was working to introduce Google’s ad program, “AdWords” to the public.  In fact, Edwards was responsible for naming the program. As he slowly developed Google’s humorous voice, Edwards began formulating brand strategy/guiding principles that earned him a promotion to marketing director.

Part 3: “Where We Stand”

 Edwards uses this section to describe Google’s relationship with its primary advertising competitor—GoTo.com. In order to separate Google from its competition and show users that it was unique, Edwards compiled a list of principles, entitled “Ten Things We’ve Found to be True.” From this list came Google’s most important principle, “Don’t be Evil.” This mantra meant that Brin and Page wanted users to discover pages on their own. They did not want the placed ads to have too great of an influence on them. Google came in direct contact with its GoTo.com rival, renamed to Overture, when both companies were pursuing a deal with AOL. After a hard fought battle, Google began offering its advertising services to AOL in 2002. Google beat Overture once again when in 2003 it launched AdSense, the first web advertising service that was content targeted. As a member of the AdSense program, companies paid Google to display text, image, or video advertisements on website pages depending on the content a user was viewing.

 Part 4: “Can This Really Be The End?”

 The last section of the book focuses on Edwards’ exit from Google. Google went public in August 2004 and about a year later, Edwards decided to leave the company. Edwards played an integral role in editing and preparing Google’s S-1—the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Registration Statement required when a firm goes public. Edwards’ remembers how the actual IPO announcement was met with very little excitement, and how Brin and Page worked hard to ensure that the company culture stayed the same. After Google went public, Edwards received a new manager, the director of product marketing. Shortly thereafter, Edwards and his new boss came to the realization that Edwards was no longer needed at the “new” Google at which point Edwards resigned.

 In Depth: Learning from Challenges

 In my introduction blog post I wrote about how I am interested in learning about the challenges early to mid-stage companies face when trying to grow their businesses. Edwards focused a lot of his attention on Google’s challenges including personnel, technology, and brand image. He recounts many of these events and writes about the important lessons learned from them. For example, one of these challenges took place during the early days of Google, when Brin and Page decided to perform organizational restructuring. In 2000, Google hired a new VP of Engineering, Wayne Rosing. Along with this new hire, Brin and Page decided to make the change that all engineers would report to Rosing instead of a project manager. As a result, many Google employees lost their jobs. This decision was announced at a gathering of all Google staff, and the project managers were humiliated. Brin explained that technical individuals should not be managed by nontechnical individuals. He felt that the system was not working and so he solved it with a lean startup mentality. While Edwards noted that Brin identified a problem and took quick steps to resolve it, the situation could have been handled in a less painful way. As a company grows, it is critical to remember that while it is important to continuously improve and add new products and services, it is equally important to treat its employees well. Companies can still be purpose driven while maintaining their integrity and humanity.

Recommendation

I found Edwards’ book incredibly engaging. He did a terrific job of combining his knowledge of Google with his own personal stories. I would definitely recommend Edward’s book to others, especially those who are thinking about pursuing a non-technical role at a technical company. I fall into this category, and it was interesting to see how Edwards found his place at Google. In addition, I think it is important to understand how Google works as the majority of us use its search engine, and the company’s other products like Google Drive, Docs, and Sheets, every day.

9 thoughts on “I’m Feeling Lucky: Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

  1. Great summary! It is nice to learn about Google through a past Googler’s personal experience. My summer reading, “In the Plex”, was more focused on the history of Google and the company itself, so it was interesting to read about your take on Google from “I’m Feeling Lucky”.

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  2. Thanks for the summary! It’s interesting to read about the challenges Google faced early on, as now they are one of the most successful companies in the world. I also find it ironic that sometimes the laid back, non-traditional cultures of startups cause more issues/challenges than a more traditional structure. I wonder if Edwards chose the title he did to point to the challenges of Google’s culture and his eventual departure from the company.

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  3. Great summary! I almost chose this book to read over the summer to get an insider’s viewpoint on Google and understand how they became the company they are today. It is really cool that Edwards had such influence and thought of the name “AdWords”. I also thought it was interesting to read about Google’s “awkward phase” since they are currently such a successful company.

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  4. It’s always interesting (and relieving) to hear about how companies try to balance driving revenue and remaining ethical. I think Google’s focus on putting the customer first in terms of making sure the ads were relevant is a big part of the reason it’s so successful today.

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  5. Thanks for the summary! After learning about Google’s advertising techniques in my Computers in Management class last year, I became very interested in Google, and do think I’ll actually read this book in the near future. I enjoyed reading about the “Don’t be evil” principle, as it’s refreshing to see that often giving the consumers more power and advertising less aggressively can actually be more effective than bombarding users with advertisements.

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  6. Fascinating summary! Google upended the traditional advertising industry, but somehow stuck to the mantra of “don’t be evil”. Given the current predicament that Facebook and other companies face regarding advertising, Google serves as a phenomenal case study in the arena. Also worth noting how Brin and Page ensured that the company culture did not change post-IPO!

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  7. Nice summary! I was really interested in this book so I definitely want to read it. It’s always really fun to hear the narrative of how such a giant conglomerate company started out as. I love how staying true to the culture and maintaining ethical principles was a priority at Google, and especially as Google could dive into matters that deal with a lot of high-level, macro information.

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  8. Nice summary. I really enjoyed reading this book as well. We have a tendency to believe that the big tech companies were always the dominant players they are today, and miss the behind-the-scenes stories about how they got there. Nice work!

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  9. Thank you for sharing your summary! I think it is super interesting to think about the ethical and now legal regulations when it comes to advertising with the rise of GDPR and the Facebook data breach. It is also valuable to learn a lesson here about the importance of leadership in any company and how important a managers background and culture is depending on what team they are leading.

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