Googles founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page made Ziff Davis Medias Top 100 Most Influential People in IT list for inventing technologies that rewrote expectations for Internet search engines and then building outward to establish a growing suite of complementary applications that reinvented other categories, including e-mail and mapping.
In the process, theyve built Google into one of the industrys most powerful companies and made themselves rich in the process. They ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, on Forbes magazines most recent list of the 400 Richest Americans, both with a net worth of more than $14 billion.
The Google search engine began as a research project they started while both were doctoral students at Stanford University. While studying the “link structure” of the Web, Page came up with the PageRank algorithm for using the number of links pointing to a given page as a measure of its importance, which helped them make Google search results more relevant.
Brin leant his expertise in data mining, and together they built a distributed computing infrastructure to support indexing millions of Web pages. Originally, they tried to license their software to an established Web operation such as Yahoo but got no takers. So they founded Google in 1998.
Together with CEO Eric Schmidt , who joined in 2001, Brin and Page established a profitable business model built around keyword advertising. Since going public in 2004, Google has exceeded analyst estimates for its financial performance in all but one quarter, and profits topped $1 billion in the last quarter of 2006.
David Vise, The Washington Post writer and co-author of the book “The Google Story,” said the company has succeeded not just on the strength of technology but because of its management style. “Google has remained relentlessly focused on the end user,” Vise said, meaning that Google is more focused on the quality of its search results than on the volume of the advertising that accompanies them.
The company is also driven by quantitative measurement, Vise said. “People cant go into a room with Sergey Brin and Larry Page and make a persuasive argument, most of the time, without having data to back it up. They dont want opinion; they want data.”
At the same time, Googles leaders arent afraid to experiment, which is why theyve given “beta” a whole new meaning, Vise said. “This is a constant struggle between Larry Page and the engineers,” he said, with Page pushing to get applications in front of users sooner rather than later, even if theyre imperfect, so that Google can start gathering user feedback on how to make them better.
While CEO Schmidt deserves a lot of credit for Googles success, Stanford professor David Cheriton said, “I think Larry and Sergey did an incredible job of building the company to the point where Eric came in.” Cheriton, who heads a distributed systems research group at Stanford, was an early investor in Google who also took stock in exchange for serving as a business and technical adviser to the company.
Google Goes Against the
Part of what impresses Cheriton about Page and Brin is their willingness to question conventional wisdom and trust their own judgment, even when it means ignoring the advice of their elders.
For example, he initially disapproved of their teaching a course in search technology at Stanford, fearing they would give too much away. But one result of that course was that they got other students excited about the technology and wound up hiring many of the schools most talented computer scientists. That was the beginning of a pattern of seeking out excellence in all of Googles hires.
Even when the venture capitalists were pressuring them to hire a more experienced CEO to replace Page, who initially held that position, the founders refused to buckle under until they found the right person, Cheriton said. “They were playing the same game of asking, What can this person bring to the table that we cant already do?”
In terms of technology, Brin and Page not only innovated with PageRank but also led the company to create an economical distributed system, based on thousands of servers built from commodity PC hardware, to support the gathering, storage and analysis of Web content on a huge scale, Cheriton said. If they hadnt mastered that early on, he said, the cost of operating the search engine likely would have spiraled out of control.
Both Page and Brin grew up in households where math, science, technology and academic excellence were cherished. Page was the son of a computer science professor and a database consultant, while Brins mother worked at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center and his father was a math professor.
Page is a born tinkerer. His official biography says that while he was an undergraduate in engineering at the University of Michigan, he built an inkjet printer out of Lego blocks. When Google was establishing its first production data center, Page helped design its original hand-built computer racks from tightly packed components mounted on corkboard.
Brin, a native of Moscow, earned his undergraduate degree with honors in mathematics and computer science from the University of Maryland at College Park and is currently on leave from the doctorate program at Stanford, where he received his masters degree. He has published more than a dozen scientific papers, including those he co-authored with Larry Page about applying data mining principles to the Web.
Page now holds the title of president of products; Brin is president of technology. While letting Schmidt be Googles front man, they still wield enormous influence over the way the company operates.
Both men are still in their early 30s and looking to continue to work on achieving Googles mission “to organize the worlds information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
In the beginning, they thought they might be able to create a nice little company with a couple of hundred employees, Page said at last years Google Press Day. But then they realized that “the area we were in, search, was too important to the world for a small company to really succeed in it. To fulfill that mission, we had to grow. Now we really are accomplishing a lot by making information more accessible.”
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