Why Google became so successful – reviewing Steven Levy’s “In The Plex”

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I just finished reading “In The Plex”, Steven Levy‘s book on Google, and can highly recommend it to anybody who wants to better understand Google’s success. While many things are not completely new if you have followed the company for a while, the systematic recount of Google’s history and the decisions they have taken along the way offers some really unique insight.

If I had to condense Google’s success to a few factors, I would chose the following 4:

  • Google’s culture: Google developed a very specific culture from the beginning on that even phrased a specific term for it: “Googly” stands for smarts, analytics, unique approaches, open communications,… and everything and everybody were measured against being “googly” enough – from the people that the company hired, to the way the office was designed to how the company communicated internally. This persistence to live a company’s culture every day and in every aspect that makes it powerful – and both founders were not only good in creating a unique culture but preserving it as the company scaled
  • Obsession with data: everybody has probably heard about Google’s obsession with data but the company has taken it further than most people can imagine. Example: Google relied heavily on academic metrics in the recruitment process, to a point that the company was asking candidates with more than a decade of work experience for their college admission test score and GPA’s
  • Pushing the boundaries: building and running your own data centres is probably not the first thing a company would think of given the large supply of cheap data centres around the world but with the rapid growth of the number of computers Google operated the company was continuously chasing for additional efficiencies that existing data centre providers could not or were not willing to provide. So it decided to build its own data centres by applying existing ideas that no one had yet put into practice, e.g. completely new ways to approach cooling. Google ultimately found ways to make it work and hence built data centres that were more efficient than the companies who’s main focus were data centres. Google’s history is full of such examples of pushing the boundaries of what seemed to be impossible at the outset and proved possible after Google tackled it.
  • Acquisition strategy: Google is probably one of the best companies when it comes to acquisitions by combining acquisition discipline (by doing a very good job thinking through how a potential acquisition can (or cannot) help the company achieve its goals) with a smart way of integration the acquired company into Google (or even leaving it as a stand-alone unit if this turns out to be the better set-up as in the case of YouTube). This smart M&A strategy is how some of the most successful Google products were born: AdSense (Applied Semantics), Android or Google Analytics (Urchin). And I hope the same thing will happen with my portfolio company Sparkbuy that got acquired by Google yesterday.

So I can only recommend you reading this book – you can get it here or here.


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