David Lawee is VP corporate development for Google. He started by trying to articulate why Yahoo! is failing, believing it comes back to their inability to crisply identify a mission statement. (This is quite something from Google, who are failing right now to understand what they are, and are being pilloried for moving away from search to some sort of AOL ‘everything’ approach).
He has made about 1000 informed bets on companies, making 120 acquisitions, with two thirds deemed a success so far. He sees the average as between a third and a half of acquisitions as successful. (I’ve been involved in one or two companies that have pitched and failed to be purchased by Google.)
Google’s mission statement is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (They are drifting from this I feel). Lawee puts a lot of emphasis on the statement as driving the early success for Google. (I’d put it down to simply that they had a search product that actually worked versus the several other search engines out there.) Lawee was invested in DirectHit, a Google competitor, and while they exited for over $500m to AskJeeves. However their code was not used by AskJeeves, being dumped in favour of a newer star-up’s code. He believes that DirectHit was designed to be sold rather than to endure, whereas Google was designed to fulfill their mission.
A core Google value was to ‘focus on the user, and all else would follow.’ (I would argue they are losing this. Indeed this prompted me to delete my search history, which is something we should all do before the Google privacy policies merge.) Thus their foray into advertising was different from other search sites, choosing not to contaminate search results with advertising. This worked.
Yahoo! wanted to “be the most essential global Internet services for consumers and businesses”. This mission was a bit generic, didn’t really change over time and their revenue model was driven by generic banner ads. They certainly have not focused on usability during the last few years, and each time I go to Yahoo to look for Yahoo Finance or currency exchange I despair at what happened to their beautiful simplicity.
Lawee went on to talk about Gmail and book scanning, as being part of the ‘organise all the world’s information’ mission. He sees the success of YouTube, which easily beat Google Video, was to focus on the uploader as the user rather than Google’s approach of focussing on the end users. (All I recall was that YouTube seemed to work, and Google Video didn’t, but ultimately YouTube had all of the content and traffic, and Google was very smart and simply purchased them.)
Lawee reiterated the importance of mission, using Cirque De Soleil and Starbuck as great examples (Shultz from Starbucks says they are in the people business not the coffee business – which may explain why their coffee is lousy and does explain their free wifi.)
Google has objectives (OKRs), expressed as somewhat impossible quarterly gals. One objective was to make the web faster, and that resulted in the release of their browser Chrome.
In Q&A from Jeremy Moon he reiterates that business is about heart and passion, rather than about commerce. He also says that intuition is critical when making business decisions, using the YouTube acquisition and the required faith in the growth and monetization of the site as an example.
Overall I think Lawee is inadvertently nailing the problems with Google today. I see Google as having lost their well-crafted original sense of purpose, and are trying to be the Yahoo and AOL of old, where we are comfortably ensconced in their walled garden. The beautiful simplicity of the google search site is being replaced by the black bar, the bizarre Google+ and all in the name of chasing Facebook, rather than staying true to their customer cause.
So I asked him about this in audience Q&A. He sees that Larry’s takeover of Google reasserts the original mission, and that our identity is part of capturing all information and building improved products. He sees this as a longer term play.
My take is still the same – that the more Google tries to own all of our internet experiences, the more they will risk alienating their customers. The screenshot below is where I stand, and I’ve already switched default search on one computer to duckduckgo.
Another question teased out that (Larry I think said) that Google’s main cost is opportunity cost – a nice way to put it that they are in a race, that allocating resources is critical and that successful execution is everything.