about business / Technology

Confession: Why I am unfair to Google.


Many of my friends ask me why I am so critical of Google. I have been examine possible motives.  I wonder if I am just jealous.  Back in 1999 when I joined the board of Alta Vista, the hottest search company at the time, we knew about Google and even had some discussions about buying them (they were really not interested for good reasons it turns out).  We knew they had better technology but we had market share and thought we would win. We would have lost out anyway because the management of Alta Vista accelerated that by trying to turn the company into a portal rather than keeping the focus on search.

I also knew a bit about Google because my dear friend, Ram Shriram was one of the first investors and board members.  He is still on the board and made billions from his investment in Google.  I got zero from my efforts with Alta Vista so perhaps that affects my thinking.

Maybe I am not objective about Google because every time I have met Larry Page, I have to reintroduce myself to him.  I tell him I was Vice President of Business Development at Intel and the cofounder of Intel Capital. He is about as interested as I might have been back in the day, if someone told me they had been a VP at Univac.  I have tried to tell him about the development of residential broadband and how I got the cable industry to provide high speed internet but his eyes glaze over which I find a bit surprising since he was already 21 years old when we did the first cable trial.  Since his dad and mom were both professors in Computer Science at Michigan State University, maybe the had a T-1 at home and he never had to deal with dial up modems.

I wonder why I don’t admire them for doing things that I would have advocated when I was at Intel.  Google is clearly willing to take risks even though they very often do not pay off.  They appear to have some kind of  long term vision which you can see in their investments in driverless autos, artificial intelligence and even Google Glass which I think is an awful technology.

I love that they give their people freedom to explore. I love their willingness to buy companies but I have trouble with the prices they pay.  I guess  when you have as much money as Larry Page, everything looks cheap.

So what is eating at me?  I think it is that they are full of themselves.  Maybe not so much in an arrogant way but they just don’t appreciate other companies.  They don’t learn well from history.

I think they had a great start with a wonderful technology for search and then they figured out how to make money from it.  But that is when they started mistaking luck for being smart.  I can’t help it.  I think the company is mediocre.  It is the same problem that existed for a while with Microsoft.  Microsoft was so powerful that they could put out mediocre products and still win and the good stuff from other companies never got to market.

So in examine my negative feelings about Google, I still come away still having them.  It is probably my own shortcoming.   Maybe if Larry Page would have recognize me just once and said something nice to me, I would be a big fan of Google now but I doubt it.

12 thoughts on “Confession: Why I am unfair to Google.

  1. I think your reaction and opinion is valid. If you get this type of treatment with your knowledge and CV, then there must be very little regard for the “least of us” in the eyes of Page/Google. In the end it isn’t about what you own but about how you have treated others.

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    • I get it. Hard to get snubbed, especially repeatedly, by your peers. (yes, they are your peers and not anything more). But, I don’t think you can call Google lucky anymore. They have negotiated treacherous waters time and time again and came away stronger. People can be smart and even wise, without being nice. Would you call Steve Job’s lucky? He wasn’t the nicest, most appreciative or sensitive guy either.

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      • Ellen, thank you for your kind words. Actually, I am not sure that the few brief experiences I have had with Larry really affected my thinking but just wanted to be honest and explore that possibility.
        Please give me examples if you do not mind of the treacherous waters they negotiated? Perhaps I am not giving them enough credit. For instance, I think they have not succeeded with social media and to allow a company like Facebook to become a threat may be a serious problem. Social Media may be to Google what mobile was to Intel.
        Yes, people can be smart and wise without being nice. You make a good point. Steve Job’s is not like anyone else with the possible exception of Jeff Bezos. For sure, Larry Page is no Steve Jobs.

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  2. Avram, there were many at Intel who where arogent and thought that that shit does not stink, the same at Broadcom and Microsoft. Page was a kid when you met him do you expect different reaction. How did Bill Gates react when he was 21?
    Btw, intel made some very awful investment in companies as well…I think you are envious…
    Jacob

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    • Jacob why bring in Broadcom only one specific individual may have been arrogant; however they had a great of deal of very smart people who earned their wings and luck was never a factor in their success. I was there ..remember they went from DC to light blue quicker than any other semiconductor company literally and metaphorically. It was one deal I am sure Avram would have loved to have closed.

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  3. Jacob, I certainly don’t hold up Intel as the standard. The last time I meet Larry Page was two years ago. He was 38 years old. I meet Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both when they were 25 by the way, I was 35. I think we all knew that that the computer industry started before we got involved not sure that Larry does. Yes, Intel made some bad investment but CBDs (Intel Capital) had amazing results so I am proud of that but that has nothing to do with what I am writing about. I don’t remember paying more than 3 billion dollars for a company that makes thermostats and smoke detectors or 13 billion dollars for a company was failing at a industry that they had created. And as I said, I may be envious. I think that is a real possibility. But frankly it does not feel that way to me. What it feels like is how it felt like to deal with Microsoft except Microsoft and Bill. Google has Larry. Lets see in ten years how this all plays out.

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  4. Your musings are reminiscent of my own feelings about Microsoft. Sure Bill Gates is smart but there was also as strong element of luck combined with ruthlessness and a complete lack of scruples (read the biography by Manes sometime). In latter years his handlers have smoothed off some of the edges and carefully controlled his public image but those of him who had to deal with him in the early years know the real Bill.

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  5. I have crossed paths with many successful and smart people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time and simply lucked out without making a significant individual contribution or even understanding what was going on around them. It’s not jealousy it s irritating. You have to admire pioneers and entrepreneurs who work at getting results and taking the arrows in any endeavor regardless of when in time it occurred. I once met the person whose claim to fame was he designed and invented the British Health services first hearing aid. It used vacuum tubes. Back then that was a technological breakthrough so why would any one snub him. Seems Mr Page is, to use a polite word ignorant. Keep saying it the way it is Avram

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  6. Your column’s obsession with search ignores the rise of Android and Google powering domination of smartphone operating systems. The Google Play store doesn’t have to do with search and is a shoehorn for Google into people’s lives, as is Google Maps.

    You’re wise to question yourself, but what successful company really respects another? Every tech company tries to impose its designs, its code on others. The power of the marketplace arbitrates who wins. I agree with your thoughts on Microsoft except for Office, which is arguably better than any other word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and email suite. Certainly Windows was a mediocrity and has become just a means to sell Office.

    Google is a large dominant company (Facebook is showing more agility in moving to mobile advertising) with a huge footprint into mobile technologies that are where the tech industry is today. Microsoft and arguably Intel are really legacy companies that are slowly dying. Google will also no doubt die one day too, but I’ll bet Google will be around when Microsoft is divested out of tech into a pure investment firm and Intel descends into an ARM manufacturer that is out-competed by cheaper Asian fabs.

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  7. Thanks everyone for the comments. I put a lot of thought and work into my blog posts (I hope it shows) and really appreciate it when someone takes the time to comment even if I don’t agree with any or all their points.
    Mindwarm, I would like to comment back your remarks: I am well aware of Android. And I guess, I should have mentioned it. It is very disruptive to the mobile ecco system. It some sense it is playing the role that DOS and later windows played in the PC era. But Microsoft was very clever about how to take advantage of that position to build a larger business for themselves Windows. Maybe Google will accomplish the same thing but maybe not. It does not matter with respect to Google how many android devices there are if Google can not exploit this. And this is exactly my point. I like to say that Google is like Microsoft but without the Greed (or cunning) of Bill Gates.
    If you read over my blog posts you can see that I am very critical of Microsoft and Intel. I am certainly not comparing the Google of today with the Microsoft and Intel of today. If you read my predictions for 2014 you will see that I discuss the breakup of Microsoft and the movement of Intel to become a foundery. I totally believe both will happen. However, I think Intel will out compete the Asian fabs. Maybe because I understand the economics of semi conductor manufacturing.
    I stand by my statements that Google while dominate is not brilliant like so many of my friends think.
    Thanks again for your comment. Please feel free to read more posts and comment. I enjoy the dialogue
    .

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  8. This is a pretty impressive self-examination for its candid content! Very refreshing.
    As to arrogance and poor human relationships along with lack of basic good manners- these have long been hallmark “qualities” of SV / Hi-Tech executives – so much so that I’ve often seen these characteristics referred to as outward expressions of brilliance!??. And…NEVER is luck (or “worse yet” – help from others) acknowledged by those same people.

    The other thing that I agree with as implied by comments by others here, is about the power of monumental cash flow and market share – it does allow companies to become industry bullies squelching innovation and invention.among other things (thinking more about MS than Google). Its the hi-tech version of “too big to fail” – Enterprises just want an agreed to “winner”, which they can adopt without fear of getting fired, and which will ensure little change for a number of years.

    As to Google buying and/or developing lots of businesses that don’t make money – perhaps they are just playing with statistics – if they spin the wheel enough times, it may land on a prize! 🙂

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