Entrepreneur Case Study - Larry Page
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The Google Guys: Inside the Brilliant Minds of Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin by Richard L. Brandt is a guidebook to the inner workings of Google's founders. Brandt examines the key characteristics that has led Google co-founders, Lawrence Page and Sergey Brin through their progression and subsequent success. The Google Guys explores the beginning of their venture while they were graduate students at Stanford University and through the obstacles that they encountered as they built their empire. Page is scientifically and academically oriented with an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master of Science in computer science. During his doctoral studies at Stanford, he developed BackRub which was the antecedent of PageRank, a complex algorithm that analyses and ranks websites based on quantity and quality of backlinks or website links to another website. PageRank is analogous to citations used in research where a reference source that is cited often means that it provided the most relevant information and proved to be the most useful to researchers. With the initial funding of $100,000.00 from Sun Microsystem’s co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, Page and Brin were able to launch Google in 1998. Larry Page as President of Products is the primary thinker of the company’s future direction and weighs in heavily on key hiring decisions. He is ambitious yet pragmatic, methodical yet unconventional and he is firmly dedicated to maintaining an ethical obligation to the users. Page has nurtured Google into a successful global corporate giant. With a leader like Page at its helm, Google has been propelled into immense success and has been transforming modern industries, including computer hardware and software, telecommunications, publishing, broadcasting and entertainment.
Characteristic Traits of a Successful Entrepreneur
Lawrence Page can attribute his success to a combination of his robust academic background, intellectual acuity, and unconventional approach to business. From his early years at Stanford University through the current times, Page has been consistently ambitious, pragmatic, methodical, unconventional, and dedicated to ethical obligation. Many of his characteristic traits are deeply rooted and are implemented in many aspects of his business ventures including Google.
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Page has always been ambitious and passionate about his mission. He and his business partner and college classmate, Sergey Brin met when they were graduate students at Stanford University. Although they were inexperienced in the field of business, they were driven to bring their dreams to fruition through hardwork, perseverance, as well as, with their strong computer science skills. Their ambition of grandeur was to build the world’s greatest library by indexing the world’s books and creating a digital library that would be readily available and accessible to anyone who had access to the internet (Brandt 2011, p.161). Google even began the daunting task of operating on Chinese soil despite censorship from the Chinese government and backlash from the general public, activist groups, and the media. They rationalized this decision because it would benefit the Chinese people and expose them to the idea that other information exists on the internet and that their government is deliberately preventing them from it. Page and his team are proponents of transparency of information for the masses and they were willing to intrude into perilous territory to achieve it. Another of Page’s ambitious ventures is when Google dabbled with the idea of providing internet for entire cities, beginning with San Francisco but plans were terminated due to political and telecommunications company opposition (Brandt 2011, p.210). Google has had setbacks in many of their projects due to copyright or various other political or corporate obstacles but this never barred them from pursuing their vision and they continued pushing forward with unabated intensity.
Larry Page made business decisions based on data and he takes a scientific approach to problem solving. He is a firm believer that more information provided for analysis yields better tools for decision making. Page was born into an intellectual and technologically adept family and had an extensive background in computer science and this placed him at an advantageous position. He was especially analytical and he applied this to his business approach and expected no less from his employees (Sergey Brin and Larry Page | Lemelson, 2020). Page and Brin also favoured head hunting for employees with similar ideals and ethics at their alma mater. According to Jennifer Widom, a professor at Stanford University, during the first three years after the conception of Google, a considerable number of Stanford graduates in the database group went to work for Google (Brandt 2011, p.57). Prospective Google employees undergo a rigorous hiring process to ensure that they share a common goal and their skills are aligned with the company’s vision and culture, hence, the founder’s expectations of thorough and complete analysis of ideas proposed. Larry and Sergey wanted Google to thrive and be propelled with the same elevated level of analytical thinking that they themselves possessed. There is unanimous agreement between Google employees including previous CEO Eric Schmidt, that Page and Brin set the bar high and were brutal in their critiques of proposed ideas, projects, and designs (Brandt 2011, p.178).
Google claims to be an idea machine and the company prides itself on this claim. Google implemented an employee program that allotted time once a week for engineers to work on their own projects or what they deemed important. The purpose of this “twenty percent time” is to allow workers to share new ideas, analyse new projects or join projects they were interested in (Brandt 2011, p.177). Page believed in this program because it offered a variation to the work and encouraged continued, dynamic stimulation which could potentially lead to innovation (Vise, 2007). At the same time, this was beneficial to the company as this may have prevented employees from becoming stagnant in their roles.
Page and his counterpart, Brin are highly intelligent but they did not invent search engines. Their intention was to create a system to search through databases of published research papers but instead, they stumbled upon a better way to sift through the data on the internet (Brandt 2011, p.5). Page developed the PageRank system which determines the importance of a website by the link structure or the number of other websites that link it. It also takes into account the quality of websites that link to it and returns results in the order of importance (Page et al., 1999). Prior to PageRank, search engines like AltaVista presented results based on the number of times a searched word appeared on a website (Brandt 2011, p.42). PageRank was an innovative approach that revolutionized search engines and provided an efficient and user-friendly way for people to find relevant results to searches.
Page is a sensible entrepreneur. This is an imperative trait to have in business and it started when he began this venture at Stanford and he and Brin worked with a limited budget. At that time, they had to be conscious of their spending but they continued to maintain consistent frugality as they grew their empire. Even with their immense success, Page continues to be cost conscious and as a company, Google does not buy the newest of computers, they utilize off the shelf PCs that they can modify to give them the most computing power per dollar (Brandt 2011, pp.175, 194). Google as a company has an enormous amount of resources but Page believes that creating and modifying technology is just as effective as buying new products.
Google has had continued success because it is a dynamic company that progresses with the time. Page is methodical but he is not resistant to change and is willing to diversify Google’s business ventures to ensure the company is diversified, competitive and continues to advance in the technology field. Google is known to buy up smaller companies to acquire innovative ideas or technology others may have and Google improves upon it. Google invests in various industries and holds over fifty companies in its portfolio that includes mobile phone applications, blogging services, social networking companies, photo sharing and editing programs, maps, e-mail clients, browsers, cloud storage, automotive companies research and development group for renewable resources and other analytical software to facilitate ease of running a business (Brandt 2011, p.189).
Page has proven to be an unconventional strategist and he does not adhere to accepted business etiquette. He is elusive and is notorious for being tardy to meetings, habitually changes terms of negotiations and sometimes refuses to meet with other executives or give interviews (Braha, 2018). An executive from another company once said that the Google founders are, “horrible to deal with” and that “their approach is to push you to the point where you will walk away. They’d hold you over a barrel because they had the power to” (Brandt 2011, p.87). Larry Page is thoroughly aware of the power he has over other companies and uses that to his advantage. He maintains his sights on his goals and does not submit to the whims of overs or conform to industry standards and this has kept him in a powerful position and his companies are kept at an advantage.
“Don’t be evil” is one of the Google founders' early motto as they wanted to ensure that they maintained the integrity and ethical obligations of their budding company. Larry Page was committed to making sure that Google was a trustworthy company by maintaining the privacy of its users. Because of the amount of data Google collects from its users, it is responsible for protecting user data from hackers, spammers, spies as well as the government (Brandt 2011, p.13). For users to trust and continue to use Google’s services, the company must uphold the responsibility of maintaining user privacy.
Another of Page and Brin’s philosophy is to “focus on the user and everything else will follow” (Brandt 2011, p.79). When other search engines were taking advantage of the profitability of advertisements, Google focused on small advertisers and kept advertisements relevant to the search results and this set them apart from the other search engine sites. They believed that search engines should not be influenced by financial interest, which would inevitably provide results biased towards the advertisers who paid more (Brandt 2011, p.40). Page believed that the quality of information was more important than receiving a large number of results that matched the search query but with less relevant information presented. Both Larry and Sergey disliked pop-up ads and obnoxious sites and wanted to maintain a simple user interface that was straightforward and easy to use for the masses. To this day, Google maintains that simplicity. Page and Brin built their company to benefit the people and this is shown by their way of testing their new products or services. Instead of creating and perfecting products in secrecy, Google depends on the feedback and opinions of users to improve their products (Brandt 2011, p.195). Utilizing the general public to participate in beta testing was unusual since it was normally a task completed by industry experts. This method allows the company to cater to the actual standards of the users instead of a professional.
Larry Page’s pacesetting leadership style developed as a culmination of a combination of his many personal traits. A pacesetting leader is a high performing head who expects the same performance from everyone in their team (Murray, 2010). Google as a company is known for having high expectations of their employees. As a corporation, Google maintains a vague hierarchy and project managers move around to gain exposure into each area of the company to remain versatile within the company (Brandt 2009, p. 59). Page and Brin are involved in all the important decision-making processes of their company and they set the pace of the projects but they also allow their employees wide berth and plenty of liberties. Because of the standards set by the leaders of the company and their commitment to yield to the intellectual process, they are able to expect the best efforts from their employees and the best outcome for projects. As a leader, Larry Page pushes his employees hard but also rewards them greatly for their achievements.
Larry Page once said, “My parents taught me that many of the great scientists throughout time succeeded because they ignored conventional wisdom and followed their own instinct. I now realize that entrepreneurship is no different. The people who break the current orthodoxy make others uncomfortable. And they are also the ones who change the world.” (Brandt 2011, p228) Page, armed with exceptional intelligence and strict adherence to the wisdom his parents instilled in him has become one of the most powerful and influential entrepreneurs of our time. With the great wealth he has acquired, we can expect that he will continue to make great strides that humankind will continue to benefit from in the future.
Stages of Entrepreneurship
Being an entrepreneur is not an easy role and according to Entrepreneur.com a new entrepreneur encounters eight major challenges before achieving success (Alton, 2016). In The Google Guys, Richard L. Brandt discusses the challenges that Google’s co-founder, Larry Page faced from inception of Google to the challenges that he faces as a successful modern-day businessperson.
The first major challenge of a new entrepreneur is to make the start-up business the primary focus. "If you are going to dedicate yourself to starting and nurturing a business to success, it is going to be nearly impossible to simultaneously manage another career” (Alton, 2016). Although Larry Page completed his undergraduate and Master of Science in computer science, he discontinued his doctoral course at Stanford University in order to commit his full time into establishing Google. Page wanted to focus his energy on growing his new business (Rogers, 2019). It was important for the founders to dedicate their time into their business in order to show the investors that this was a serious venture. This was a decision that was proven to be valid, given the proportion and strides that Google has made in technology today.
Financial challenges are significant obstacles that entrepreneurs face when they begin their enterprise, especially when they are seeking initial investors. "As a new entrepreneur, you will start from scratch, which means you will need to start networking like crazy and think about all possible funding options before you get into one" (Alton, 2016). With Larry and Sergey this was no different, they had to work hard in their search for investors. Their first investor was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Andy Bechtolsheim, who was introduced to them by a computer science professor and second investor, David Cheriton. Bechtolsheim provided them with $100,000.00 to begin their venture and other investors soon followed (Strom, 2018). Even after the initial sum of investment, in 1999, Page and Brin began seeking out $25 million in venture capital. With such a large amount of capital they required Google co-founders had to be assertive in their efforts and were willing to concede to give up one fifth of the company’s equity (Brandt 2011, p.49). Larry and Sergey were unrelenting in their terms and managed to receive the funding from many different individual investors and firms. Because of Google’s incredible financial accomplishments, those who invested or believed in their passion and product were rewarded with prosperous wealth.
With the growth and development of Google, the initial team was formed. The need to hire new employees arise and with that comes a new challenge, team building. A cohesive team can be one of the key contributing factors to the success of any business. Page and Brin borrowed a recruiting tactic that Bill Gates used while building Microsoft. They opted to give opportunities to recent college graduates. In addition to their great intellectual value to the company, new graduates are young, career oriented and willing to work long hours for lower salaries (Brandt 2011, p.62). The founders veered away from hiring experienced employees as they believed, they were less likely to be able to break the mould or adjust to their management methods. It is also easier to train and shape the skills of the inexperienced to fit the needs of the company. Page and Brin wanted to staff their business with employees who were compatible with the company and whose skill and passion lined up with their own.
Every company needs to have firm ground rules to follow. An entrepreneur must know how to maintain a balance between customer satisfaction, the needs of the company, and that of their employees. Larry and Sergey found this balance by giving flexibility to their employees amid the need for results. They also had a novel approach to the work setting by providing a more relaxed and comfortable environment for their young talents. Another example of the company's flexibility is Google’s lenience in allowing pets in the workplace (10 Reasons Google Is One of the Best Employers, 2020). By making sure their employees are happy and comfortable, they are more likely to be productive. According to Greatplacetowork.com, 97% of Google employees are happy to work in the company and this obviously reflects the company’s progression (Working at Google Inc., n.d.).
Every company needs a visionary behind it. A new entrepreneur needs to have a clear vision in order to maintain a business plan with concise goals. It is imperative that there are strategies in place to be able to compete with competitors and it takes creativity to show the uniqueness of your enterprise and maintain an edge in the market. Google maintains market competitiveness by continually developing new technologies and the company left its first major competitor behind by creating email clients, map services and various other tools. As great visionaries, Larry and Sergey were able to take advantage of the high visibility of their website and saw revenues increase dramatically when they managed to incorporate ad sales on their platform. Google does not display the most expensive advertisements, they display ads that are relevant to the user and the search results (Brandt 2011, 103). Page and his team believe that they are making a difference in the world with the technologies that they develop or innovate. They were staunch believers of their vision and although they occasionally have to make concessions, they try to adhere as closely to their ethical standards while continuing to progress.
An entrepreneur should excel at making crucial daily decisions that may directly impact the business as well as always be prepared to handle the unknown. Problems within the business can arise at any time and without warning and a business owner should always be ready to face these contingencies. Possible problems can occur due to many reasons such as internal issues with employees, logistical problems, external factors like political or social opposition, competitors, backlash from the masses or with the media. With the growth of the internet, users are always concerned about the protection of their data. Google collects and analyses our data to enhance our experience with their applications and various programs. They regularly face criticism for retaining data but Google justifies this as a necessity to maintain security although, in 2008, they reduced data retention from eighteen months to nine months (Brandt 2011, p.148-9). With Page and Brin as the leaders of Google, the company, as a whole, stands firm in maintaining the integrity and reliability of their company despite any competitive, social, political or governmental opposition. Google has been under close scrutiny especially by federal and global regulators. Armed with a team of lawyers, Google is able to secure loopholes to continue disseminating their technology and is always ready to fight to uphold their vision.
The final challenge is having to face the loneliness of being at the top of the hierarchy. “Entrepreneurs have to build a path and keep moving forward, without any idea of the direction. It may work or it may not work. Unlike a traditional job, nobody validates your progress” (Jhala, 2019). An entrepreneur should be able to maintain equanimity despite hurdles they may face. They may have to bear the weight and stress of the repercussions of their business actions. If at any point, a business begins to struggle, changes need to be implemented and difficult decisions must be made. Employees may need to be laid off and this affects everyone involved including the person being discharged, their family and the business who may be losing a skilled worker. At one point, Page and Brin had to pare down employee benefits and they received significant disapproval. Google removed the $5000 offer for employees who bought hybrid vehicles, they shut down free meals in certain cafeterias within their complex and they reduced subsidized daycares for their employees which was costing the company $37,000 per child (Brandt 2011, p.66). Although these were difficult decisions for the founders, they had to make the decision that would best benefit their company.
The Role of Entrepreneurship in an Economy and Society
From a behavioural perspective the entrepreneur can be described as creative, innovative and disciplined. Entrepreneurs are exploiters, they identify opportunities that appear in the environment. Then the entrepreneur finds the necessary resources be it natural, human or financial to pursue these opportunities for financial gain. Entrepreneurs are inherently risk takers by starting a new company they are potentially facing loss and failure of the business. The entrepreneur takes calculated risk for the reason that the reward is greater than the potential loss (Dollingir 1995, pp.8-9).
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Entrepreneurs are critical to the effective function of the economy. Entrepreneurs play a key role in the development of the economy and they bring about growth, prosperity and transformation. They create markets by combining resources, processes and products in new ways. Some of the world’s most successful economies are entrepreneur-driven. Entrepreneurs create jobs which in turn stimulate the economy. They create wealth and initiate change. Economies are revitalised because of the establishment of new businesses and the jobs that are generated from that. The economy revolves around the production of products and services that create jobs.
Throughout history, the traditional provider of work was government organisations and other large enterprises and they have now been replaced by small and medium businesses. In the United States, small and medium sized businesses employ more than 85 percent of the workforce (Friedman 2006, pp.88-90). Small and medium sized business create jobs whereas large corporations are cutting jobs. These small businesses created by entrepreneurs have been responsible for most of the creation and innovation of products and services across the globe. Some of the products created by entrepreneurs include: vacuum tubes, colour film, Zip’s, computers, Velcro and helicopters.
Throughout eastern Europe, thousands of new entrepreneurs are attempting to alter and restructure liberated communist economies. Examples of this include Cuba and China. Entrepreneurs are penetrating these upholders of communist economies. Corporate entrepreneurship, also known as “intrepreneurship” is key to economic sustainability. Corporate entrepreneurship is a technique for introducing innovative and diversified products and services to an existing business. This is important because corporate entrepreneurship enables investment through the establishment of new businesses within a business. The benefit of this method is that the initial capital is sufficient.
The role of entrepreneurship in society is to put in motion the self-efficiency, imagination and potential of individuals in society. Because of entrepreneurship, this production machine is put into action. Individuals who do not have an entrepreneurial orientation are those who are employed by individuals who poses those entrepreneurial skills set. Each are critical to the functioning of society. Entrepreneurs mobilise production resources and this causes the production of products and services which are essential to society.
Entrepreneurs are essential to the function of the economy and society. They provide a valuable and unique skill set and they have the ability to appropriately allocate resources to maximize the opportunity of profitability. Being an entrepreneur requires a balance of ambition, intellectual prowess and hard work. The traits of an entrepreneur aid them as they navigate their way through the challenges and stages of building a business and in Larry Page’s case, an empire. Through his ambition and intense propensity for success and the unrelenting convictions that he has abided by throughout his career, Page has transformed the technology industry. He is one of the most powerful and wealthy entrepreneurs of our time and he continues to make a difference in the world today. As laymen, the complexity of his contributions may be out of comprehension but it impacts the daily lives of the majority of the masses. His key traits have been a contributing factor to his success as he has implemented it to strengthen his business and encouraged his company to function with the same intensity to climb high up the technological and business ladder. Despite the challenges that he faced during different stages of business development and growth, Page has always been consistent about his vision.
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