Google is one of the wealthiest and all-pervasive companies in the world, and the company’s history is a story of classic entrepreneurialism, hard work, and a little luck.
From humble beginnings, the company has blossomed into a world leader in online advertising, cloud computing, software, and hardware solutions.
Alexa, a company that monitors commercial web traffic, lists Google.com as the most visited website in the world.
Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” but also has an unofficial statement – “Don’t be evil”.
This motto was replaced in 2015 to “Do the right thing“. Some might chuckle at this, given that Google’s altruistic mission has been increasingly called into doubt due to a number of actions that appear to contradict this motto.
So how did they do it? Here is our short biography of everything, almost, that you need to know about Google’s history.
Google’s history began in 1995 when Larry Page met Sergey Brin. At the time, Larry Page was a Ph.D. student at Standford University, and Sergey was considering studying there. In 1996, the pair began work on a search engine called BackRub.
The name comes from the algorithm-generated ranking for how many “back-links” a page has. This engine worked on the Stanford servers for more than a year before it eventually clogged up the bandwidth and was forced to move. Google.com was registered on September 15th, 1997.
The name Google is a play on “googol,” which is a mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros. It is rumored that this reflects the founders’ mission to organize the infinite amount of information on the internet.
In 1998, Page launched a monthly newsletter called “Google Friends Newsletter” to inform fans about the company. This has since been replaced with blogs such as Google+.
In August of 1998, Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim wrote a check for $100,000 to the as yet non-existent company Google Inc. He did this after seeing a quick demo on the porch of a Stanford faculty member’s home in Palo Alto.
Google cashes in
Initially, there was no way to deposit this check, because it was made out to “Google Inc.” At the time, there wasn’t a legal entity with that name. The check sat in Page’s desk drawer for two weeks while he and Brin rushed to set up a corporation and locate other investors.
If you like Google’s doodles, you might be interested to know that the very first one was the iconic “Burning Man” icon. This was put up in August 1998 to let users know where the team was for the next few days – a nice touch.
Google was incorporated on September 4th, 1998 as a private company. The founders opened a bank account and could finally deposit Bechtolsheim’s investment.
Google’s first office was, classically, a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, California. It came with a remote controller for the garage door.
Google also hired its first employee, Craig Silverstein, who stayed with the company for more than ten years before joining another startup – Khan Academy.
In 1999, Google moved from its humble garage to new digs at 165 University Avenue, Palo Alto. At this time they were eight employees strong. Their most important team member, Yoshka the dog, also joined the team at this time.
Google also hired its first chef, Charlie Ayers. His previous claim to fame was catering for the Grateful Dead. By the time he left Google in 2006, Ayers and his team of five chefs and 150 employees were serving 4,000 meals a day in 10 cafes across the company’s headquarters campus.
Andy Bechtolsheim’s investment gamble really paid off, but other potential early investors missed their opportunity. Bessemer Investments partner, David Cowan, heard about Brin and Page in 1998, while they were still working in the garage, but failed to invest. This decision has been called the “anti-portfolio“.
Another missed opportunity for investors occurred in the early months of 1999 when Page and Brin toyed with the idea of selling their project in order to focus on their studies. George Bell, CEO of Excite, was approached with a $1M buyout offer.
Bell rejected this offer as “preposterous”. Follow-up negotiations almost led to a $750,000 counteroffer, but Brin and Page stuck to their guns. According to George Bell, they asked for investment instead, but he decided against it.
About five months later, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and Sequoia Capital agreed to invest $25 Million in the company. These two venture capital firms were normally fierce rivals. Seeing Google’s potential, however, they both took seats on the board of directors. Even with this new funding, the board met around a ping-pong table.
As impressive as the missed offers are, they are trumped by the story of Oingo and James Altucher. After refusing six offers to purchase the fledgling company, Oingo changed its name to Applied Semantics and accepted the seventh offer – from Google – for around $102 million in cash and stock. They are now known as Google AdSense.
Today, Alphabet Inc (Google’s parent company), is listed on NASDAQ with a market capitalization of around $560B.
Here’s the story.
A giant falls – Yahoo!
Search engine Yahoo!, once a giant of the internet, merged with Verizon in 2017, marking the end of an era for a company that once almost defined the internet.
Its golden age was in the 1990s, but Yahoo’s failure to keep up with current trends ultimately sealed its fate. It can be argued that a major contributor was also its leaders’ failure to take advantage of opportunities to innovate.
Page and Brin originally wanted to be academics, not business-owners. After developing their initial search engine they tried to raise investment, or sell the company. After failing to find a buyer, they finally went to Yahoo!.
Yahoo! turned them down.
Yahoo! had developed search directories designed to answer questions. Their approach seemed to work well at the time. With an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of mentality, they didn’t want their users to leave their platform, and so they rejected the chance to buy the PageRank algorithm (the basis for Google Search today) which worked by ranking links of third parties.
Yahoo! really blew it, it turns out
As we now know, the world came to realize the importance of those third-party links. Using software developed by Applied Semantics, Google built its own pay-per-click service, AdWords, which has been the biggest contributor to its current success.
In 2002, Brin and Page approached Yahoo! once again. This time, they needed to raise $3 Billion in funds. Terry Semel, then Yahoo! the CEO, once again refused the offer as Yahoo! was looking to build its own answer to Google.
Yahoo! acquired search engine Inktomi and ad revenue software company maker Overture, while Google acquired Applied Semantics.
This proved to eventually be a fatal error, as Google took off and Yahoo! was eventually absorbed into Verizon’s AOL internet business.
However, if Yahoo! had agreed on the deal with Google back in 2002, Yahoo!’s fate would possibly have been much different.
The turn of the century saw Google’s rise to dominance
2001 saw Google’s first public acquisition, Deja.com Usenet Discussion Service, which was an archive of 500 million user discussions dating back to 1995.
Other improvements to Google included multilingualism, international celebrations (Bastille Day), and Google toolbar, a plugin that allows the user to search without opening the homepage.
Google kept things light by adding “joke languages”, including Klingon, and launching Google Images. Google also launched its first international office in Tokyo. Additionally, in 2001, Google released its first annual “Google Zeitgeist” which takes a look at what millions of people searched for over the previous year – a tradition that still continues to this day.
Google keeps going from strength to strength
In 2002, Google introduced additional ad services with its Google Search Appliance and the addition of cost-per-click pricing to its Adwords. Google Labs was also born in 2002 and the company opened its first office in Australia.
In 2003, Google acquired Pyra Labs and announced Google AdSense, discussed above, which allowed advertisers to easily connect with vast networks of websites. AdSense works by matching ads to websites using an algorithm that bases the placement on type of content and number of visitors. This was not only a boon to advertisers, but caused the blogging movement to explode in popularity by making it easy for bloggers to earn revenue based on their subject matter and number of viewers. Google also launched Google Grants, a nonprofit edition of AdWords.
Google grew so quickly that its offices filled up. By 2004, the company had grown to more than 800 employees. So, they moved to new offices at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, known as the “Googleplex”. On April fools day that year, Gmail was launched as an invite-only service. It now has more than 425 million users.
Google also acquired Picasa. But the big event of the year for Google was its listing on the stock market with an IPO of 19,605,052 class A shares at $85 each. In December, Google established Google.org, which was dedicated to the idea that technology can change the world.
Also in 2004, Google launched its Google Scholar service, a free web-based service that indexes the full text, or metadata, of scholarly literature across many publishing formats and disciplines.
Google Scholar includes a vast array of peer-reviewed online academic journals and books, conference papers, theses and dissertations, preprints, abstracts, technical reports, and other scholarly literature, including court opinions and patents, to name but a few. While not official, some have estimated that it contains over 380 million documents.
Kicking into overdrive
The following year, Google Maps was born, with satellite imagery and directions added a few months later.
Also in 2005, YouTube’s (not yet part of Google) first video went online. Phone apps became a big part of Google’s strategy in 2005 with search software and Google Maps available on mobile platforms. Google Earth came online that summer. At the same time, Google Analytics was launched, to help developers measure their marketing impact and offices opened in Sao Paulo and Mexico City.
The word Google was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. The company’s mission to organize data continued with Google Calendar, Google Finance. “Google Trends” launched and Youtube was acquired for $1.65 billion.
Also, in 2006, Google Translate was first launched with the mission of breaking language barriers and making the world more accessible.
Over the following years, Google Translate has added, and now supports, more than 100 different languages from around the world. The service, like human children, has also learned how to see, understand, talk, listen, have conversations, write, and lean on friends for help through its Google Translate’s community. It still has a hard time translating basic text, but with the growth of AI, this is set to improve.
The same year, Google launched its revolutionary Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets service. The former originated from two separate products, Writely and XL2Web, which were later acquired by Google. XL2Web was acquired by Google in 2005. Writely was a web-based word processor created by software company Upstartle, which was acquired by Google in 2006. Short;y afterward, Google launched Spreadsheets. In October 2012, Google Documents became simply Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets was officially renamed Google Sheets.
2006 also saw the launch of Google Presentations, a free presentation program which was renamed Google Slides in 2012 and is now an integral part of Google’s office suite. Google Presentations resulted from Google’s acquisition of Tonic Systems.
In 2007, Fortune ranked Google the number one company to work for. Streetview debuted that year, initially only in U.S. cities. It is now available in more than 50 countries. The Android operating system was also created in 2007.
Google Chrome was born in 2008 and fast became one of the world’s most-used web browsers. In 2009, Google released Google Voice. Google also hired some goats to clean up their Googleplex campus and reduce fire hazards by eating the bush on the campus grounds.
This service, in case you are not aware, enables users to search and book flights through third-party suppliers. It has, in its own way, helped challenge the dominance of other sites like Kayak or Skyscanner.
In 2014, Google launched its free web service Google Classroom. Created with the aim to simplify the creation, distribution, and grading of assignments, it has since proved pivotal in streamlining the process of sharing files between teachers and their students.
Since then, Google has added multiple improvements to the service, including integration with Google Calendar, newly illustrated themes and other options, and integration with Google Meet.
2015 saw the launch of Google Photos (not to be confused with Google Images). This free photo sharing and storage service and was originally part of Google+ before being spun off.
Google Photos gives its users a free, unlimited storage for photos up to 16 megapixels, and videos up to 1080p resolution. In 2016, Google announced that their Picasa desktop application would be discontinued and that the Picasa Web Albums service would also be closed the same year.
Apparently, the primary reason for retiring Picasa was that it wanted to focus its efforts “entirely on a single photo service”; the cross-platform, web-based Google Photos.
The sky is the limit
Google expanded into internet delivery with its plan to build ultra-high-speed broadband networks in 2010. Bike trails were added to Google Maps in 2010.
In order to make an effort at transparency, Google also published information which allowed users to remove content from their products, at the same time helping to make access less transparent, blocking access to services at the request of authoritarian governments across the world.
As part of its efforts to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy, Google made its first direct investment in a large-scale renewable energy project. Google also announced its plan to develop self-driving cars.
Google+ launched in 2011, with Google Drive released a year later in 2012. In August 2011, reports estimated that Google had almost one million servers in data centers around the world.
The installation of Google Fiber began in 2012 by supplying consumers in Kansas. The company also created the Global Impact Awards to support entrepreneurs who use technology to tackle human challenges in an attempt to burnish the company’s image for sustainability.
In 2013, Google topped up its commitment to renewable energy by investing $200 million in a wind farm in Texas. The company also unveiled a plan to provide balloon-powered internet access, so-called “Project Loon” and teamed up with Starbucks to provide free WiFi to all Starbucks stores in the U.S.
In 2014, Google acquired Nest and added Street View imagery of the Canadian Tundra, to give users an intimate view of Polar Bears in their natural habitat. In 2015, Google announced its plans to re-organize its interests into a conglomerate called Alphabet.
Google would continue as the umbrella company, however.
What is the history of Google’s logo?
Google’s iconic logo has undergone several changes and revivals throughout its history. The first logo, designed by Brin, was created using GIMP. A revised logo was designed by graphic designer Ruth Kadar, and was used between 1999 and 2013. The script was based on the Catull typeface, an old serif typeface designed by Gustav Jaeger for the Berthold Type Foundry in 1982.
Google unveiled a revised logo in September 2015.
The company’s logo also regularly undergoes modifications, such as the inclusion of different graphics on holidays, birthdays of famous people, or major events. These special logos, some designed by Dennis Hwang, have become known as Google Doodles.
But what about the colors? Graphic designer Ruth Kedar explains “There were a lot of different color iterations. We ended up with the primary colors, but instead of having the pattern go in order, we put a secondary color on the L, which brought back the idea that Google doesn’t follow the rules.”
How has Google’s logo evolved over time?
The highly recognizable Google logo received its first “major” overhaul in 2010. This new logo, which first previewed in November of 2009, was officially launched in May of 2010. Though perhaps not an enormous amendment, after all, it used the same typeface but the “o” had a facelift, replacing its yellowish color with a distinctly more orange hue.
In 2013, the company introduced a new “flat” logo with a slightly altered color palette. One year later, Google updated their logo once again with the second “g” moved to the right by one pixel and the “l” down and right one pixel.
September 2015 saw the introduction of Google’s “new logo and identity family”. This was designed to work across multiple devices. The one notable difference in the logo is a change to the typeface.
The colors remained the same; however, Google switched to a modern, geometric sans-serif typeface called Product Sans, created in-house, and which was also used for the Alphabet logo.
15+ things you may not have known about Google
To wrap things up a bit, here are some things you may, or may not, know about Google. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
1. Keep it in the family
Carl Page, Larry’s brother, helped start the eGroups and dot.com company in the 1990s. It was bought by Yahoo! for almost half a billion dollars in 2000. If Google had flopped, Larry probably would’ve been ok – nice.
2. Birds of feather
A little-known chap called Robin Li had developed a similar concept to Google when he worked for a company owned by Dow Jones. Both proposals were based on the concept of ranking pages on links, not content. Dow Jones wasn’t sure what to do with the idea (called RankDex) and so Li left the company and moved to China. While there, he licensed the idea and formed Baidu, where he is still the CEO. Baidu earned $14.3 billion last year and still dominates China’s search engine market.
3. Stanford sell out
Google Search is based on an algorithm called PageRank. You may intuitively think this is based on the rank system but it’s actually named after Larry Page. The patent for this is still held by Stanford. They received 1.8M shares of stock in Google for Google’s use of the patent, which they sold in 2005 for $336 million. Just goes to show that encouraging developers in academia can really pay off.
Google Search’s PageRank not only ranks on pages based on links, but it is also able to show which “species” are about to go extinct. In effect, it works by determining which pages have the most links to them and thus are less likely to disappear into obscurity.
5. Everything is politics
Page and Brin, unsurprisingly, are two of the richest men in the US. Did you know that they don’t make any political contributions personally? Their contemporaries do, however.
Google as an entity, on the other hand, does make contributions to a large number of PACs. In 2019, Google gave around $570,000 to Republicans and around $460,000 to Democrats. This was dwarfed by contributions from employees, however, who donated around $2.3 million to Democrats and just $73,000 to Republicans.
6. I’m Feeling Lucky
It is estimated that the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button costs Google $110 million in ad revenue a year. When you click on that button, it just takes you to the top search result. In other words, you skip all the ads that Google makes money on.
This leaves the obvious question, “Why keep it?” Results from focus groups have shown that people feel more comfortable with the button there. Interestingly, users very rarely “feel lucky”, however, as it’s hardly ever used.
7. Number One Employee
Google’s first employee, Craig Silverstein, continued working at the company until 2012, though he’d moved up the ladder a bit. He now works for the Khan Academy. It is estimated that his total worth is around $950 million.
See, loyalty does pay.
8. Why is Google’s homepage so bland?
It is rumored that the home page is so sparse because the founders didn’t know HTML code and just wanted a quick interface. Also initially there wasn’t even a “submit” button. Users had to hit the “return” key to generate a search.
9. Did you mean?
Google’s traffic doubled after introducing this feature. Its usefulness is obvious to anyone who has ever used their search engine, especially the incorporation of its handy spellchecker.
10. Two-pennies to rub together
Brin and Page used to hang out around the Stanford Computer Science Department loading docks in the hope of being able to borrow newly-arrived PC’s to use in their network.
11. First data center
Google’s first data center was Larry Page’s dorm room.
12. That’s good enough
When Page and Brin were trying to find buyers to license their search tech, one CEO gave them an interesting response. “As long as we’re 80 percent as good as our competitors, that’s good enough. Our users don’t really care about search.”
13. Grow some balls!
When Google first moved to Googleplex, large rubber balls were repurposed as high mobility office chairs. This was handy, as the office was an open, non-cubicle environment.
14. Too hot to handle
USA Today named Google a “hot site” in September 1999.
Google.com’s Beta label was removed on September 21, 1999.
16. Dig at Yahoo!
In 1998, Page created a computerized version of the word Google using the free graphics program GIMP. He changed the typeface and added an exclamation mark to mimic, or mock, Yahoo!’s logo.
Still here? Great. Now you can impress your friends with your knowledge of Google’s history. Have we missed out any major events? What do you think of Google?
Even more important, do you consider them a force for good or ill?