Today is Google's 20th birthday! The company's history is a story of classic entrepreneurialism, hard work, and a little luck.
From humble beginnings, the company has blossomed into 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 which is "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, 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 Larry and Sergey began work on a search engine called BackRub.
The name comes from the algorithms ranking for how many "back-links" a page has. This engine worked on the Stanford servers for more than a year which eventually clogged up the bandwidth. Google.com was registered on September 15th, 1997.
Google, is a play on words of "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 Larry 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.
Initially, there was no way to deposit this check, so it was made out to "Google Inc.". There wasn't a legal entity with that name at the time. 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 to let users know where the team was for the next few days - nice touch.
In 1998 Google was incorporated on September 4th, 1998 as a private company. The founders opened a bank account and deposit Bechtolsheim's investment.
Google's first office is, classically, a friend's garage in Menlo Park, California. The door came with a remote control since it was attached to the garage of a friend who sublet space to the new corporation.
Google also hired its first employee Craig Silverstein who has stayed with them for more than ten years before joining another startup Khan Academy.
In 1999, Google moved from its humble garage to its new digs at 165 University Avenue, Palo Alto. At this time they were eight employees strong. Also, their first most important team member, Yoshka the dog, joined the team.
Google hired their first chef, Charlie Ayers. His previous claim to fame was catering for the Grateful Dead. He now owns a cafe in Palo Alto.
Today Google's food programs focus on providing healthy, sustainably sourced food to fuel Googlers around the world.
Andy Bechtolsheim foresight is impressive and his gamble really paid off. Bessemer Investments partner, David Cowan, failed to meet Sergey Brin and Larry Page whilst they were renting a garage from their friend. A decision termed an "anti-portfolio" for obvious reasons today. Hindsight is always 20:20. This is surely a decision Mr. Cowan kicks himself with every day.
Another missed opportunity arose back in the early months of 1999 when Sergey and Larry were toying with selling their project to focus on their studies. George Bell, CEO of Excite, was approached with a $1M buyout offer. George, in his wisdom, rejected this "preposterous" offer. There were follow-up negotiations that almost led to a $750,000 counter offer, but Larry and Sergey stuck to their guns. According to George Bell, they asked for an investment instead. George said that he rejected the counter offers and let the idea drop.
About 5 or so months later Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and Sequoia Capital agreed to an investment of $25 Million into Google. These venture capital firms were normally fierce rivals. Seeing its potential, however, they both took seats on the board of directors. Even with all the new funding, when the board met, they sat around a ping-pong table.
As impressive as these missed offers are they are trumped by the story of Oingo and James Altucher. After an offer of 20 percent stake in Oingo for $1M investment, Oingo changed its name to Applied Semantics and was bought for 1 percent of Google stock. They are known as Google AdSense today. To this day Alphabet Inc (the restructured name for Google), is listed on NASDAQ with a market capitalization of around $560B. Applied Semantics, 1 percent stock, would be worth almost $1.5B today. Here's the story.
A giant falls - Yahoo!
Yahoo! once a giant of the internet has tried and failed to revive interest in its product. Its merger with Verizon marked the end of an era for a company that once defined the internet. Its golden age was in the '90's but its failure to keep up with current trends ultimately sealed its fate. It can be argued that a major contributor was also its executives' missed opportunities.
Larry and Sergey originally wanted to be academics and not start a business. After developing their initial search engine they tried to sell it off, as you've seen. They were trying to sell it for $1 million in 1997. After fruitlessly traveled all over Silicon Valley, they finally went to Yahoo!. Yahoo! turned them down.
Yahoo! had directories that were designed to answer questions, view emails etc. This concept 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 user to leave their platform and rejected buying PageRank algorithm that works by ranking links of third parties.
The worm turns
As we now know, the world came to realize the importance of third-party online revenue. Google built its own pay-per-click service, AdWords, which has been the biggest contributor to their current success. In 2002, Brin and Page approached Yahoo! once again. They needed to raise $3 Billion in funds. Terry Semel, then Yahoo! Chief, once again refused the offer as Yahoo! was looking to build its own answer to Google. Yahoo! acquired search engine Inktomi and ad revenue maker Overture in its mission to build the search engine that would topple Google.
Sadly, Yahoo! failed in its endeavors. The company has since been absorbed into Verizon's AOL internet business. Semel and his board of Directors must surely regret their two lost opportunities with Google. If Yahoo! had agreed on the deal with Google co-owners in its old days, Yahoo!'s fate would possibly hold a different story.
Turn of the century
Google's defining characteristic of predictive search text had its origins in 2000 when MentalPlex was first deployed. This enabled Google to take part in Silicon Valley's tradition of April Fools day hoaxes.
Other millennial improvements to Google included doodle series, multilingualism, international celebrations (Bastille Day) and critically to most bloggers, the advent of Google Adwords. Google toolbar, a plugin that allows the user to search without opening the homepage has also launched. A pretty productive year to be fair in Google's history.
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. They added "joke languages" including "Klingon" and launched Google Images. Google also launched their first international office in Tokyo. Additionally, in 2001, Google released their first annual "Google Zeitgeist" which takes a look at what millions of people searched for over the previous year. This is a tradition that still continues to this day.
Going from strength to strength
In 2002, Google started further helping businesses with its Google Search Appliance and added cost-per-click pricing to its Adwords. Google Labs was also born in 2012. Additionally, Google opened their first office in Australia.
In 2003 Google acquired Pyra Labs and announced Google AdSense. AdSense lets businesses connect with vast networks of advertisers. Google also launched Google Grants, a nonprofit edition of AdWords. Google grew so quickly that its offices got filled up. Employees couldn't stand up at their desks without others tucking their chairs in first.
In 2004 Google's staff had blossomed to 800+ employees. They moved to their new office at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, The "Googleplex". On April fools day Gmail was launched, first an invite-only service, it now has more than 425 million users. Google also acquired Picasa. Besides, Google listed itself on the stock market, offering the public 19,605,052 class A shares at $85 each - wish I'd bought some. In December Google established Google.org which was dedicated to the idea that technology can change the world.
Kicking into overdrive
2005 was another defining year in Google's history. Google Maps was born with satellite imagery and directions added a few months later. 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 going to mobile platforms. Google Earth comes in the summer of 2005. Google Analytics was also created this year to help developers measure their marketing impact and still a very useful tool today. Offices opened in Sao Paulo and Mexico City.
Google was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. Google's mission to organize data continued with Google Calendar, Google Finance. "Google Trends" launched. Youtube was acquired by Google this year.
Google was ranked number one company to work for by "Fortune" in 2007. Streetview debuted this year initially in U.S. cities. It is now available in more than 50 countries. Android was also created in 2007.
Google Chrome was born in 2008 and fast became one of the most used web browsers. In 2009 Google released Google Voice. Google also hired some goats to clean up their Googleplex campus grounds to clear brush and reduce fire hazards.
The sky is the limit
Google expanded into internet delivery with their plan to build ultra high-speed broadband networks in 2010. Bike trails were added to Google Maps in 2010. In order to show transparency, Google also published information to remove content from their products as well as blocking and cable cutting on government requests across the world. As part of their efforts to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy, Google made their first direct investment in a utility-scale renewable energy project. Google announced their plan to develop self-driving cars also in 2010.
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. Installation of Google Fiber began in 2012 supplying consumers in Kansas. The Global Impact Awards are created to support entrepreneurs who use technology to tackle human challenges.
Don't stop me now
In 2013, Google topped up their commitment to renewable energy by investing $200 million in a wind farm in Texas. The company unveiled their plan to provide balloon-powered internet access, so-called "Project Loon". Google 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 so that users can get an intimate view of Polar Bears in their natural habitat. In 2015 Google announced their plans to re-organize its interests into a conglomerate called Alphabet. Google would continue to be the umbrella company, however.
Google's iconic logo has undergone several changes and revivals throughout its history. The first logo, designed by Brin, was created using GIMP. Google unveiled its revised logo in September 2015. Prior to this, its previous logo, designed by graphic designer Ruth Kadar, was used between 1999 and 2013. The script was based on the Catull typeface, and old serif typeface designed by Gustav Jaeger for the Berthold Type Foundry in 1982.
The company's logo also regularly undergoes modifications, such as cartoons for holidays, birthdays for 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."
The highly recognizable logo received its first "major" overhaul in 2010. The 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. It's previously yellowish "o" was replaced with a distinctly more orange tone.
2013 introduced a new "flat" logo with a slightly altered color palette. In 2014, 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 notable difference in the logo is the change in the typeface. The colors remained the same; however, Google switched to a modern, geometric sans-serif typeface called Product Sans, created in-house at Google and also used for the Alphabet logo.
15 things you may not have known about Google
1. Keep it in the family
Carl Page, Larry's brother, helped start eGroups and dot.com company in the 90's. It was bought for almost half a billion dollars in 2000 by Yahoo. 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 weren't sure what to do with the idea (called RankDex) and so Li left the company and moved to China. Here's his patent listing. And here is google's listing.
While there, he licensed the idea and formed Baidu, where he is still the CEO.
3. Stanford sell out
Google's algorithm is 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 1.8mm shares of the eventual company of Google, which they sold in 2005 for $336 million. Just goes to show that encouraging developers in academia can really pay off.
PageRank not only ranks on pages based on links, 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. Pretty neat.
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? Their contemporaries do, however. Google as an entity, on the other hand, is constantly lobbying. Last year, Google spent more on this than Yahoo, Facebook and Apple combined.
6. I’m Feeling Lucky
It is estimated that the "I’m Feeling Lucky" button cost's 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 user very rarely "feel lucky", however. 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 Google 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. Their hope was to borrow newly arrived PC's to use in their network.
11. First data centre
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 portal 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 their office was 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.
Dig at Yahoo!
In 1998, Larry created a computerized version of the word Google using 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? A force for good or ill?