Earlier this week, Google celebrated the tenth anniversary of its IPO. I re-read the Founder’s IPO Letter and found this passage which captured so much about Google’s values:
Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one…We will not shy away from high-risk, high-reward projects because of short-term earnings pressure. Some of our past bets have gone extraordinarily well, and others have not. Because we recognize the pursuit of such projects as the key to our long-term success, we will continue to seek them out.
Visiting the campus for the first time in 2005, I felt different than any other workplace I had been to. So much excitement and ambition. But that feeling was more than just a product of the rocket ship growth of the ads business. Google had grown from $220k in revenue in 19aw99, to $19M in 2000, to $86M in 2001, to $347M in 2002, to $961M in 2003, and would record $3.2B in 2004, the year of their IPO.
Digging past the business revealed a wonderful culture. The thing I loved most about working at Google were the values the company embraced. For as long as I can remember, Google has published its values on a page called Ten Things We Know to Be True.
Some of the most visible outward signs of these values were the iconoclastic IPO process which included the the first S-1 written in plain English; hugely ambitious projects like balloon-powered internet, self-driving cars and a glucose-measuring contact lens; and projects to benefit others in the form of projects within Google.org like Google Flu Trends, STEM Education grants and Google Classroom. And of course, the values were much more strongly visible internally: near-total internal transparency, data-driven decision making and a deep respect for people’s beliefs and cultures.
Not many companies post their values online, or even internally. But, I think that’s a mistake. Ensuring a company and its employees share a mission and a value system is becoming a more and more critical part of building enduring businesses, especially to recruit, retain and inspire employees. This is particularly true in the valley where the talent market is incredibly competitive.
Ten years from now, I’m certain Google will still be a market-leading company, making bigger and bigger bets on unique technologies that both benefit their core businesses, but also benefit others. And the people pushing the business forward will be ones who share and embrace the company’s mission and values.
More importantly, I hope more founders and leaders of startups will post their values publicly and use them to inspire their employees to build great, enduring and unconventional companies.
Image credit: Cory Doctorow