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Google's Missing Piece

Brin, Page Say Firm Needs to Add Talent in Asia

By David A. Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page E05

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page yesterday offered their most detailed glimpse inside the company's operations since selling shares to the public in August, including the firm's inability to swiftly hire enough computer engineers abroad to foster innovation.

Among the major challenges, said Eric Schmidt, chief executive of the Silicon Valley-based firm, is managing the transition from being a U.S. company with an international presence to becoming a globally run company headquartered in the United States. Most of the company's foreign offices, to date, handle ad sales rather than focusing on research and product development.

Founders Sergey Brin, left, and Larry Page say Google is in transition to a globally run company. (Wolfram Steinberg -- AP)

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Brin said the company's inability to recruit more top-tier computer scientists and engineers abroad is slowing its plans to make Google available to users of cell phones and other portable devices. Google -- which faces stiff competition from search engine competitor Yahoo in Japan -- plans to hire more computer engineers in Asia, where wireless technology is ahead of that in the United States.

"We are unquestionably not getting the quantity we would like," Brin said, in response to a question about hiring during a multi-hour session with Wall Street analysts. "The culture and utilization of mobile in the U.S. is so low compared to other parts of the world that this is not the best place to develop the best products in the mobile space."

Most innovation at Google -- which provides a fast way for computer users to find information on the Internet by typing one or more words into a search box -- flows from the company's main campus in Mountain View, Calif., where more than 1,000 computer scientists work on an array of projects that interest them. But the company's young founders remain so hands-on that no new product is released without their input and review. At the same time, Page also strongly encourages products to be released before they are totally refined so that Google can get feedback from users about how to improve them.

Earlier this week the company released GoogleMaps, and Page said yesterday that he worked on the product. Page said he spent time with an engineering team to make GoogleMaps more readable, searchable and useful prior to its release. The new mapping system will compete with MapQuest, the leading online source of information for computer users hunting for driving directions and related information.

"When we released this internally, people went wild," Page said of GoogleMaps. "My whole mailbox was filled with people congratulating me on the product. It shows what happens when you focus on the utility of products and develop things that are easier to use."

Page also said that many of Google's existing search and advertising products need to be upgraded, and Schmidt recently said computer users will see many changes this year. "We know we should improve all of our products, which tends to be true for software generally," Page said. "Ask the person working on it, and they have a long list."

Schmidt said the company's philosophy is to encourage innovation and product development first by computer scientists, with a laserlike focus on what will benefit individual computer users or advertisers. Later, he said, company officials figure out how to profit from new ideas.

Google's business model is distinct from that of most other companies, where there is a greater emphasis upfront in coming up with ideas that will make money. Page said yesterday that some innovations and products are so important to Google, without regard for whether they will ever generate revenue or profit, that the company will continue to pursue them.

Brin, Page and Schmidt run Google as a triumvirate, with constant debate being central to the culture at the top and throughout the firm. They do agree on one thing: a 70/20/10 management model, in which 70 percent of resources are devoted to improving the core search engine, 20 percent are designated for products related to search, and 10 percent are earmarked for pure research.

In addition to arguing among themselves, the three routinely confront those who present prototypes for new products, questioning whether they are useful enough and properly designed. Brin said organizations where disagreement is routine tend to produce more useful products than those where there is greater harmony and a reluctance to challenge authority.

Schmidt also explained that while Google has described itself as an extremely unconventional company, the label is a bit of a misnomer. While the company's approach to managing innovation among engineers is unorthodox, the business is operated day to day using many of the same basic analytical practices and techniques to measure such things as costs and profitability of new investments that are typical in many corporations.

Schmidt said GoogleNews, a popular Web site that gathers news from a variety of sources, is a good example of an idea that came out of pure research by a single engineer. "We will eventually make money from GoogleNews," Page said, "but we don't want to make money from all the things we have."

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