By David A. Vise Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 1, 2004; Page E01
For all the high-tech wizardry described in Google Inc.'s $2.7 billion stock offering filed on Thursday, some of the most striking ideas were revealed in a rather old-fashioned way: through a letter, from co-founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, that one expert described yesterday as their "declaration of independence."
Google's filing begins with an unorthodox manifesto from the technologists, who describe the enterprise they founded in 1998 less as a conventional business than as a 21st-century agent for social change. And they are determined, the letter said, to maintain their sense of missionary zeal and privacy, even after the company sells billions of dollars of stock to the public and they become among the nation's wealthiest people.
"When Sergey and I founded Google, we hoped, but did not expect, it would reach its current size and influence," the letter said. "We also believed that searching and organizing the world's information was an unusually important task that should be carried out by a company that is trustworthy and interested in the public good. We believe a well-functioning society should have abundant, free and unbiased access to high quality information. Google therefore has a responsibility to the world."
So how might potential shareholders evaluate such lofty language?
The founders have an answer. They will retain voting control over all major decisions after the offering is completed, and warn potential investors to stay away unless they are willing to trust the founders and hold onto Google stock for the long term. The company, the letter said, won't pay attention to swings in quarterly earnings and has no intention of providing Wall Street with guidance about its financial outlook or business strategy.
"A management team distracted by a series of short-term targets is as pointless as a dieter stepping on a scale every half hour," the letter said.
The letter said their attitude toward Wall Street was inspired by investor Warren Buffett's essays in Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s annual reports.
Brin and Page, in their early 30s, will oversee the company in an unorthodox manner as "co-presidents" and may also invest its resources in unpredictable ways.
"We would fund projects that have a 10 percent chance of earning a billion dollars over the long term," the letter said. "Don't be surprised if we place smaller bets in areas that seem very speculative or even strange."
Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch, said the letter struck some as being filled with hubris, while others sensed a refreshing message from a highly profitable company -- Google earned more than $100 million last year -- whose leaders have long said they want to do the right thing more than they want to make money.