I heard David Drummond, Google's General Counsel, speak at Stanford Law School yesterday. Drummond was ostensibly there to talk about some of the legal issues facing Google. He did talk a bit about the difficulty of complying with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in an environment where content owners seek to enforce their rights through Google rather than directly with the infringing sites. He also addressed questions from the audience about the subjective nature of Google's page rankings when it determines that a website has attempted to manipulate page rankings. But Drummond spent the better part of his time talking about what has made Google successful.
Drummond pointed to 4 factors as the key to Google's success:
- Technology. Along with its innovative approach to page ranking, Google is a purpose-built hardware company, building all its own servers from components it buys directly for their manufacturers. According to Drummond, Google now operates the world's largest distributed computer system.
- Business Model Innovation. By perfecting the nature of targeted ads, Google not only has created a highly effective revenue generator, it has produced what it hopes to be a better experience for its users. It is Google's goal to make their targeted ads at least as relevant and useful to users as the search results themselves.
- Brand. According to Drummond, a European study recently determined Google to be the number one most recognized worldwide brand. Indeed, Google has become a verb ("I can't wait to get home and Google him") which poses real challenges to a company seeking to protect the strength of its mark.
- Focus On The User Experience. Product decisions at Google are driven by optimizing for the user experience first and for revenue second. The folks at Google firmly believe that the better the user experience, the more easily money will follow.
I believe that all of these are important factors in developing any great technology company. Powerful customer-focused technology with an eye towards making money -- that's pretty much the formula. Even brand, which can be prohibitively expensive to develop ahead of customer traction, will likely follow product leadership. Google's success isn't rocket science, it's just good old fashion company building. Good for them for the discipline. It's an excellent model to follow.