In a ‘fireside chat’ with leading venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin talked about the moment they thought they’d sold the company to him for $1.6M.
There were four of us at the time – four grad students at Stanford. I remember, we fired off this note to Vinod. It was just a little e-mail that said, “We really don’t want to sell, but for $1.6 million, you got a deal.” And a few minutes later, we got a reply that said, “That’s a lot of dough, but ok we’ll do it.” That’s characteristic Vinod there. So then, ten minutes later, Scott – one of the four of us – comes running in, laughing. Huge grin on his face. He had faked the reply and back then, the ethics around faking emails weren’t quite the same. Anyway, so he had that big joke. The deal obviously never came to fruition, and we went our own way to build search …
Page said that ultimately the reason the deal didn’t go through was not so much agreeing a price – “we were grad students eating burritos or whatever, so $1 million was a fair amount” – but that other search companies they’d talked to didn’t share their long-term vision.
When I talk to most companies, I do think their leaders are pretty short-term focused [...] I think the four-year horizon for leaders is pretty difficult. It’s pretty difficult to solve big problems in four years. I think it’s probably pretty easy to do it in 20 years.
Brin – who runs Google X – said that the experimental wing of the company was about making a number of bets and hoping that some of them paid off.
From my perspective – running Google X – that’s my job, is to invest in a number of opportunities, each one of which may be a big bet. [...]
If you look at the self-driving cars, for example, I hope that that could really transform transportation around the world [but] it’s got many technical and policy risks. But if you are willing to make a number of bets like that, you’ve got to hope that some of them will pay off.
Page contrasted this approach with Apple, which focuses on a very small number of products.
I would always have this debate, actually, with Steve Jobs. He’d be like, ‘You guys are doing too much stuff.’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah that’s true.’ And he was right, in some sense. But I think the answer to that – which I only came to recently, as we were talking about this stuff – is that if you’re doing things that are highly interrelated [...] at some point, they have to get integrated.
Another difference between the two companies, say Page and Brin, is in their view of technology in the health sector. Apple’s long-awaited smartwatch is believed to be equipped with multiple health and fitness sensors, and the Healthbook app is a key feature of iOS 8, which will debut on the iPhone 6. Google says that while it does have some health-related ambitions – such as glucose-reading contact lenses – it views the field with considerable caution.
Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we’ll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.
You can watch the complete interview in the video.