Imagine a digital world in which Google publishes all online content and collects money from consumers of this content. Of course, the company whose mantra is “Don't be evil” doesn’t demand excessive fees for this service, but rather doles it out equitably to content creators (music, video, news ect.) after the money moves through Google coffers.
As sci-fi and alt-universe as this seemingly wild idea sounds, it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. It was Google co-founder Larry Page's idea once upon a time, as Douglas Edwards reports in his insider account of the information-giant’s early days titled, “I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59.”
And after reading Edwards’ story of the scrappy start-up bent on organizing the world’s information turned Webster-approved verb and ultimately world-class information system, you too might come to believe there is nothing beyond Google’s grasp. In barely a decade Google has morphed from afterthought search engine into a global brand bigger than Disney or GE. The company that started in a garage in 1998 has created more wealth faster than any company in history and dominates the worlds' information economy so thoroughly there probably isn't a day that goes by where you don’t use it or say it.
Edwards, a forty-something English major, arrived at Google in 1999 from the marketing side of the stodgy old-media San Jose Mercury News and was present when the company devised its two distinct "Billion Dollar Ideas" (AdWords and AdSense) in the span of only months.
Despite his early presence as a brand manager, Edwards portrays himself as a constant outsider among hard-driven engineers with Ph.D's from place like MIT and Cal-Tech and data-obsessed bosses where he had trouble finding metrics to mesh with his rigid marketing ideas and background.
In the beginning Edwards has trouble realizing his experience as a conventional brand manager was only getting in his way at a start-up like Google. Not only did Google's founders not really need marketing, they rejected the practice as deceitful.
At one point Page tells Edwards: “If we have to use marketing then we’ve failed... If we can't win on quality we shouldn't win at all." For a long time, Page and co-founder Sergey Brin don't even allow B-word (brand) to be used by employees. The thought being that the need to brand their search algorithm suggested the product alone wasn't enough.
That's fine if you have something that nobody else in the world can match. So, despite an inauspicious start, Edwards finds his footing and eventually comes to consider himself as "Google's word guy." Perhaps his most lasting contribution is naming Google's AdWords. He says his last name was partly his inspiration.
Not imminently likable, Edwards has a clawing way of challenging Brin and Page that in hindsight appears extremely foolish. However, in his defense, he does fully share these transgressions and ticks of a list of successful Google decisions he opposed, most notably the adoption of the famous Google Doodle.
The memoir is certainly enjoyable and filled with interesting and fun facts (Lively Lobsters in Kingston, Rhode Island was the first AdWords customer. The keyword was Lobster) and for the most part cruises along with tales about odd personalities, strange working conditions and unmatched ambitions of employees determined to change the world.
If there were only one takeaway from I’m Feeling Lucky, it is that Google’s obsesssion with continually developing and improving its product over calls (mostly from Edwards) to concentrate on building out its brand was likely the reason the company not only survived but became the Google we know today.
"It would be nobler," writes Edward of Page's thought process, "to take arms against our sea of trouble and by oppsoing them, end them."
Edwards discusses the book and his Google experience in the video below.