Limitations of the Google Culture

Google CheckoutSome time ago I wrote a blog post, “Google’s Social Awkwardness,” about how how Google had neglected to sufficiently invest in “social media” or anticipate its rise and was blindsided by the popularity of MySpace. Then there was the Rupert Murdoch statement that Google could’ve bought MySpace for half of what he paid but passed. I’m speculating when I say that the company’s bias toward “build” vs. “buy” was the culprit there. Although, arguably that’s changed in the process leading up to the YouTube acquisition.

Then there’s the “Darwinian” environment in which Google develops and launches products, doesn’t market them and effectively throws them on the virtual refrigerator to see what sticks. This is the legacy of Google’s no-marketing rise in the world of search and it has colored all their product launches. The company wants to see what works and what users adopt via WOM/viral marketing.

In that larger context I previously argued that it was important for Google to depart from that philosophy and strongly promote Checkout, both to consumers and to marketers. The company has done some limited banner buying around the value proposition for merchants. But now, the WSJ reports, Checkout is going free to merchants for the holidays (read: as an incentive to adopt). Henry Blodget (remember him?) argues that this policy reflects that Google Checkout has so far been unsuccessful in gaining merchant adoption.

It’s quite possible that even with heavy consumer and merchant marketing Google Checkout might still be lagging in merchant adoption rates (assuming the WSJ’s numbers are correct). But I think this is where Google’s “Darwinian” culture (re product launches) has hindered an otherwise potentially successful product.

We’ll see next year if Google tries to build some more substantial marketing around it.


TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has been using Checkout and has very favorable things to say about it.

Matt Marshall at VentureBeat excerpted part of a roundtable discussion (published at Fortune) that featured Marissa Mayer, VP of Search & User Experience at Google. The relevant portion of the discussion for this post is this:

[Arianna] HUFFINGTON: Whatever products Google is developing, they are incorporating a 60 Percent to 70 percent failure rate. I find that utterly fascinating. Talk about that culture and how that translates into our lives.

[Marissa] MAYER: As we’ve grown, one of our challenges has been: How can we continue to innovate? We have a theory around failing fast. If you assume that one in five things you do will turn out to be really successful, and maybe two of five will be moderately successful, and the other two will languish, you want to do a lot of things. It’s all about being agile. Most of the teams at Google are three to ten people. Five people launched Google News. About five people launched Google Toolbar. They operate like small companies inside the large company. Google is a lot like managing a VC firm, because you’re placing bets on different teams. Our organization mirrors the Internet. It looks more like a network than a hierarchy.


One Response to “Limitations of the Google Culture”

  1. Tim Cohn Says:

    “The way to succeed is to double your error rate.”
    Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

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