Larry Page & Sergei Brin
Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, the Internet search engine,
while they were graduate students at Stanford University in Palo
Alto, California. Since its founding in 1998, Google has become
one of the most successful dot-com businesses in history. Both
Page and Brin were reluctant entrepreneurs who were committed to
developing their company on their own terms, not those dictated
by the prevailing business culture.
East Lansing, Michigan
August 21, 1973 -
Lawrence Edward Page was born in Lansing, Michigan. His father,
Dr. Carl Victor Page, was a professor of computer science and
artificial intelligence at Michigan State University, where
Lawrence's mother, Gloria, also taught computer programming. The
Page family home was full of first-generation personal computers
and scientific magazines, and young Larry, as he was called,
immersed himself in them. Significantly, his older brother, Carl
Page, Jr., also became a successful Internet entrepreneur.
Larry Page attended a Montessori school in the primary grades
and later graduated from East Lansing High School. He was an
honors student at the University of Michigan, where he also
participated in the University's solar car team, reflecting
another lifelong interest: sustainable transportation
technology. After graduating with a B.S. in computer
engineering, he undertook graduate studies in computer science
at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. It was here
that he first undertook the project of analyzing patterns of
linkage among different sites on the World Wide Web. It was also
at Stanford that he first met fellow computer science graduate
student Sergey Brin and recruited him to join his research
The Internet and the World Wide Web were just taking shape as
major forces in telecommunication when Larry Page entered
Stanford. Larry Page wanted to devise a method for determining
how many other web pages linked to any one given page. Existing
facilities for exploring the Web could only rank search results
by the frequency of appearance of a given word on any page of
the Web. Searches often produced endless lists of web sites of
very little pertinence to the user's query. Page soon found that
ranking web sites by the number of links leading to it from
other sites was a far more useful measure of a Web document's
relevance to a user's search criteria. To explore the
possibilities of his new "PageRank" mechanism more fully, he
called on the data mining expertise of his classmate, Sergey
Sergey Brin was born in Moscow, Russia in 1973. He immigrated
with his family to the United States at the age of six and grew
up in Adelphi, Maryland. His father, Michael Brin, was a
professor of mathematics a the University of Maryland. Like
Larry Page, he attended a Montessori school as a small child. He
graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in 1990 and entered
the University of Maryland, College Park. In only three years,
he graduated with highest honours in mathematics and computer
science. He entered graduate school at Stanford University with
a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation.
Brin soon authored more than a dozen papers on data mining and
pattern extraction for leading academic journals, including
"Extracting Patterns and Relations from the World Wide Web,"
"Scalable Techniques for Mining Casual Structures," "Dynamic
Itemset Counting and Implication Rules for Market Basket Data,"
and "Beyond Market Baskets: Generalizing Association Rules to
Correlations." He also created a web site for film ratings and
designed a software application to translate documents from TeX,
the text processing language often used for scientific papers,
to HTML (hypertext markup language), the code in which Web pages
Together, Page and Brin wrote the paper "Dynamic Data Mining: A
New Architecture for Data with High Dimensionality," and
followed it with "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web
Search Engine." The latter paper quickly became one of the most
downloaded scientific documents in the history of the Internet.
For a time, Page and Brin ran the prototype of their search
engine, which they named "BackRub," on an assortment of
inexpensive personal computers stored in Larry Page's dorm room.
Word quickly spread beyond the walls of Stanford that the two
graduate students had created something far more useful than
existing search technology.
They registered the domain name google.com in 1997. The domain
name was derived from the term "googol," the very large number
written as a one followed by 100 zeros, an expression of the
vast universe of data the Google search engine was designed to
explore. Page and Brin incorporated Google as a privately held
company in 1998 and relocated their servers from Larry Page's
dorm room to a friend's garage in Menlo Park, California. Having
completed their Master's degrees, they took a leave of absence
from the Ph.D. program to concentrate on building their
business. At first, Larry Page served as the company's CEO,
Sergey Brin as its President. Their stated mission was "to
organize the world's information and make it universally
accessible and useful."
After quickly outgrowing a series of office locations, the
company leased a complex of buildings in Mountain View,
California in 1999. Google has since purchased the entire
property, known as the GooglePlex, one of the most unusual and
innovative workplaces in the world. In 2000, they began selling
text-based advertisements associated with search keywords. The
text-only ads on their graphics-free home page kept their
download time to the bare minimum, and their ability to deliver
ads directly related to the interests of the user made the ad
space highly valuable.
That same year, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, still enrolled as
Ph.D. candidates at Stanford, attended the Academy of
Achievement's International Achievement Summit in London,
England as graduate student delegates. The interview recorded at
that time can be read on this web site. They returned to the
annual event in 2004 as recipients of the Academy's Golden Plate
By 2001, a vast number of once-promising Internet start-ups had
folded, but Google was growing explosively and turning a profit.
Page and Brin recruited Novell executive Eric Schmidt to serve
as CEO, with Larry Page taking the role of President for
Products, and Sergey Brin as President for Technology. The three
have continued to run the enterprise as a triumvirate ever
Google's initial public offering in 2004 raised $1.67 billion,
giving the company a market capitalization of $23 billion. A
number of Google employees with shares in the company became
millionaires overnight, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin found
themselves multi-billionaires at age 27. Google was an immediate
favorite with individual investors and the stock price has
soared. All three top executives -- Larry Page, Sergey Brin and
Eric Schmidt -- have reduced their annual salaries to a dollar a
year and refused bonuses, tying their personal wealth directly
to the company's performance in the stock market.
The company has continued to grow dramatically, through
strategic alliances with AOL and Netscape, along with a number
of cunning acquisitions, most spectacularly that of online video
site YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006. Google has introduced a
number of popular new services and applications, including a
toolbar that allows users to perform searches from their
desktops, without visiting the Google web site. The web site
itself enables searches for video and still imagery as well as
HTML documents. Google also provides a free web-based e-mail
service called G-Mail. Google Apps Premium Edition offers a
suite of business tools including e-mail, word processing and
spreadsheet applications at a fraction of the cost of competing
office software packages. One of Google's most dramatic projects
is Google Earth, which allows users to access satellite imagery
to zoom in on locations all over the world. The most ambitious
project of all, Google Book Search, aims to make the contents of
vast libraries of books available and searchable online.
By the end of 2006, Google had over 10,000 employees and annual
revenues well over $10 billion. Various estimates place Larry
Page and Sergey Brin among the two dozen richest people on
earth, and the dozen richest Americans. Despite its enormous
success, Google has largely succeeded in preserving a uniquely
informal and creative atmosphere at its Mountain View campus. In
2007, Fortune magazine, in its annual Top 100, ranked Google as
the best company in the world to work for.
Not instant best friends
Page grew up in the East Lansing, Michigan, area, where his
father, Carl Victor Page, was a professor of computer science at
Michigan State University. The senior Page was also an early
pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, and reportedly
gave his young son his first computer when Larry was just six
years old. Several years later Page entered the University of
Michigan, where he earned an undergraduate degree in engineering
with a concentration in computer engineering.
His first jobs were at Advanced Management Systems in
Washington, D.C., and then at a company called CogniTek in
An innovative thinker with a sense of humour as well, Page once
built a working ink-jet printer out of Lego blocks. He was eager
to advance in his career, and decided to study for a Ph.D
degree. He was admitted to the prestigious doctoral program in
computer science at Stanford University. On an introductory
weekend at the Palo Alto campus that had been arranged for new
students, he met Sergey Brin. A native of Moscow, Russia, Brin
was also the son of a professor, and came to the United States
with his family when he was six. His father taught math at the
University of Maryland, and it was from that school's College
Park campus that Brin earned an undergraduate degree in computer
science and math.
Brin was already enrolled in Stanford's PhD program when Page
arrived in 1995. As Brin explained to Robert McGarvey of
Technology Review, "I was working on data mining, the idea of
taking large amounts of data, analyzing it for patterns and
trying to extract relationships that are useful." One weekend
Brin was assigned to a team that showed the new doctoral
students around campus, and Page was in his group. Industry lore
claims they argued the whole time, but soon found themselves
working together on a research project. That 1996 paper,
"Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,"
became the basis for the Google search engine.
A hit with fellow students
Page and Brin created an algorithm, or set of step-by-step
instructions for solving a specific computer task. Their
algorithm searched all the hypertext documents in cyberspace,
which are the basis for Web pages on the Internet. A typical
search engine such as Hot Bot, which was popular at one time in
the mid-1990s, worked by looking for a term the user
entered—"New York Yankees," for example—in all of those
documents. If the phrase "New York Yankees" was written into one
Web site's hypertext code several dozen or even a hundred times,
that document would come up first in the search results. But it
might just turn out to be an Internet store that sold sports
Page and Brin wanted to create a search tool that would find the
most relevant Web page first. If someone typed in "New York
Yankees," for example, the official Yankees site would be the
first result returned. Their algorithm analyzed the "back links"
in a hypertext document, or how many times other sites linked to
it—the more links, the higher the relevancy of the page. As an
article in Time explained, their search technology was the first
to "treat the Internet as a democracy. Google interprets
connections between websites as votes. The most linked-to sites
win on the Google usefulness ballot and rise to the top of the
"I hope they will be able to return answers, not just
documents.... In the future, Google will be your interface to
all the world's knowledge—not just web pages."
The search engine with Page and Brin's unique algorithm was
initially named "Backrub," but they later settled on "PageRank,"
named after Page. It soon caught on with other Stanford users
when Page and Brin let them try it out. The two set up a simple
search page for users, because they did not have a web page
developer to create anything very impressive. They also began
stringing together the necessary computing power to handle
searches by multiple users, by using any computer part they
could find. As their search engine grew in popularity among
Stanford users, it needed more and more servers to process the
queries. "At Stanford we'd stand on the loading dock and try to
snag computers as they came in," Page recalled to McGarvey. "We
would see who got 20 computers and ask them if they could spare
Maxed out credit cards
During this time Page and Brin were running the project out of
their dorm rooms at Stanford. Page's room served as the data
hub, while Brin's was the business office. But they were
reluctant entrepreneurs, not wanting to shelve their Ph.D.
studies and join the dot-com rush of the era. In mid-1998 they
finally relented. "Pretty soon, we had 10,000 searches a day,"
Page told Newsweek's Steven Levy. "And we figured, maybe this is
really real." They initially set out just to defray their costs.
"We spent about $15,000 on a terabyte [one million megabytes] of
disks," Brin explained to McGarvey. "We spread that across three
credit cards. Once we did that, we wrote up a business plan."
The freewheeling corporate culture at Google has produced the
occasional prank since its founding. The company had been known
to post fake press releases around April 1, or April Fools' Day.
In 2000, for example, it launched "MentalPlex," which offered
Google site visitors the ability to "search smarter and faster"
by peering into a circle with shifting colours.
In 2003 Google explained its novel search technology "PigeonRank"
in an April Fools' Day insertion on their Web site that offered
a behind-the-scenes glimpse into "the technology behind Google's
great results." It was pigeons, the page explained, that helped
deliver such quick and accurate search results. In a FAQ, or
Frequently Asked Questions, section of the page, it addressed
the question, "Aren't pigeons really stupid? How do they do
this?" Google responded, "While no pigeon has actually been
confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court, pigeons are
surprisingly adept at making instant judgments when confronted
with difficult choices."
Page and Brin had the idea to license their PageRank technology
to other companies to pay off their credit card debt, but none
were interested. David Filo (1966–), another Stanford graduate
who had started Yahoo.com, suggested they form a search-engine
company. They named their company "Google," after the
mathematical term Googol, which specified the number one
followed by a hundred zeros. They took it to Andy Bechtolsheim
(1956–), a Stanford graduate and co-founder of Sun Microsystems.
One of their professors set up an in an early morning meeting
with Bechtolsheim. They showed him their Google demo, but
Bechtolsheim had another meeting on his schedule that morning,
and needed to leave. He liked their idea, however, and offered
to write them a check on the spot for seed money. It was for
$100,000, and was made out to "Google." In order to deposit it,
Page and Brin first needed to open a bank account with their
company name on it.
Page and Brin went on to raise more money from friends, family,
and then from venture capital firms that funded new businesses.
By the end of 1999 they had set up headquarters in an office
park in Mountain View, and had officially launched the site. In
June of 2000, Google reached an important hallmark: it had
indexed one billion Internet URLs, or Uniform Resource Locators.
A URL is the World Wide Web address of a site on the Internet.
Reaching the one-billion mark made Google the most comprehensive
search engine on the Web.
Hired industry pro
In their first years in business, Brin served as president,
while Page was the chief executive officer. The company
continued to grow exponentially during 2001. Google even became
a verb—to "Google" someone or something meant to search for it
via the engine, but it was most commonly used in reference to
checking out the Web presence of potential dates. Page and
Brin's company was the subject of articles in mainstream
publications, but they continually rejected offers to go
public—make their company a publicly traded one on Wall Street.
They did, however, hire Eric Schmidt (1955–) as chief executive
officer and board chair in 2001. Schmidt was a veteran of Sun,
where he had served as chief technology officer. As Brin
explained to Betsy Cummings in Sales & Marketing Management,
"Larry and I have done a good job," but conceded that "the
probability of doing something dumb" was still likely. "It's
clear we need some international strategy, and Eric brings
Google kept expanding in cyberspace. It added search
capabilities in dozens of languages, and began partnering with
overseas sites as well. It also attracted legions of devoted new
employees. Its headquarters were informally known as the "Googleplex,"
and workers were relatively free to make their own hours, with
the idea that employees should be able to work when they felt
they were most productive. Google staff were also encouraged to
use 80 percent of their work hours on regular work, and the
other 20 percent on projects of their own design. One of those
side projects emerged as Orkut.com, a harder-to-join version of
the social-networking phenomenon Friendster.com. Orkut was named
after the Google engineer who created it, Orkut Buyukkokten.
Page and Brin strove to keep Google's corporate culture relaxed
in other ways, which they felt benefited the company in the long
run. Its perks were legendary. There was free Ben and Jerry's
ice cream, an on-site masseuse, a ping-pong table, yoga classes,
and even a staff physician. Employees could bring their dogs to
work, and the company cafeteria was run by a professional chef
who used to work for the rock band the Grateful Dead. Brin
discussed his management philosophy with Cummings. "Since we
started the company, we've grown twenty percent per month. Our
employees can do whatever they want."
By early 2004 Google was one of the most-visited Web sites in
the world. Its servers handled some 138,000 search queries per
minute, or about two hundred million daily. Analysts believed it
was taking in approximately $1 billion in revenues annually, and
the company finally announced plans to become a publicly traded
company with an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. Theirs,
however, would utilize a unique online auction process to sell
its first shares to the public. This meant that the large Wall
Street firms that handled the IPO underwriting—which
investigated the company's books and then placed a monetary
value on it—would not be able to give the first shares out to
their top clients as a perk. It was estimated that Google was
going to be valued at least at $15 billion, and possibly even as
high as $30 billion.
Page and Brin each own thirty-eight million shares of Google
stock. They would become overnight millionaires when Google
began trading on the NASDAQ, or National Association of
Securities Dealers Automatic Quotation system, sometime in 2004.
Business journalists were calling it the most hotly anticipated
IPO of the post-dot-com era. Many other Internet companies had
quickly become publicly traded ones in the late 1990s, but began
to crash when the economy slowed over the next few years. Just
prior to launching their IPO, Google entered a legally required
"quiet period," in which they were not allowed to discuss their
plans or strategies with the press. Brin told Levy in Newsweek
just before that period that he and Page were content to keep
tinkering with their research-paper idea. "I think we're pretty
far along compared to 10 years ago," he said. "At the same time,
where can you go? Certainly if you had all the world's
information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial
brain that was smarter than your brain, you'd be better off.
Between that and today, there's plenty of space to cover."
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This web page was last updated on:
14 December, 2008