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Marissa Mayer talks about Google at 10 -- and 20

September 7, 2008 |  9:00 am

Marissa Mayer She is not nearly as famous as celebrity founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But, in many ways, Marissa Mayer has become the public face of Google, which was incorporated 10 years ago today.

The Internet giant's first female engineer, Mayer is vice president of search products and user experience, directing the efforts of thousands of engineers and driving forward some of Google's most important initiatives including books, news and health.

She has been there almost since the beginning. So we asked Mayer to reflect on Google's first decade, to talk about whether the company is cutting back on some of its famous employee perks and where she sees Google 10 years from now. Here's what she had to say:

Question: How has the company changed? And what changes has it made in the world over the past decade?

Answer: The most remarkable thing about Google is how much it hasn’t changed. When I look at the people who started Google and the people who work here today, they are still motivated in the same way: They like working on hard technical problems, and they like making a difference in people’s lives and hopefully for the better.

In terms of impact on the world, we are really proud of the way we help people find information and how we have helped change how people find information. We are not resting on our laurels. We realize this is just the beginning. Search can get a lot better and we are working toward that.

Q: How has the company changed your life?

A: For me, the past nine-plus years, Google essentially has been my life. It has been a labor of love for me. I have been really proud of what my friends and I have been able to build here. I have been happy to dedicate the vast majority of my time and energy to the company. It’s hard to imagine working on something that is as important or has as much of a sense of purpose for me.

Q: What are the key challenges Google faces?

A: I think that there are a lot of challenges. One of the key ones is remaining innovative and ...

... agile, which we have managed to do to date even though we are already operating at a large scale. Really in technology, it’s about the people, getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment and helping to find a way to innovate.

Q: What are the other challenges?

A: They are the obvious challenges that businesses face: competition, scale, all of those types of things. I think we have done a good job of balancing that until now. That said, we can’t lose focus on it. We need to stay focused on execution issues.

Q: What would you point to as Google’s biggest achievements of the past 10 years?

Marissa MayerA: Certainly one of them is our search capabilities. Look at how good search is today and how much we rely on it. That was driven forward by us and also by our competitors. Users have really benefited as a result of that. Also, the way Google has changed and influenced online advertising, the way Google has changed the monetization of content online through AdSense and our advertising network. It’s also notable in terms of the economic benefits Google has had for small businesses and the opportunities created as a result of that.

  Q: What do the next 10 years hold for Google?

A: I think there will be a continued focus on innovation, particularly in search. Search is an unsolved problem. We have a good 90 to 95% of the solution, but there is a lot to go in the remaining 10%. How do we monetize new forms of content as they come online such as video, maps and books. How do we help content providers transition their businesses online and build healthy businesses.

Also, when you look at this notion of cloud computing, that is particularly interesting. When you look at what has happened to Gmail, docs, spreadsheets and, now this week, Chrome, it tells a powerful story about how information can be stored online and how we can use online tools to facilitate easier sharing and collaboration. This is a different computing paradigm than what people adhered to up until now. Clearly we are going to continue to focus on that.

Ultimately, I think we will focus on what serves users and Google best: Making the Web better and making it easier to use the Web.

Q: Google has carved out a lucrative business in search and search advertising. Which of the new initiatives are most promising in terms of creating another source of revenue for Google in the future?

A: It’s important to recognize that search in and of itself -- and the advertising on it and on the content network -- is already very diverse. Hundreds of thousands of advertisers are advertising in every possible sector. We are primarily advertising driven, but there is a lot of diversity and stability in that ecosystem.

We will certainly remain centered on ads. We are also looking at new ways to deploy ads: YouTube advertising for a better way to monetize video content, scanning content with book search for advertising that monetizes better. We are also exploring paid services, such as paying for Picasa storage or additional storage in Gmail. These are small businesses that are just getting started and this is a new business model for us. But it is one thing we are experimenting with.

Q: What about the DoubleClick acquisition?

A: The DoubleClick acquisition has been very important and helped break us into the media space as one of the market leaders in rich media advertising. It is an important asset when you look at how we will monetize Google image search or YouTube. It’s also something that advertisers and partners have been requesting. We are building our advertising business and unifying an overall offering.

Q: Companies change as they grow. How will the company’s Googleyness evolve?

A: I think we have seen a consistency in the past 10 years in the culture of Google. Things will remain very much the same, I would hope. The stability in our culture to date makes me believe we can achieve that.

Q: There have been some reports that Google is cutting back on some of its famous perks. Can you set the record straight on that?

A: Not that I’m aware of. It is interesting and important to point out that Google has always been a frugal company. We have always spent money in a way that made sense. We provide food to our employees largely for convenience so that they can stay closer to campus. When we were just starting the company and we were all working 120, 130 hours a week, having food on campus was something that was really convenient and fostered better culture because we all conversed over meal time. To have these perks might seem lavish on the outside, but there are usually common sense reasons why we are doing them on the inside. That said, we always want to be frugal and conscientious about money.

Q: What do you imagine Google will look like at 20?

A: I don’t know. I don’t think I could have predicted what Google would look like at 10. It’s really a lifetime in Internet time. I would guess we will still have a very strong interest in search. Understanding search has always been at our core. Clearly we have a very strong advertising business online. I would hope that Google would remain a large player in that. I really hope that the way people use computers in their everyday lives evolves in a way that takes advantage of the cloud, the data centers and the data storage capabilities we have.

Q: Will you still be a Googler when Google turns 20?

A: I would hope so. For me it’s really about new challenges. I have been really lucky that at Google my responsibilities have continued to grow. As long as I have new challenges, I will be here.

Google overall, in terms of its culture and the people who work here, is future-oriented always. From my earliest conversations in the summer of 1999, we have spent our time brainstorming about the future. We aren’t taking a lot of time to reflect on the past 10 years. We are much more focused on the next 10 years.

-- Jessica Guynn

Top photo credit: Erin Lubin / Bloomberg News

Bottom photo credit: Google

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