TR: Why did you start a company?
Brin: For three years, we tried as hard as we could to avoid doing that. Of course, there was a temptation to launch a dot com. But we were pretty comfortable at Stanford. We got to a point, though, where we needed a lot of resources-for example, computers. We had snarfed a whole bunch of machines of all different types; we had sort of borrowed them from various people in the department.
Page: At Stanford we’d stand on the loading dock and try to snag computers as they came in. We would see who got 20 computers and ask them if they could spare one.
Brin: But this was getting out of hand. We saw that if we started the company, we would be able to bring Google to the world quickly-we wouldn’t have to spend all our time scouting for computing resources.
TR: Did you have a business plan?
Brin: When we decided to start a company-and we actually committed to it by purchasing disks ourselves, with our own money-we spent about $15,000 on a terabyte [a million megabytes] of disks. We spread that across three credit cards. Once we did that, we wrote up a business plan and, remarkably, we have stayed close to it over the last couple years.
TR: Was it difficult to raise funding?
Brin: The first check we got was from Andy Bechtolsheim-one of the founders of Sun, and a Stanford alum. We met him very early one morning on the porch of a Stanford faculty member’s home in Palo Alto. We gave him a quick demo. He had to run off somewhere, so he said, instead of us discussing all the details, why don’t I just write you a check? It was made out to Google, Inc., which did not exist at the time, and was for $100,000. So we set up a corporation, deposited the check, and by the time we closed the round we had raised almost $1 million. We continued to build our system and, after about a year, we needed more money. So we raised $25 million in venture capital. Everybody on Sand Hill Road knew who we were.
TR: I’m sure the VCs asked you time and again, What’s your revenue model? How are you going to make money?
Page: Since we’re a private company, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that people are skeptical about our business model. Doubts about the viability of this kind of business probably discourage others from jumping in as competitors. But we don’t have any skepticism. Our traffic is growing nicely-about 20 percent monthly. We answer 40 million queries a day, including 15 million at Google.com. That’s a very significant number. Very few Web businesses have anywhere near that scale. I won’t say exactly what we make per search, but most search companies, if you dig through their financial reports, are making about a penny per search from advertising. You can do the math: 15 million queries a day is about $14 million in revenue per quarter. I am not saying we make that much currently. We’ve been reluctant to do a normal ad deal because we feel we do a better job by providing a highly targeted ad. By the way, if we signed a deal with a Web advertising network like DoubleClick, we would be profitable right now. But we are in this for the long term, and we want to do the right things for our business. Being profitable immediately isn’t the right thing. We have other revenue sources besides ads. We provide search to about 80 sites, including some very big ones: Netscape, Yahoo! and Cisco; that’s a lucrative market.
TR: Why don’t you use traditional banner ads such as would be involved in a DoubleClick deal?
Brin: Understand that we do run ads. A lot of people say they never see ads on our site, but we show them on about 15 percent of our searches. They are text-based ads that load quickly and appear in blue boxes. They are targeted to your search. But we don’t want to use simple banners. They slow down the search experience-users want to get on and off a search page quickly, and we let them.
TR: Has anyone suggested that you bring in some “adult supervision” to manage the company?
Page: We always try to bring in as many adults as possible. But it’s difficult. There’s a trade-off between technological savvy and organizational savvy. And a lot of people we would want to hire-like Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com-well, he has his hands full.