The Google Chronicles: 7 Facts on Founders Larry Page & Sergey Brin

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Google Founders Photo

Google Tycoons Larry Page and Sergey Brin. (Art: Graziano Origa/Wikimedia Commons)

Remember AltaVista? Excite? Ask Jeeves? They’re names from the past of Internet search—before Google arrived on the scene and showed people how looking things up online should be done. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of Google’s IPO, let’s take a look back to see how two students from Stanford University—Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin—came together to create a site that would change the world.

1) A testy first meeting

In the summer of 1995, Larry Page, then 22, visited Stanford as a prospective PhD student in computer science. His tour guide was Sergey Brin, a 21-year-old mathematical whiz who was already pursuing his PhD in that department. Despite their common interests, Brin and Page didn’t immediately hit it off—in fact, their first day together was spent arguing.

Page later told Wired magazine, “I thought [Sergey] was pretty obnoxious. He had really strong opinions about things, and I guess I did, too.”

As for Brin, he felt that they “both found each other obnoxious. But we say it a little bit jokingly. Obviously we spent a lot of time talking to each other, so there was something there.”

Fortunately for them, their relationship was going to get much better.

2) There might not have been a 'Google'

Sergey Brin Photo

Sergey Brin at a TED Talk in 2010. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Page elected to attend Stanford, and by 1996 he and Brin were good friends who were collaborating on a project called “Backrub,” which investigated how sites linked back to other webpages. The pair soon realized that helping people find pages with more incoming links (particularly from credible websites) would be a better way to search the Internet.

It can be hard to imagine now, given just how well their idea turned out, but Brin and Page, who wanted to finish their PhDs, actually looked into selling their search innovations to another company. The two talked to Yahoo!, Infoseek, Lycos and AltaVista, and entered into negotiations with Excite.

Page noted, “We did get offers, but they weren’t for much money. So we said, ‘Whatever,’ and went back to Stanford to work on it some more.”

3) Finding a better name than 'Backrub'

Since they couldn’t sell their technology, Brin and Page knew they needed to start their own company. And they agreed that the name “Backrub” had to go. After considering calling their site "The Whatbox," inspiration was found in the word googol (the term for a number with one hundred zeros).

With a slight change in spelling,—which Page deemed “easy to type and memorable”—was born in 1997.

And thanks to the name change, no one today is asking, “Did you Backrub it?”

Larry Page Photo

Larry Page in 2009. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

4) 'Playboy' almost derailed the Google IPO

By 2004, Google was profitable (thanks to its ad sales), and the founders agreed to go public. Then Google’s initial public offering hit a bump involving Playboy magazine.

After Google had filed the registration statement for its IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a 1933 law required that the company only engage in "ordinary-course business and financial information” until the SEC deemed the registration statement “effective.” This is commonly known as a quiet period—the idea being that limiting communication would help avoid inflated stock prices, and allow people to choose whether or not to invest based on hard facts and numbers.

However, before this period began, Brin and Page had given an interview to Playboy, which came out during Google’s quiet period. If the SEC had found this to be a violation of the quiet period, it could have delayed the IPO. Google chose to refile its prospectus with an appendix that included the entire Playboy interview in order to make sure the company was in compliance with SEC rules.

At least that Playboy article received the kind of attention usually reserved for the magazine’s centerfolds.

5) Ignoring Steve Jobs’s words of wisdom

Both before and after its IPO, Google had the funds and drive to expand as needed. Among Brin and Page’s many endeavors were the launch of Gmail, making Google Maps, digitizing books, creating the Android mobile operating system and the purchase of YouTube. The company also launched Google+ in 2011 (obviously some projects were more successful than others).

If you think that Google could be spreading itself thin, you’re in good company. In a 2014 interview, Page remarked: “I would always have this debate actually with Steve Jobs. He'd be like, 'You guys are doing too much stuff.'" 

Brin's take on the matter? “We try to invest…in the places where we see a good fit to our company. But that could be many, many bets, and only a few of them need to pay off.”

6) Some people think Sergey Brin may be Batman

Today the partnership between Brin and Page is still going strong, with Page taking over as the company’s CEO in 2011. (The founders had agreed to accept the “adult supervision” of CEO Eric Schmidt when Google first struck out on its own.)

Google Founders Photo

Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page back in '08. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As for Brin, he’s happily directing special projects at Google X, a top-secret innovation lab, and thus showing the world what it would be like if Batman’s high-tech gadgetry were real (seriously, if you type “Sergey Brin is…” into Google, one of the first autocompletes that comes up is “Batman”).

Brin has already launched Google Glass, which—love it or hate it—is definitely a new way to get and share information. He also hopes to “transform transportation around the world” with self-driving cars. And in the spirit of James Bond, another user of advanced tech, Brin even had his own love triangle, becoming involved with a Google Glass marketer, Amanda Rosenberg, before separating from wife Anne Wojcicki in 2013.

7) For Google, robots and AI are the future

Even with everything they’ve already accomplished, Page and Brin are still looking for the next big thing. They’ve made investments in artificial intelligence, and Brin expects “that someday, we will be able to make machines that can reason, think and do things better than we can.”

Given the success of their other enterprises, maybe we should all get ready to welcome our new Google robot overlords.