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Why your business is just like Google (sort of)

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You probably wouldn't compare yourself to the founders of a $100bn+ revenue business, with $15bn operating profit, and 114,000 employees. It's statistically unlikely that your company has acquired over 230 other businesses over the years, or that your market capitalization tops $167bn.

Yet you might be more similar to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google LLC, than you think. Like many BCMS clients, they were reluctant entrepreneurs, who fell into company ownership. When they started Google in 1998, they knew nothing about business. They were frustrated graduate students, beavering away on algorithms in a garage in California.

They started Google because they saw a gap in the market for a better product. Their big idea – that a search engine should prioritise relevance (ie quality) over volume (ie the number of 'hits') – was called PageRank. Why? Because that's what it did, rank pages. Little acorns and all that. In 21 years, that tiny start-up has totally revolutionised how the world works.

Time to move on from the business

The big news story in technology this week is that Page and Brin are stepping down from their day-to-day roles at Alphabet Inc, Google's parent company.  Like many business owners with an exit plan, they have spent some time making themselves “worthless” to the company they founded. They've engaged an experienced, executive management team. They've been letting others do the strategy, the direction, the people management, and the talking.

Unlike, say Amazon's Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk of Tesla, these guys don't particularly enjoy being the front-of-house figureheads. If you follow these things, you'll have noticed that the public face of Google these days is CEO Sundar Pichai – not its founders.

Is your business your baby?

Stepping back from your business is an emotional thing, no doubt. The language Page and Brin used when making the announcement was revealing. They compared their journey at Google to raising a child. “It's now time to assume the role of proud parents”, they informed the press. I've lost count of the number of BCMS clients who have told us – almost with embarrassment – that their business feels like their baby. And that phrase so clearly recalls the expression used by former BCMS client Tim Gray, when he told us that “selling a business is a strange feeling, akin to sending a child to university”.

Entrepreneurs vs managers

Those who know them say that the enigmatic Page and Brin are tech people at heart, not business strategists. Apparently, they love the coal face of development, and the intellectual challenge of coding. They don't do red tape. Their recent projects haven't focused on maximising Google's main revenue driver (advertising services, since you ask). Instead, they've occupied their time with special R&D projects, including self-driving cars, robotics and life-extension technology.

That would chime with former BCMS client Winston Lee – who stayed on with his business post sale, and is a regular at BCMS events up and down the country. As Winston told us, life after sale has been liberating: "My title is Technical Director, but I'm a facilitator, I suppose. I'm doing what I enjoy, looking at potential products. As a business owner I couldn't split myself, and I couldn't develop the business as I wanted. Now, work-life balance is better."

The point I'm making? It doesn't matter what size your company is, or which sector it's in. The motivation to move on is exactly the same. Our clients want more time. Less stress. The chance to pursue other interests and take on new challenges.

Maybe 2020 is the time for you to have your own Google moment. Although developing "life-extension technology" might be a bit of a stretch…

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Mark Bentley's picture
Posted Dec 2019
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