Visiting San Francisco without going to Silicon Valley is for me like going to Rome and not seeing the Colosseum, impossible.
So there we go. We step on our Harleys and cruise in the direction of Palo Alto and then Mountain View where the global Headquarters of Google is based. We have an appointment with Karen who works on global communications and public affairs. The idea is that she will show us around the campus to give us an idea of how one of the most profitable and well known brands of the world is staying true to its philosophy.
First stop at the campus is the juice bar, where I get myself a nice Café Latte and Maarten decides to try the specially recommended detox drink, in case you have been working late and need an extra boost to get going today. This is the first sign of taking good care of your employees, but definitely not the last. We will be treated to a lot of cool things that Google has arranged for its people.
We take a seat outside on a big terrace with colorful ‘Google’ umbrellas/parasols. We see engineers sitting on lounge sofas with their laptops, sipping coffee, sparring with colleagues or just staring in front of them, looking for the next killer app.
Wow, this is what I call a cool working environment. But it has to be, if you understand what is behind it all. Karen starts talking: “The engineers at Google invent, create and make things that normal people can’t even imagine being possible. They don’t, like we do, take what they know as a starting point, but they look at what is technically possible. And of course, as we all know but just cannot grasp, that is an awful lot.“
After we get ourselves another coffee, we walk into one of the engineers, Randy. We explain to him who we are and what Karen was telling us earlier. He adds: “The next step is that we develop an application to a certain extent, let’s say a Beta version. We then open it up to a specific audience, other developers, both professional and amateurs, to let them test it, see what they think. This helps us at Google in certain ways. First, we get feedback on a new app from other experts, which allows us to improve the product in a relatively early stage. Second, we create brand and product ambassadors, we all feel special if we get to try or see something before the big audience does. Third, based on this test, we can decide whether to launch the product to the big audience or to keep it small.”
“Thanks Randy, what app did you develop?”
“Well, most of it is teamwork of course, but I was involved in the development of Google Earth. Now I am working on a new mobile app, of which of course I cannot reveal anything yet, but keep a close look at us and you will know when it hits the shelves!”.
After this unexpected and nice meeting, we continue our visit.
One of the big advantages of Google is that almost all their products are Free for consumers. They develop an app, share it with the world and you can go ahead using the app, or not. If it does not function very well, they will either improve it or not, depending on the relevance of the product for their own portfolio. But because we have not paid to use the product, we cannot claim anything either. We can only be grateful that Google enables us to use a lot of online products for free.
This philosophy has created a lot of added value for Google. Because everything is free to use, they have created a huge global user database.
Karen explains the added value of this: “Almost every person with internet access across the world uses at least one Google product, even if it is only search. By every search we do, we enhance the search knowledge of Google, which makes us more valuable for advertisers, where the biggest part of our revenues is still coming from.”
I suddenly realize that I am a big Google user, Google docs, maps, search, Google Earth and on my pc I am using Google Chrome and Picasa, since they don’t work on my MacBook.
Because of the both quantative and qualitative reach that Google has established in the past years, advertisers can choose to aim their ads at very specific audiences to avoid waste to a big extent.
But, back to our campus. Now that we understand the way the engineers work and get a lot of freedom to explore and invent new stuff, we continue our tour around the campus. After passing by the restaurants where all Googlers can eat 3 good meals a day for Free (of course!), the place where you can enlist for the Summer Soccer Tournament, we end up at the place where we can take a bike…to do what?
“Well,” says Karen, “we are now in one of the buildings, but our campus is stretched our over a huge area, where it is easier to bike from one building to another. For meetings, or even just to get your mind straightened out, get some fresh air, anything.”
Well, she only needs to say that once, I grab a specifically designed Google bike in the Google colors and start heading towards the garden that links the main building to the place where we will watch one of the soccer games later today!