This is what people around the Valley say about Google: “It makes over 90% of its revenues selling ads. Everything else is an experiment.”
Given that, just how does Google decide which experiments to turn into full-fledged products?
It sort of happens by the law of attraction, explains Caesar Sengupta, vice president of product management for Chromebooks. Googlers get to spend 20% of their time on projects that interest them outside of their regular duties. If other Googlers like their project, they offer to help.
And it all grows from there.
Business Insider: You were on the Chromebooks team since the beginning. How did the project start?
Caesar Sengupta: It sorted started like a 20% thing. At that point, my day job was running Google Toolbar and Google Desktop along with a bunch of products.
When we were designing the browser there were many operating system concepts that we applied to the browser. A few engineers and I [on the Chrome team] went to Chrome project leaders and said we wanted to bring those ideas forward.
We looked at a piece of software called the BIOS that runs first on a computer. [NOTE: The BIOS tells the operating system about the computer’s hardware.] The BIOS was still checking for floppy drives. No one had used floppy drives in a decade. The first prototype was this device [with a fast BIOS] that booted in 8-9 seconds.
We went out around, ‘Hey this boots in seconds!’ This is 2009, and computers used to take 5-6 minutes to boot. People were like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’
BI: Was there a moment when Larry Page or Sergey Brin saw that and said ‘let’s build PCs”?
CS:Google doesn’t really function with one single executive. It’s a very bottoms up culture.
The way it works is people start moving to the project. Once people saw our initial demo, we had a whole bunch of engineers say, ‘Can I help with something?’
The projects at Google typically get staffed initially like this. At some point, you get to this critical mass and it gets much easier to get resources.
BI: Chromebooks are now your full-time job. How do you measure the success of the project?
I know I’ve succeeded if I start seeing people use Chromebooks all around. One of the metrics we use is how much Googlers are using a the products.
2013 is one of those years where we saw Googlers broadly embrace Chromebooks. The Pixel is something that is used by a very large number of Googlers.
I’ll also know I’ve succeeded when people go to buy computers for home or schools or for certain kinds of business and this is one of the first devices they think of.