Google’s employees apparently have a lot of time on their hands. Recent Google hire Philippe Dauman Jr. is co-founding a music company. Google honcho Tim Armstrong invests in other companies and sits on other boards. Nothing wrong with any of this–except that every minute Google executives spend thinking about non-Google professional responsibilities is a minute that they’re not thinking about Google.
From the outside, it appears that Google has gotten so rich and complacent that it’s taking its own future success for granted. The evidence? Lots of early employees are leaving, new employees now account for a huge percentage of the company, and existing employees appear to be focusing as much on non-Google projects–such as Philippe’s new company, Yuzu–as their day jobs.
In short, Google is developing a new image problem: Now that the stock isn’t going up 5% a day, shareholders are increasingly annoyed that the company is moving in a thousand directions and spending money like a drunken sailor: burning $600+ million of CAPEX per quarter, solving the world’s energy problems, laying trans-pacific fibre-optic cables, funding fabulous smorgasbord free cafeterias, giving employees a day off a week of “20% time” to pursue pet projects, etc.
If Google’s stock stays in the tank, the shareholder disgruntlement will only get louder. If new employees like Philippe are allowed/encouraged to work on other companies on the side, this will also set a bad example for new Googlers (Don’t worry, be happy! Keep a desk here, eat the awesome food, and do whatever you want!)
So it’s time for Eric, Sergey, and Larry to sit down and have another look at “20 per cent time” and the company’s overall spending discipline. What works for a small private underdog often doesn’t work for a global behemoth, and it’s time for Google to reevaluate.
Google’s in a great position to rule the world for the next 10-20 years. To do so, however, it’s going to have to operate with the same maniacal focus, passion, and discipline that allowed Larry and Sergey to take over the search business in the early years. Right now, it’s not.
*The original version of this post singled out Philippe as a symbol of the Google focus problem. We regret that.
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