Earlier this month, Google announced the huge news that it’s blasting apart its old structure and separating into a bunch of individual businesses, including a slimmed-down core, the smart-thermostat company Nest, its super-fast internet service Fibre, and its investing arm Capital — all under a parent company called Alphabet.
Another spin-off business is Google X, the “moonshot” lab that has spawned projects like self-driving cars, internet-bearing balloons, and glucose-sensing contact lenses.
Because of the audaciousness of its high-profile projects, Google X has become almost emblematic of the company’s ambitions to be more than just an advertising company.
Google X got started after Larry Page convinced Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor focused on self-driving cars, to come join the company as a VP, with access to Google’s technology and resources, back in 2007. Thrun built Google X for five years before stepping back to an advisor position to found an education startup called Udacity.
In a recent conversation with Business Insider, Thrun said that the Alphabet shuffle, which Google has reportedly been considering for at least four years, is a great move overall that will help keep the “magic” alive inside the company.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” Thrun says. “I think that this reorganization will allow Google X to scale better than they have ever scaled before.”
He says that when it comes to large organisations, doubling staff doesn’t double the productivity of the company overall. Smaller companies, though, can be much more nimble and fast-paced.
“This is a way to recapture the magic of small companies inside a big company like Alphabet,” he says. “I’m excited for them.”
These days, Thrun keeps in touch with his friends at the company, but no longer has time to advise Google X, in part because Udacity is growing 34% month-over-month. There, he has another grand idea: To double the world’s GDP by making education for technical skills cheaper and more accessible to people around the globe.
“It’s not a technology moonshot in the same way that putting balloons into the stratosphere is,” he says. “It’s a really important societal moonshot.”