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What Innovators Learn from the Google Glass Failure

By Shlomo Maital

Google glass

Diane von Furstenberg wearing Google glasses

OK, Google Glass has failed.  Google announced last week that it is ‘going away’.  From the buzz at New York Fashion Week, when fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg sported a red pair and sent her models down the runway with multi-colored ones in 2012, to the cancellation, many things happened.  Much can be learned by innovators.  Many lessons are found in today’s New York Times piece by Nick Bilton, who broke the original story about Google glass. (“How Google Glass went from the hottest thing in wearables to Tech’s Edsel”.  Friday Feb. 6)

  1. It was not a failure. Perhaps there is no such thing as failure, in innovation.  Why?  Google learned a great deal.  It learned, again, about the super-sensitive issue of privacy.  Only a handful of people are concerned about it, but they are vocal and active,  enough to sink a project.  Some companies banned the wearing of Google glasses in their premises, for privacy reasons.  Who wants everything you do, see and say broadcast to the world?
  2. Skunk works: Lockheed ran a secretive Skunk Works operation in California, where its crazy inventors developed things that changed the world. Google had its own skunk works inside Google, Google X, even though you cannot imagine a more creative, open culture than Google’s Mountainview, CA., campus.  Somehow you have to protect the ‘crazies’ and give them space and freedom. 
  3. Interdisciplinary teams; Google Glass was developed by a weird team, with rock-star scientists and designers. Sergei Brin, Google co-founder, even joined the team.  Having the company founder in the team helps a lot – gives it credibility. 
  4. Freedom: The Google X team did not have a predefined pre-ordained project.  They themselves invented Google Glass. 
  5. Marketing: Google got to market quickly, but, through Glass Explorers, a select group of geeks and journalists who paid $1,500 for the privilege of being an early adopter. I think this was a good idea, in general.  It applies Guy Kawasaki’s principle, “ship, then test”…get to market FAST.  But “the strategy backfired”, according to Nick Bilton (who broke the first story about Google glass).   The product just wasn’t even CLOSE to ready for ‘prime time’.  Reviewers described it as the “worst product of all time”, noted its abysmal battery life. 
  6. What’s love got to do with it? Yup —  there was Cupid, involved, and he wasn’t wearing Google glasses.  Sergei Brin became romantically involved with the Google glass marketing manager, even though he was married, and the person he courted was one of his wife’s friends.  Vanity Fair reported the affair.  Ouch.  
  7. Radical ideas are reborn, like the Phoenix. A former Apple product executive is working on a new and improved version of Google glass.   Someday, someone, maybe not even Google, will get it right.  Apple’s culture is far better at this than Google’s.


Larry Page: As Innovator Role Model

By Shlomo   Maital    

Larry Page

Fortune magazine has chosen Larry Page (Dec. 1 issue) as Business Person of the Year. The feature article begins with a revealing joke, told often around Google. At Google’s “moon shot” Google X center, where self-driven cars, high-altitude wind turbines, and stratospheric balloons for Internet access are developed, a ‘brainiac’ creates a time machine. As the scientist reaches for the power cord to start a demo for Larry Page, Page says: “Hey! Why do you need to plug it in!?”

   For a decade Page was one member of a triangle – Sergei Brin, Eric Schmidt, and Page – that led Google. In 2011 Page took over as CEO.   Turns out he is a good manager. In the past three years, Google has grown 20% annually, and has quarterly revenue of $16 b. It has $62 billion in cash. Page invests heavily both in Google’s core business (he says he argued with Steve Jobs, who said, ‘you guys are doing too much’) and in far-flung new projects.   According to Fortune, in the past year, Google has invested in artificial intelligence, robotics and delivery drones. It has expanded its venture unit, which invests in startups and is a kind of scouting team. It bought Nest, a smart-home startup. It invested in Calico, a biotech firm.  

   Originally Google set out to “organize the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible”. Today that vision is too narrow. Page says he wants Google to change the world in ways most of us cannot imagine.

   Some say Google is too narrowly focused on advertising revenue. But YouTube now brings in $6 billion in annual revenues. Page continues to invest in bold ventures, to ensure the company’s future. He is making ‘credible bets’ on the home, the car, and wearable devices.

   Most amazingly, Google has a secret facility where a team of scientists are working on a project that will chemically ‘paint’ tiny nanoparticles, with a protein, so they bind to things like cancer cells.   And then concentrate them through magnetized wearable devices, so they can be ‘queried’. This would enable constant monitoring and detection of a whole host of devices.   Outside Google’s core competence?   Not at all.

   Page regards some of his bold bets as a portfolio bucket. Some will pay off. Many won’t. He doesn’t think the risk is high. By the time you want to put large sums of money into something, you pretty much know whether it will be profitable, he says. For him, not taking risks is the biggest risk of all.

Internet for the World: Facebook & Drones!

By Shlomo Maital

Drone facebook

Hard to believe, but the World Wide Web is only about 23 years old. In 1993, only 20 million people were on the Internet. In 1999 only four per cent of the world’s population of 6 billion people, or 240 m., were Internet-linked. Today 40 percent of the world’s population of over 7 billion people, or some 2.8 billion people, is Internet-connected! The Internet has changed our lives massively and permanently. That is – those of us who are connected.

   But what about the remaining 4.2 billion, or 60 per cent of the world? Google and Facebook are both racing to find ways to connect them. It is not easy. Most of those 4.2 billion people live in countries with minimal infrastructure. How can it be done?

   According to Vindu Goel, writing in today’s New York Times, Facebook is pulling an “Amazon” (remember Jeff Bezos’ recent pitch, that Amazon will deliver packages with drones) and is hiring as many as 50 aeronautical engineers and space scientists, to “figure out how to beam Internet access down from solar-powered drones and other ‘connectivity aircraft’.”   This will be done in a new Facebook Connectivity lab and a project called Part of Mark Zuckerberg’s goal, apparently, is to make (and keep) Facebook the most cool, interesting place to work.  He is fighting against the curse of scale – big companies lose their creative drive, and their creative people, as they scale up and bureaucratize.

   Earlier, Google too announced a drive to connect those unconnected 4.2 billion. Google’s approach currently focuses on high-flying balloons.  Facebook is also working on compressing Internet data, cutting the cost of Internet mobile phones and finding ways to hook up remote areas.

   Neither Facebook nor Google seem to have a clear business model in mind for their balloons or drones. The advertising model probably won’t work, because most of those unconnected 4.2 billion people are quite poor – although the late C.K. Prahalad pointed out, in his book, Fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid, that collectively, they form a huge market.

   Many analysts are very critical of both Google and Facebook for their ‘connect everyone’ efforts.

   Maybe we are missing the point. Maybe Google, and Facebook, are trying to connect everybody, because – it’s just the right thing to do. Maybe this is a new face of capitalism? Could it possibly be?   Maybe an exlusive  capitalism that leaves out over half the world will eventually crumble, taking Google and Facebook with it..and maybe Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg realize it?  Maybe inclusive capitalism is cool?!

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital