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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ex-Google Employee on Scaling an Organization

Fortune interviewed Bret Taylor on his present at Friendfeed and his past at Google [video]. Bret says (small edits for clarity):

I had a number of accomplishments that I’m really proud of at Google. But I think for me I really wanted to sort of, you kow, forge my own path, if we can do it on our own. When we make decisions, I get to just look up from my computer and say, “Hey, you think we should do this?” And then people say, yes, we should do it.

I haven’t made a single PowerPoint presentation. We don’t even use Microsoft Word documents; we just talk to each other.

It’s a really, really interesting dynamic environment. I think no matter how innovative a culture is at a large company, you can’t really reproduce it. And I think that’s what’s so infectious and wonderful about a startup environment, that I think draws a lot of people to it (...)

With 70 people the odds that two people are working on the same thing are probably pretty low. With 17,000, it’s almost a 100% that two or three people will be working on the same idea, or at least very similar ideas, at different parts of the organization. I think there is a certain amount of cost to just coordinating that activity. I’ve been really impressed with how Google has been able to scale, but inherently it has to change – just because there’s that coordination cost.

I think some bloggers call it “strategy tax.” You know, when you grow, your strategy becomes more and more important, and it taxes sort of everything you do a little bit... because everything you do, it strays from that strategy. You know, there’s a huge cost to that. Whereas I think for smaller companies, the strategy is less well-defined, or certainly the impact of straying from it is much lower.

In other news, there’s a new ex-Google employee joining the office space of Friendfeed. But Jess Lee, former Google Maps product manager, will not be joining Friendfeed; she’s the sixth person to join Polyvore, a startup offering an online collages web service, who happens to share the huge office space with Friendfeed. Overall there are now 4 ex-Google Maps people in this office space, Jess tells me: Polyvore co-founder Pasha Sadri, her, as well as Friendfeed’s Bret Taylor and Jim Norris.

Jess at her blog says that leaving Google after 4 years was a tough decision. “I was very happy working on Google Maps and oftentimes felt like I had the best job in the world. I became the Maps PM at age 22 and was blown away by how much responsibility they were willing to give someone so young. The work was fun, challenging, and very rewarding. I wasn’t looking for a new job, but a great opportunity fell in my lap that I felt I had to take.”

[Via Friendfeed, which as of yesterday got search, and the word is out an API might follow in the future. First image via Fortune, second image via Google.]


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