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Garage brand: Google taps its founding myth in search of a new beginning

Garage brand: Google taps its founding myth in search of a new beginning

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Gallery Photo: Google garage
Gallery Photo: Google garage

For the 15th anniversary of its incorporation, Google invited a small group of press to 232 Santa Margarita in Menlo Park, California. This small suburban house was once the home of current SVP of product management at Google, Susan Wojcicki. She took to a stage erected for this event to discuss what Google was like back in its early days. Other Google executives joined her to talk about Google's history in search and to demonstrate its latest innovations, including voice search, conversational search, and the Knowledge Graph.

A popular founding myth

Silicon Valley companies — especially the big ones — love to talk about being founded in a garage. It's a popular founding myth — one that is true in the case of companies like HP and Apple, but it's perhaps a bit more aspirational for companies like Google. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had already received more than a million dollars in venture capital by the time they moved into the garage. It's likely that the company saved some money by going to Wojcicki, then just a friend and not yet an employee, back in 1998. But it's also a very happy coincidence for Google that it has a garage in its history. For a company that still sees itself as disruptive and scrappy, being able to put reporters on a bus and take them out to a suburban home is a way to try to take that internal image and make it external. Google is well aware of the importance of this kind of founding myth: in 2006, the company bought the house so it could use it as a landmark.

"In 1998, Sergey and Larry first had gotten funded … and they were looking for office space," Wojcicki says. "I had purchased this house … and was worried about covering the mortgage." Google has left most of the house as it was back in 1998, down to the carpet in the garage that Wojcicki installed to help tempt the founders to rent the space. The team was here for only five months before moving on to a bigger space. Wojcicki later joined the company, after the team found a bigger space.

Dan Heath has written extensively about the myth of the garage, and told This American Life, "No one wants to hear the story of the rich, well-connected guys who meet up at the Marriott conference room to hatch a business plan. There's no romance in that." The quote doesn't explicitly apply to Page and Brin, but nevertheless Google's garage was more about temporary office space and easy access to a Jacuzzi than scrappy hackers fighting a system from the outside with no money in their pockets.

"Google should have a conversation with you."

Amit Singhal, SVP of search at Google, also came on the tiny stage that Google set up in its garage. He reminisced about the early days of the company. "Search has been the catalyst" for the growth of the web, Singhal says, and he picked up a set of Google Glass to make the point that search could continue to drive technology.

"Google should have a conversation with you," Singhal says. After spending some time reminding everybody where Google started — or at least where Google wants you believe it started — the company touted a bunch of new features it has added or will add to Search, including a new ranking algorithm called "Hummingbird" and redesigns for mobile. "Fifteen years on, we are just getting started," Singhal says.

Google garage