Thursday, September 4, 2008

Story of how Google’s AdSense almost got killed

Adsense: Google’s AdSense technology has enabled arguably the most successful business model innovation of this decade (at least so far). Google’s VP of search products and user experience, Marissa Mayer narrates the story of AdSense innovation in a podcast at What makes this story interesting is to see that even an AdSense kind of innovation underwent near death experience. Let’s look at the events briefly below.

Sequence of events:
1. Paul Buchheit, tech lead of gmail project and Marissa, that time the Product manager for gmail, shared an office and got into discussing how they will make money from gmail. Marissa says, “We will give small mailboxes for free and upsale on the large mailboxes.” This was the prevalent business model that time. To which Paul says, “I am not so sure. May be we should put ads there.” Marissa immediately reacts saying, “Paul, Paul, Paul. Ads are not going to work. We won’t be able to find relevant ads and then there will be privacy concerns”.

2. 3am – Marissa is about to leave the office. She leans back from the door and says, “Paul, we agreed we are not exploring the ad thing, right?” Paul responds, “Yeah”.

3. 7am – Paul leaves his office after finishing a throwaway prototype implementation of adSense (see Paul’s interview)

4. 9am – Marissa is back to office and logs into gmail and sees ads everywhere on the screen. First reaction is “Oh my gosh! What has he done?” She feels like calling him immediately to take this off. However, she resists it because she feels Paul should sleep for at least a couple of more hours before she disturbs him.

5. Between 9am & 10am – Marissa gets 2 emails. One from a friend about going hiking. And an ad pops up for hiking shoes. Then another mail comes saying Al Gore is visiting Stanford. And an comes up showing Al Gore’s books.

6. 10am – Marissa is beginning to appreciate this ad thing.

7. 11am – Sergei comes in and he likes it too.

Rest is history.

My takeaway: So what is the moral of the story? I can think of 2 possibilities from which we need to pick only one (I guess a story should have only one moral, right?)

1. Don’t react to others’ ideas negatively. Be supportive. (Don’t be like Marissa)
2. Listen to others, and do what you feel to be the right thing, anyway. (Be like Paul).

I would any day go with the latter statement (#2) because I don’t have control over others reactions. And, more importantly, Marissa’s reaction is the most natural reaction to radical ideas like AdSense. I would have reacted the same way, if I were Marissa. And hence, “Being like Paul” helps.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Vinay:

    I am no big fan of ads while reading my email, but I really liked the story. Thanks for the pointer.