Your garage holds more than just your cars and rarely-used power tools. It holds the potential for greatness. The wide-open floorplan and separation from the rest of the house mean that the garage is the perfect room for making noise, as countless hobbyist handymen or teenage bands have discovered. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the greatest companies in the world got their starts in garages.
Join us as we explore these achievements through a running blog series, updated every Monday. We’re interested in learning all there is to know about the creativity produced in the most pivotal garages in history, and we’ll bring all of our findings straight to you.
Welcome to Garage Greatness.
The Google Garage
Google is the most omnipresent and omnipotent power that people interact with on a daily basis, which has given some geeks the idea to argue that Googlism – that is, worship of Google as God – is the closest that humans will ever come to interacting with something omnipotent. The farcical religion is more joke than theology, but the believers of Googlism are right about Google’s power over every part of our lives. Google is the most-visited website in the world and handles over half of all internet searches, but Google Inc is also involved in Email, cloud storage, an office software suite, and a host of cutting-edge technologies like self-driving cars and augmented reality headsets. The company is a very big deal, and vying with Apple (another garage startup!) for the coveted position of most valuable brand.
Yes, that’s right – Google, the company so ubiquitous with internet searching that its name became the new verb for internet searching, got started in a garage. Susan Wojcicki’s garage, to be specific.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford University when Sergey gave recent U Michigan grad Larry a tour around the campus. It wasn’t until a year later, in 1996, that the two began the pivotal work that would, in time, lead to Google’s creation. Page studied early search engines, Yahoo! among them, and found that they ranked search results based on how often the searched keywords appeared on the page. Although this cruder method was serviceable, it meant that quantity was more valuable than quality. Page set out to improve that search model by creating PageRank.
PageRank was successful because it looked primarily at links on the page, not at keywords. Page knew that adding a link to a website which led to another website was always a deliberate decision by a human and meant that the linked page was quality content. This meant that Google regarded the web as a connected series of sites, and could value the most-linked sites most highly. Their first prototype, called BackRub, was created by Page and Brin and revolutionized early search technology.
Once the basic idea had proved to be effective on the relatively small sample of 24 million live web pages to index, Page and Brin wrote a paper on the theoretical basis behind PageRank and moved away from Stanford’s campus.
They began renting a garage
The garage and three rooms they rented came from Susan Wojcicki, a friend and fellow PhD student at Stanford who was worried about paying her mortgage right out of business school. Page and Brin got to work building Google after writing the words “Google’s worldwide headquarters” on a white board inside the house.
For 5 months, Page and Brin ran Google out of Wojcicki’s garage. They picked the now-iconic name instead of BackRub, based on a misspelling of the word googol, which is the number one followed by one hundred zeros. They wanted a name as big as the internet, which was rapidly expanding even then and has only increased in size since.
Before they had even incorporated, Google had already received a $100,000 check in funding, and they went on to secure a million dollars within the first year. According to Wojcicki, the founders also spent a fair amount of time playing ping pong in the garage or using her hot tub. Wojcicki is now a Google employee and believes that the company, despite all of its growth, still has the same three core principals – providing a great search experience, focusing on the global world, and thinking big with revolutionary technology.
In February of 1999, Google moved to 165 University Avenue in Palo Alto. At the time, they had only eight employees and big plans for the future. Today, it is indisputable that those plans have been realized. Google is a giant among giants, and will undoubtedly continue to shape the way that people interact with technology for years to come. The ubiquity of the search engine is a testament to how powerful their core ideas were, with PageRank still sitting in the middle of the Google search algorithms today.
Page and Brin didn’t know that they were going to redefine how the world looks for information when they incorporated Google inside a tiny garage, but this is not an isolated story; great companies and inventions seem to naturally find their starts in garages. Next Monday, Garage Greatness will look at the origins of Maglite, the American-made flashlight that revolutionized how consumers saw flashlights. The rugged and high-quality flashlight has always been a favorite of homeowners and handymen, in addition to policemen and firefighters, but Tony Maglica started machining his early models in a Los Angeles Garage only to satisfy his own rigorous standards of quality. Explore how Mr. Maglica created a world-leader in precision machining next week, on Garage Greatness!
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