I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

by Douglas Edwards


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"An exciting story [that] shines light on the inner workings of the fledgling Google and on the personalities of its founders."--The Daily Beast

In its infancy, Google embraced extremes--endless days fueled by unlimited free food, nonstop data-based debates, and blood-letting hockey games. The company's fresh-from-grad-school leaders sought more than old notions of success; they wanted to make all the information in the world available to everyone--instantly. Google, like the Big Bang, was a singularity--an explosive release of raw intelligence and unequaled creative energy--and while others have described what Google accomplished, no one has explained how it felt to be a part of it. Until now.

As employee number 59, Douglas Edwards was a key part of Google's earliest days. Experience the unnerving mix of camaraderie and competition as Larry Page and Sergey Brin create a famously nonhierarchical structure, fight against conventional wisdom, and race to implement myriad new features while coolly burying broken ideas. I'm Feeling Lucky captures the self-created culture of the world's most transformative corporation and offers unique access to the emotions experienced by those who virtually overnight built one of the world's best-known brands.

"Edwards does an excellent job of telling his story with a fun, outsider-insider voice. The writing is sharp."--Boston Globe

"An affectionate, compulsively readable recounting of the early years of Google."--Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547737393
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/01/2012
Pages: 434
Sales rank: 808,582
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

DOUG EDWARDS was the director of consumer marketing and brand management at Google from 1999 to 2005 and was responsible for setting the tone and direction of the company’s communications with its users. Prior to joining Google, Edwards was the online brand group manager for the San Jose Mercury News, where he conceived and led development of the technology news site siliconvalley.com.

Read an Excerpt


From Whence I Came

I was not a young Turk. I was not a hotshot bred-for-success type who blew through business school, swung a gig at a consulting firm, and then leapt into a great management slot at a groundbreaking new tech company just as it went platinum. I had no desire to be that guy. You can tell, because I majored in English. I drifted through college without set plans for life after graduation and ended up in a series of short-term marketing roles until 1992, when I landed at the San Jose Mercury News (a.k.a. "The Merc"). I was thirty-four years old and ready to settle into something with a tinge of permanence.

"There's another baby on the way," my wife, Kristen, reminded me, "and he's going to need new shoes."

Seven years went by. It was 1999 and I was now forty-one. I had a steady paycheck and a third child, and I was set for life in a big, rock-solid company with a 150-year history and a handle on the future — but instead of hunkering down, I quit my job to join a startup with no revenue and no discernible business plan. What was I thinking? Why would I volunteer to take a twenty-five-thousand-dollar salary cut and a less impressive title to be with a bunch of college kids playacting at creating a company?

It seemed logical at the time, but only because logic at the time was warped and twisted by the expanding dot-com bubble.

Managing marketing and then online product development at the Merc ("The Newspaper of Silicon Valley") had given me a great view of the Internet explosion taking place outside our walls. Jerry Ceppos, the paper's executive editor, called it "the equivalent of the Italian Renaissance, happening right in our backyard." The region was rife with emerging e-Medicis and dot-Botticellis crafting new businesses from nothing but bits and big ideas. The Merc wanted desperately to join them and so launched a raft of new-media initiatives, including a tech news hub called Siliconvalley.com for which I'd written the business plan. I envisioned SV.com as a vibrant community center for anyone whose life was touched by technology. Yet, despite our air of optimism, I couldn't help but notice a spreading stench of tar pit–scented doom.

Over its century and a half, the Mercury News had layered on coat after coat of process, until whatever entrepreneurial spirit remained was obscured beneath the corporate craquelure of org charts and policy manuals. We saw newspapers as the first draft of history, and no one wanted to make missteps transitioning the historical record to the next mass medium. Every loose end and every blurry projection needed to be carefully wrapped up before our new product could be thrown onto the public's porch.

We did manage to launch a Siliconvalley.com store stocked with logo items from well-known tech companies like Dell, HP, and NetObjects. Our supplier asked if, as a favor to him, we'd also include a smaller firm from his client list.

"This Google," I asked him, "what do they make?"

"Internet search," he said.

"Search? Ha. Good luck with that," I thought, and immediately lost interest in them.

A Fire in the Valley

I grew tired of the struggles that went with dragging an old business into a new age. I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to get closer to the real Internet; close enough to grab the cable and feel the hum of millions of people communicating within the global hive. Worst-case scenario? I'd get in, build my high-tech chops, and get out. Perhaps I'd return like the prodigal son. It was 1999. It wasn't as if mainstream media were going away anytime soon.

I scoured the tech press for leads on the next Yahoo, a business I had shortsightedly predicted would be a flash in the pan. Yahoo had shown a willingness to hire talent from the Mercury News, but by the time I grudgingly decided they might be on to something, they no longer needed my validation or my résumé. Even with former colleagues interceding, it took me weeks to get the attention of a Yahoo recruiter.

"Are we more like Macy's or Wal-Mart as a brand?" the hiring manager asked me over the phone. "What Yahoo services do you use? How could they be improved?"

He liked my answers well enough to call me in for face-to-face questioning that very afternoon. A large Plexiglas cow stood patiently in Yahoo's lobby, surrounded by big overstuffed purple furniture that looked as if it had been appropriated from Pee-wee's Playhouse. A t-shirted drone showed me to a windowless white room, where for the next three hours a series of marketing staffers jabbed at me with pointed questions. I kept my energy high and my answers short as my interrogators flitted from topic to topic and then flew off to more important meetings.

When it was over, Yahoo offered me a low-level position, a salary I couldn't live on, and the prestige of a purple badge. I politely declined, shook hands, and left. I was way too late for Yahoo.

I didn't give up.

I had been swept away by tales of a new legion of dot-com heroes and had happily contributed fables to the frenzy. Our ads for the Mercury News online service asked, "Why wait 'til you're twenty-seven to make your first million?" and urged executives to "Find out when your mailroom guy is going public." I embraced the hype. At night I murmured into my pillow that we needed to "win mind share" and "go big fast."

The dot-com energy in the Valley vibrated at a frequency visible everywhere, overwhelming and electrifying and so intoxicating that whole cities became drunk on it. High-tech gold was all around us; you could feel the weight of it displacing rationality. Houses sold overnight for a million dollars above the asking price, paid in cash. Lamborghinis and Ferraris zipped past the Beamers and Benzes cruising Highway 280. Elvis Costello jammed at company parties and private fireworks displays lit up backyard barbeques.

I invested my minimal savings in companies I read about in Red Herring and the Industry Standard: JDS Uniphase and NetGravity and DoubleClick. I watched their value soar and became convinced I was a keen analyst of the burgeoning Internet economy. Relatives turned to me for stock tips and I began pontificating on the future of XML and push media as if I actually knew what I was talking about.

The millennium was ending and maybe civilization too. Y2K was almost here. A software bug would cause computer clocks to fail, and planes would fall from the sky. The power grid would shut down and cities go dark. Better day trade while the lights were still on.

The next big thing was out there, lurking in a renovated warehouse in San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch or hanging around in a rented one-room office, sharing utilities and a blackened Mr. Coffee machine with other aspiring successes. Brilliant schemes were cooking up like idea popcorn. Most died quietly; half-baked, warmed over, unpalatable. But occasionally one would explode into a wild success and the Valley would come running, throwing business cards and venture capital at the new marvel of fluff and air.

I talked to anyone who had a business plan with "Internet" scrawled in crayon across the top and enough backing to cover my salary for a month, from iTix and Bits2Go to AllBusiness and NexTag. I talked with Sinanet though every word on their site was in Chinese. I begged for an interview at InsWeb, a company offering insurance over the Internet, because somehow it didn't sound lame to say "I sell auto coverage" if you could add the magic word "online."

I lowered my standards and flung out another dozen résumés in hopes of locating a landing place, even aiming one at the little startup that had been part of our Siliconvalley.com store — what was it called? Oh yeah, "Google." It was likely a waste of buff-colored stationery and a thirty-three-cent stamp, because I was looking for the next big thing and I was pretty sure they weren't it. Search was so 1997.

Still, since I'd sent Google a résumé, I figured I should give their product a try. I went to their site and entered the name of a girl I'd known in high school but hadn't heard from in twenty years. Even AltaVista, which I viewed as the best search engine available, had never found a trace of her, so my expectations were low when I hit the enter key.

And there she was.

Google listed her current contact information as the first result. I tried more searches. They all worked better than they had on AltaVista. I no longer begrudged Google the stationery and the stamp.

Other signs pointed to something out of the ordinary. Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins were the Montagues and Capulets of Silicon Valley venture capital (VC) firms. They had enviable success records individually — Yahoo, Amazon, Apple, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems — and an intense rivalry that usually kept them from investing in the same startup. Yet together they had poured twenty-five million dollars into the fledgling company. What did Google possess that induced them to set aside their ancient grudge?

I looked for clues in the bios of Google's founders and management team. An abundance of Stanford grads and advanced degrees, which wasn't uncommon. But members of Stanford's faculty had even invested their own money in the new venture — that was different. I didn't know diddly about search technology, but people who presumably did seemed to think Google had potential. When you're burning with startup fever, it doesn't take much to feed the visions playing in your head. So when Google agreed to interview me, I printed out some fresh résumés, tossed my briefcase in our old Taurus, and headed north to Mountain View to check out the new frontier.

A First Encounter

How does one interview for a job at a startup in Silicon Valley? I was well practiced by the time I pulled into Google's parking lot. It was another warm Bay Area November, and I wasn't surprised to see one section of the asphalt roped off with police tape and a roller hockey net at each end. The beige building and a herd of others just like it grazed in verdant fields interspersed with tasteful fountains and ambiguous sculptures. When I entered the first floor of the building, there were arrows printed on copy paper pointing the way to the stairs, which I followed to the second floor.

The curly-haired young receptionist smiled at me. I looked at her and recalled tales of secretaries walking off with millions from early stock options. Would she be one of them? She guided me to a small room decorated with a nine-foot whiteboard, a standard-issue circular table, and several inflated rubber balls large enough to sit on. Nothing here suggested rivers of currency dammed and waiting to burst forth in a torrential IPO. It was just a conference room in a generic office building on a lazy late-autumn afternoon. As I sat idly patting a three-foot ball, a number of folks on the business side of the company straggled in and introduced themselves.

Susan Wojcicki, who owned the garage that had been Google's first headquarters, had left Intel to join her tenants' company as a marketing manager. Cindy McCaffrey had come over from Apple to be director of public relations. Together they walked me through a general introduction to Google with the sort of positive energy that bubbled over everywhere in those days. At least they had facts on which to build their optimism. Time had written up the site, traffic was growing by leaps and bounds, and Google had ample financial backing, though no immediate source of revenue. That would come in time, they assured me. They asked about my experience, especially with viral marketing, which Cindy indicated was important to the company's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

"Oh sure, I've done viral," I assured them, whipping through my bulging portfolio to show them the "Nerd for the New Millennium" contest I'd worked up with the Tech Museum and the oval SV.comstickers the Merc had sent local venture capitalists to stick on their Porsches. It wasn't exactly "viral," but it was what I had.

They were equally orthogonal in answering my questions about Google's business model and corporate structure.

"Right now we license search technology," Susan informed me, "but we've got some other things in the works."

"We have a very flat organization," Cindy said. "We don't have very clearly defined roles, and everyone does everything."

I smiled and nodded to indicate that this made perfect sense to me, thanked them, and said it sounded as if Google had a marvelous future.

As the Taurus crept home along Highway 101, I turned up the radio and sang along. I had the impression that Cindy and Susan were interested and would call me back. That was a relief after so many months of throwing in my line and netting nothing. I felt my luck was turning. I had been hungry for a long time and now scented an opportunity I could really sink my teeth into.

A Hard Question Rewarded with Raw Fish

Two days later, Leesa, the Google recruiter, called me back. Could I meet with more members of the staff? I could and I did. Scott Epstein, the interim VP of sales, wished me good luck. He was phasing out after proposing Google spend millions on an ad campaign — an idea that didn't sit well with Larry and Sergey. Urs Hölzle, Google's head of engineering, greeted me warmly and advised me not to lie on the floor and act like a chew toy near Yoshka, the wooly mammoth noisily slurping water from a bowl behind him. Omid Kordestani, the newly hired head of sales and business development, forgave me for trash-talking AOL even though he had worked there.

Afterward, Cindy took me back to the conference room to wait for Sergey. I wasn't nervous. Sergey was about the age of my favorite t-shirt and a Russian by birth. I had lived in Russia and spoke some Russian. I had Russian friends and embraced their dark humor, their cynical views, and their sarcastic ways. I felt unusually confident that the interview would go well. Perhaps Sergey was seeking a mentor? I pictured us toasting our success and each other's health with fine Siberian vodka.

Sergey showed up wearing roller hockey gear: gym shorts, a t-shirt, and inline skates. He had obviously been playing hard. I had known better than to wear a tie, but he took office casual to a new level. I sat back and resumed toying with one of the rubber balls, feeling so relaxed that I accidentally removed its stopper, causing half the air inside to rush out with a hiss. Sergey found that amusing. He pored over my résumé and began peppering me with questions. "What promotion did you do that was most effective?" "What metrics did you use to measure it?" "What types of viral marketing did you do?" "What was your GPA?" I was doing fine until that last one. I just looked at him.

"My GPA?" I hadn't thought about my grade point average since the day they handed me my diploma in 1981. And given that my alma mater had allowed me to take as many classes as I wanted with a pass/fail option, I'm not sure I ever knew what my GPA was. I laughed, thinking Sergey was joking, but even after the company offered me a job, the HR people kept pestering me for a college transcript and my SAT scores. It was a classic Google moment. Your SAT score was the measure of your intellectual capability; your GPA represented your ability to execute on that potential. The value of your future contribution to Google could be plotted using just those two data points.

Sergey's desire to reduce every decision to an equation would cause me a fair amount of frustration in the years to come. While it forced me to discipline my thinking, it also went against my deeply held conviction that some things are not expressible with an algorithm, no matter how carefully derived.

"How much do you think a company our size should spend on marketing?" Sergey asked me. From his earlier questions, it was easy to guess what he wanted to hear.

"I don't think at this stage you should spend much at all," I said. "You can get good exposure with viral marketing and small budgets. Shooting gerbils out of a cannon in a Superbowl spot is not a very effective strategy for building a brand."

Sergey nodded his agreement, then asked about my six months in Siberia, casually switching to Russian to see how much I had picked up. Finally, he leaned forward and fired his best shot, what he came to call "the hard question." "I'm going to give you five minutes," he announced. "When I come back, I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don't already know." He then rolled out of the room toward the snack area.


Excerpted from "I'm Feeling Lucky"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Douglas Edwards.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction ix

1. From Whence I Came 3
2. In the Beginning 15
3. A World without Form 31
4. Marketing without “Marketing” 42
5. Giving Process Its Due 51
6. Real Integrity and Thoughts about God 60
7. A Healthy Appetite for Insecurity 76
8. Cheap Bastards Who Can’t Take a Joke 93
9. Wang Dang Doodle — Good
Enough Is Good Enough 121
10. Rugged Individualists with a Taste for Porn 136

11. Lift off 155
12. Fun and Names 183
13. Not the Usual Yada Yada 193
14. Googlebombs and Mail Fail 200
15. Managers in Hot Tubs and in Hot Water 214
16. Is New York Alive? 228

17. Two Speakers, One Voice 245
18. Mail Enhancement and Speaking in Tongues 255
19. The Sell of a New Machine 265
20. Where We Stand 286
21. Aloha AOL 295
22. We Need Another Billion-Dollar Idea 312
23. Froogle and Friction 326
24. Don’t Let Marketing Drive 335
25. Mistakes Were Made 356

26. S-1 for the Money 377

Timeline of Google Events 391
Glossary 394
Acknowledgments 399
Index 402

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I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
SheilaCE More than 1 year ago
It's entertaining, insightful and educational all while moving you through the timeline of Google's success in the early years. What I like about this book that differs from others I've read is that it is a more personal account of those days and those early successes. People who loved the movie The Social Network will love this book. It has that peeping-Tom feel to it into Google's success window while giving you some accounts of people and progress on a personal level. For those of us more geeky or techie the book does have nuggets of insight that are useful and worthwhile as well as very interesting. Like, Google engineers would often complete things only to 80% and had a great reason for doing things that way. Or perhaps you'd be interested to know that the original name of Google was Back Rub? Glad they changed the name! I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the history of successful business or wants an insider's look through the window of Google.
LaFortuna More than 1 year ago
Before Google was an empire or a verb, it was just another Silicon Valley startup. Doug Edwards offers readers an inside look at the early years of the company that changed the world. It's a funny and revealing look at high-tech history by a guy who was there.
Alster More than 1 year ago
Written with candor and humor, I'm Feeling Lucky chronicles the sure-footed missteps and unwise rightness that marked the early days of Google, a contrarian upstart whose wild success seems inevitable only in restrospect. Highly recommended.
amimariscal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was fun to listen to and interesting due to the personal stories that the author Douglas shares as well as the insights about Google. I definitely feel that Douglas goes deeper into the character of Google (ie- values and culture) with this book than the other book that I read right before this one, "the Google Story". I also took more notes while listening to "I'm Feeling Lucky" such as some of Google's main tenants: think big, stay flexible, embrace data and be efficient and economical in the extreme.
DWWilkin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like books on the tech industry, with a historical perspective of how a company is formed and really starts. I have read a great deal, of these and so snagged a copy of Douglas Edwards book through Amazon Vine's program when it was offered. Where do I start in this review is also probably a question Mr. Edwards should have thought about himself when he started to write this book. Do be fair, he starts with his hiring at Google and his motivation, and even has a timeline in the back of the book. But as we read throughout the story, he tells us of a Google initiative that spans a great deal of time, and then in a later chapter, we are reading of a new one that starts earlier than the one I just cited. The narrative jumps around.Now this is not a business biography, but a personal account of the journey. However who is Douglas Edwards? Is he so important in the Google phenomena that we want to read his biography? No, he is not and he knows that so we learn a great deal about Google, but not enough to whet our appetites. And with a personal journey, we have a lot veiled innuendo, but we don't know how much Mr. Edwards was paid for his contributions, in perspective to the rest of humanity (we know how much Brin, Page and Schmidt make since it is public record, so what size of retirement money does Mr. Edwards have? A nagging unresolved question I am left with.)So I am left with wanting to know more. More about the early days and how things were done. I am left with a narrative with a great amount of hyperbole. Mr. Edwards cites that he was the only early Googler who had a degree in English. Good for him. It does not mean that I want him to prove how smart he is by using allegory in new and unique ways to show how I will not understand how Google made a programming choice or how Larry and Sergey were autocratic in reversing a community decision at the last moment again and how Mr. Edwards was blindsided because he was 15 years older than the founders.That creativity of Mr. Edwards in the end adds 100 pages to the tale. He should have taken a note from the programmers he used to work with. He should have read some business histories before delving into writing this. Mr. Edwards should have taken the time to decide if he wanted to do the story justice by taking himself out of this and see what he should have written as a plain autobiography, or a focus on Google. For as an autobiography we have a dozen paragraphs amidst 390 pages of material that deal with any part of his life outside of Google. Nearly five years of life would have more than a dozen paragraphs. So in the end, not an autobiography of employee number 59, not a business history for there was not enough subjective meat there, nor was it written with more subjectivity and less prose. For the completest who reads every tech book, this will add to that, for the person who wants to read all about Google, this book will add to your library. But if you want to learn more about the early days of Google, this book is too narrow at times, and much too broad the rest of the time.
Katya0133 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"I'm Feeling Lucky" is not a history of Google. If you want a detailed, chronological account of the company from its infancy, look elsewhere.However, if you're looking for an interesting memoir of the years when Google went from having about 50 employees to the time of their initial public offering (5 years later), this is a good book to pick up.
Katie_H on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating! In the tech world, Google has always had an air of mystery about it, and this insider's view of the company in the early years reveals some of the secrets. It isn't a strategic business manual, but rather a memoir of the happenings of the first few years of the Silicon Valley powerhouse. The author was Google's first director of marketing, so his perspective is interesting, since so much of the company is focused around engineering and product development and NOT marketing. A primary message that I took away - Google is not a good company to work for if you have a life, because being a "Googler" means that Google IS your life. I also found the dynamic between Marissa Mayer and Doug so awkward and annoying to read about - poor Doug and good for him for dealing with her for as long as he did. Sure she might be a genius, but holy ego trip! When I got to the end of the book, I found myself really wanting to know how much money the author made off his stock, but alas, he doesn't share the number, only hints at it being significant.
Nancy_Lin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed how the book is written from a non-technical view. It offered a very blunt insight about the crazy early days of google. Very well written too, easy and funny read.
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SlimJimMS More than 1 year ago
It’s possible that if one was too see a book about Google, they may not read it due to the fact they picture the book would be bland and full of complex technical lingo. While it does include plenty of technicality, Edwards does a phenomenal job of putting technical details in laymen’s terms and explaining why a certain outcome was wanted or why the program or code was necessary. He also interjects humor here and there, while still keeping a serious importance to why he took the risk when joining the company. This book is simply a must read. His job at the company is in Marketing and Brand Management, both of which are easily shunned by the founders. Right off the bat, he recognizes Google is not a regular business. Google is in fact quite unorthodox compared to what he is used to at an old media news company. The company offers to employees free meals, roller hockey, massages, and video game rooms just to name a few oddities. The book details him getting used to the new “Googler’s” lifestyle. I really enjoyed how Edwards was honest throughout the book, but usually in a funny way. An example is when he originally was worried that the founders were big spenders, but he soon found out they were very thrifty and wanted to get everything done on the bare minimum budget. I also really like how it shows the background of what so many of us take as granted for internet searching. Google was the first search provider to use technology to look at how many times a page is linked on the internet rather than just looking at how many times the typed keyword shows up on a page. Now, basically all search engines do this following Google. Edwards also mentions ideas he came up with throughout the book, and amazingly some are still there today on Google! He was not a major player in the Google Company, but his insight is still extremely interesting. If you enjoyed the movie The Social Network, this book is for you. It gives you a window into the most exciting and chaotic times starting at essentially the birth of Google and so on. This book is a must read, simple enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This sums of google perfectly
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Elizabeth Gregg More than 1 year ago
This book showed great insight into google's younger years with a bit of humor as well. However I felt some discussions dragged on making some chapters more repetitive than others. Those looking for a chronological account may be a bit perplexed at times, but there is a timeline in the back of the book to assist when confusiin arrises.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting insider view from one of the proven greatest companies of our time. The first half of the memoir is intriguing and you can't seem to but this thing down, the second half on the other hand, is super technical for a non-technical reader. As it got further along, it got tougher to read and comprehend but all in all, I learned quite a bit and became quite jealous of a Google share purchased at $0.20!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago