Maybe “school project” sounds too trivial considering the two were Stanford PhD students working on what started as Page’s dissertation topic. Here’s a brief rundown on the history of Google as we know it.
Page set out to choose a dissertation theme and the thought of exploring the mathematical properties of the web seemed interesting. He was encouraged to pursue the topic by his supervisor Terry Winograd. Looking back, Page recalls that as, “the best advice I ever got.”
Page focused on the idea that the number and nature of backlinks said a lot about a webpage similar to the role of citations in academic publishing. It was 1996 when he set off on his research project and nicknamed it, “BackRub.”
It wasn’t long before Brin joined him. They’d met a year earlier when Page was part of a campus orientation group led by Brin. In June 1996, Page’s web crawler started exploring the web. The PageRank algorithm emerged to make sense of all the backlink data by converting it to a measure of each page’s importance. It was around this time the two realized that using PageRank, they could create a search engine to outperform all existing ones which simply ranked pages based on the number of times the search term appeared. As the two were working on the thesis, they were simultaneously laying the groundwork for what we now know as Google. The first version was released in August 1996 on Stanford’s site with the domains “google.standford.edu” and “z.standford.edu”. It ended up exhausting half of the school’s entire network bandwidth.
The domain “google.com” was officially registered on Septemeber 4, 1998 in Susan Wojcicki’s garage (she’s the present CEO of YouTube). The name “Google” like many startup names is a misspelling. The original word was “googol” which referred to the number followed by a hundred zeros. The founders thought it made sense given their plan to build a huge search engine. By the end of 1998, Google had indexed about 60M pages yet still had “BETA” marked on its homepage. The dot-com bubble was picking up around this time and investors were excited. Some called the company, “the future of the Web”. Google got its first investment in August of 1998. Andy Bechtolsheim, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, gave the founders $100K.
It was early 1999 when the pair decided they would try and sell the company. They approached George Bell, the CEO of Excite and offered to sell Google for $1M. Bell rejected their offer. Investor Vinod Khosla talked the founders down to $750K, but Bell rejected that still. A few months after, Google raised $25M from firms including Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia. Right after the round closed, Sequoia suggested that Google needed an outside CEO. Eric Schmidt was ultimately hired in March of 2001.
The search engine was loved by a growing number of internet users who appreciated the simple design. Google began selling text ads to avoid clutter and maintain fast loading speeds. As the company began growing, it declared its guiding principle, “Don’t be evil.” This phrase was even included in the company’s S-1 prior to IPO. The IPO raised $1.67B and gave Google a market cap of $23B. Fast forward to 2019, the original thesis project grew to an entire conglomerate valued at almost $742B.