Saturday, July 19 2008, 14:13
Why is Google a startup killer?
A couple of days ago, Nik Cubrilovic published a very interesting post on TechCrunchIT, trying to find the reasons why startup integration in Google is often a failure. The list he provides is indeed quite impressive, and the company itself often stresses that its best products were developed as internal 20% projects, not by acquired startups.
According to him, the main issue is the technology gap between Google and the acquired startup. Usually the startups use quite standard tools with well-known languages (C++, Java and Python among them), while Big G uses its own set of proprietary technologies, especially for distributed computing. Then, when joining Google, the startup developers have to adapt the existing architectures to the new one, which they don't know since it is proprietary. A lot of headaches in perspective...
Let me explicit my point of view. For "normal" people, the recruitment process at Google is very specific. Not only coding and problem solving aptitudes are judged, but also the personality of the hire, in particular whether he would fit in the unique Google mindset. Actually, this is probably the main criterion to pick the right hire today, since Google must have way too many good developers knocking at its door than it will ever need. Yet, people coming from startups are integrated in the company "as is", and since they don't go through this personality-sorting process, they might be bad fits for a career in Google.
Moreover, beyond the fact that these people might be good Googlers or not, the shock for them is probably much more important than for new hires fresh from university. Indeed, Google is organized like a university campus, so that graduates can feel literally at home when they join the company. Nothing that could be more different from a startup, where many employees had to do some harsh sacrifices (in terms of salary, work/life balance, etc).
Last but not least, by joining a big company, startup employees enter the arena of company politics. When the startup was independent and relatively small, everybody could focus on the success of company products. Now, they have to go through the hierarchy overhead (although the hierarchy has the reputation to be quite flat at Google), and even to fight to get resources.
The difference in company culture when a big established company acquires a startup is something quite usual, which happens also to other giants like Microsoft, IBM or Cisco. However, this difference seems to be even more important with a company like Google that valuates so highly its own culture. Maybe this difficulty to integrate properly startups with different cultures is the big drawback of a strategy that works so well to attract the top graduates in computer science. But who cares, as long as the 20% projects emerge...