Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin sat down for an interview posted online Thursday with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to discuss the future of the company. Google has been diversifying into everything from self-driving cars to balloons that broadcast the Internet, so how does it stay focused?
During the interview, Khosla asked how Google could keep its "focus" when delving into so many different projects. Page responded with an argument he had with the late Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) founder Steve Jobs, over whether Google was doing “too much.”
“I would always have this debate, actually, with Steve Jobs,” Page said. “He’d be like, ‘You guys are doing too much stuff.’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’ And he was right, I mean, in some sense.”
But a company of Google’s size would be “stupid” to limit itself, Page said. Indeed, after focusing on its main Web search for the first 10 years of its existence, the tech titan released its Android operating system in 2008 and hasn't stopped diversifying since, with plans to build up its presence in everything from car infotainment centers to TV sets.
“My thinking about this has changed quite a bit over the years,” Page said. “I always thought it was kind of stupid if you have this big company, and you can only do, like, five things.” Self-imposed limits could also have a detrimental effect on a company's workforce, Page said. Having tens of thousands of employees all working on the same project was “not very good” or “exciting for them.”
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While big companies often put thousands of employees on one project, with separate teams working on small pieces in a step-by-step model, Page said that his ideal was a more “linear fashion,” where employees are allocated according to the size of the project. But Page stopped short of agreeing that “doing too much” was a problem for Google. Working on a number of “highly interrelated” products could actually mean a greater burden for a CEO, who then has preside over their eventual implementation.
“Companies usually try to do very adjacent things. They figure, ‘Oh, we’re going to know exactly how to do something, you know, that's very similar to what we already do.’ And the problem with that,” Page said, "is that it causes a management burden. Whereas if you did something a little less related, you can actually handle more things.”
Which is why Page runs Google’s Internet side, whereas Brin presides over the company’s more physical ventures at Google X Labs. They don’t have to communicate regularly about their progress and problems, since they divide the work.
“The great thing about self-driving cars is that Sergey can do that, and I don’t have to talk to him,” Page joked. “I don’t really have to talk to him about that, because it almost has zero impact on the rest of our business.”
Brin jumped in to explain that Google X Labs focuses on projects made up of “atoms, not bits,” like cars, balloons and wind power. “All of these things are very physical, and that’s by design,” Brin said. “In fact, when I focused on Google X, I shifted out a few projects that seemed closer to Google’s core.”
Page said that for small companies, focus is important. For startups, doing one thing very well is necessary before investors will give them permission to work on tangential areas, but for “big companies like Google, it’s different.”
Watch the entire interview below, which ranges from the future of Google to how artificial intelligence will change the global job market.