I was sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Palo Alto, California waiting impatiently for my car to arrive to take me into GOOGLE HQ – a few minutes down the road in Mountain View.
It was the week leading into Easter 2015 and I ‘d been in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for 3 days, visited some of the world’s leading technology companies ,been shown around the super impressive campus @ Stanford University by Australia’s equally impressive 400 metre Olympic finalist and Stanford junior class president , Steve Solomon . I had also enjoyed a daily diet of delicious Californian Mexican food, so my trip had already been incredibly exciting and insightful for a business insurance broker from Melbourne, Australia.
Touring the sprawling Mexican inspired Stanford Campus
My fast man, Steven Solomon, in front of the NCAA Champions memorial @ Stanford bearing his name
My main purpose, however, for being in “the Valley ” was to visit GOOGLE and I was champing at the bit to get there. One of the reason’s I had chosen the somewhat quirky hotel I was staying at , Dinah’s Garden Hotel- as well as the excellent GOOGLE reviews it had received – was its close proximity to GOOGLE and because they offered a free shuttle service to nearby businesses. So the lady on reception must have quickly read my facial expression when she said that the regular driver wasn’t available and finished her sentence by telling me that ” one of our other guys would drive me now “.
The beautiful leafy streets of Palo Alto. Home to many a Silicon Valley tech genius
So I got a big friendly, well-spoken, ex college basketballer to drop me off at GOOGLE. The cool thing was my driver had grown up in Mountain View . He kidded that GOOGLE “owed him some money as everything in the Valley was so expensive now and he could no longer afford to live in Mountain View.” He also wanted to know “exactly WHERE at GOOGLE HQ” I wanted to go … as GOOGLE is a very big place. A lot of his former college friends were now working at GOOGLE, and he actually had done some work onsite @ GOOGLE for a contractor himself as part of GOOGLE’s acclaimed “book scanning” project so he knew the campus pretty well.
According to my friendly driver his book scanning job was probably his “least favourite job ever, as it was so boring” and there was no yummy GOOGLE “free lunch ” as he was working for a contractor. The irony in my drivers comments is that part of the challenge in recruiting top people in business insurance broking is that may be perceived as “boring ” . It is interesting to hear that even “changing the world “- in this case by capturing every book ever written online- can also be very boring for the implementers.
My smiling drivers comments also reconfirmed to me what I had quickly learnt about the Valley.. that almost everyone that works in and around “tech” in the Valley seems obsessed about that FREE LUNCH.
Earlier in the week my other tech company hosts had all organised for me to arrive at approximately 11.30am. Initially I thought this was so we could have a bit of a tour and chat …then grab a bite at about 1ish… but no.. We needed to get to lunch BEFORE noon to beat the rush… and they were right… by just after noon grown men and women were scrambling for pizza, salads and sushi like schoolkids…but the scramble seemed strangely more intense than at school – perhaps because the food tastes better and is, of course, FREE?
I was dropped off at GOOGLE at what appeared to be the right spot. The sun, appropriately , was shining brightly as it had been for all of my week in the Valley, and has been ,figuratively, upon GOOGLE since it was born in 1998. The building I was going to,NO 43 ( yes – there are more than 43 buildings at GOOGLE – a lot more) is clearly signposted . Out the front of the building are some very colourful GOOGLE bikes. With so many buildings spread out throughout a BIG campus the bikes are a very practical way of getting around –from one building to another- sometimes a kilometre or two away.
GOOGLE Building NO.43 wears its number almost as proudly as the great Anthony Koutoufides did in his playing days @ Carlton F.C. @ AFL footy
Not surprisingly the initial feel of the GOOGLE campus – and the popularity of the bikes – reminded me very much of the Stanford campus where bikes (not as colourful) are the preferred mode of transport around their beautiful sprawling campus. Not surprising, that is, given the founders of GOOGLE are Stanford alumni.
The colourful bikes are a feature in front of most GOOGLE buildings
I am @ GOOGLE on invitation from a friend of mine . An ex German banker who now sells GOOGLE ads to German banks. The German banks buy a few ads in what is GOOGLE’S 3rd biggest market – behind only the USA and UK. My Frankfurt based mate has been involved in a GOOGLE summit with some key banks– and has been very kind to find some time for his not so big spending, but very inquisitive, Aussie insurance broker mate.
SMART Business Insurance broker founder and Managing Director outside the Googleplex.
We exchange hugs and comments on how good we both look since we both saw one another in the flesh a few years ago in Melbourne. True in the case of the host , very kind on his behalf. However we are both very well dressed, and much older, when compared to most of the googlers on campus.
Prior to leaving for the USA I had asked my host if I should wear a suit when I visited GOOGLE. The laughter was almost audible over the internet. Now I could see why. The GOOGLE campus is dominated with what they call in the Valley – engineers. In Australia, in the work force we would normally call them i.t guys or software developers .
The hi tech engineers @ GOOGLE have plenty of low and moderate tech, albeit very colourful, amenities to eat and play with – in between working; GOOGLEplex style. Firstly there are the GOOGLE coloured tables and chairs outside the famous “Charlies ” café – where the founders will take questions from all staff every “Friday”. Interestingly the staff “questions” session is actually held Thursday American time – so that GOOGLE employees in countries throughout the rest of the world including in Europe and Australian can listen in – as Friday in America is Saturdays in most parts of the world.
This mindset of the GOOGLE founders and senior management is a powerful indicator of the company’s success – the founders are truly open to their employees feedback and they are open to the world. How many USA companies , or Australian companies for that matter, would reframe their timetable to suit employees in countries other than where head office is based?
Not a bad picture from my iphone. Another magnificent Californian day lights up the colourful tables, chairs and umbrellas outside Charlies café. Does the Californian sun shine a bit brighter over GOOGLE?
Then there is the volley ball court with local California sand, the swimming pool with currents ,comfy chairs scattered throughout the campus, gyms, the colourful bikes, mini golf, tennis courts , baseball net, multiple cafes and coffee labs. While the mini golf and tennis courts lay idle while I was there, the gym was getting as bigger workout than most gyms get AFTER work back in Australia.
Mini golf, tennis , baseball net, plus plenty of comfy seats in the sun are on campus for googlers to unwind.
Work GOOGLE style , at least on the surface at GOOGLE HQ, is not like work as most of us know it. Customers and operational issues are not the focus here . Ideas .. Testing.. Developing .. are .. So perhaps whether the work is done at 11am or 11pm doesn’t really matter …and given the nature of the work..Thinking ..Experimenting… it is best done in a creative environment?. There is a lot of chatting, smiling, laptops on laps – feet on poofs. There is not a lot of rushing around . There does not appear to be anyone TALKING on the phone.
Take a seat. GOOGLE style.
While the GOOGLE campus and amenities are magnificent the work areas are very similar to standard work areas back home. Pods of people with reasonably small individual workspaces, each googler has one or two regular size monitors each – I did not see any large expansive offices. The workspaces have a distinct “office normalness” about them. NASA or even CSI Miami technology , does not appear to be evident.
The other interesting thing is that the GOOGLE campus in no longer a true campus . The campus now sprawls throughout Mountain View. To ride a bike a visitor needs a public liability release. As the bikes are very low tech and the terrain manicured and flat this initially this may seem excessive.(Except if you are insurance broker when there is never too much insurance). Its only when you need to cross busy public roads to get from one GOOGLE building to the next that you see why the waiver is required. This campus IS A SUBURB.
In addition to the yummy free food there is free electricity and preferred parking for environmentally friendly googlers who drive their electric vehicles to work. The smooth looking Tesla makes driving an electric vehicle a SMART choice for googlers.
So why would an Australian insurance broker want to visit Mountain View?
As my business, SMART Business Insurance , is predominantly an online business insurance brokerage a lot of our focus, energy and resources go into trying to rank high on GOOGLE organically and to get the most of our GOOGLE marketing spend. So given the chance, why not go straight to the source?
Questions I was seeking answers for straight from the “horse’s mouth” included:
- What is currently trending with search? That is, what do we need to focus on next to stay ahead of the competition ?
- As GOOGLE gets smarter what does this mean for how search will look like two and five years from now?
- What are best practices in financial services online globally ?
- How will social platforms impact on search?
- How will growth in mobile usage impact on search in financial services?
- What are GOOGLE’S plans for the insurance comparison market they have recently entered in the USA? Coming to Australia soon?
Which direction should we head in MR.GOOGLE?
Many of my questions were answered anecdotally in conversation throughout my personal tour of the Googleplex and at dinner at a very groovy Palo Alto Mexican restaurant that night with my ex-banking friend. However a formal overview, with a specific insurance focus, was given to me by the GOOGLE Head of Insurance , at the GOOGLE San Francisco “sales” office the next morning.
The San Francisco GOOGLE office holds about 1500 Googlers. It’s a very funky office with amazing views to Golden Gate bridge, an acoustic room, google billiard table , and very stylish café. While the dress remains casual..it’s very casual chic here . These San Fran googlers are also very good looking, and many are rushing about, and on phones. They are in SALES. In the 80′s a lot of these people would have worked in advertising or PR – they are the cool beautiful people.. Today they work at GOOGLE. I wonder… would have they hung around with their colleagues at the Googleplex at High School?
The answers I got to my questions present an exciting future. While perhaps I was a little scared of GOOGLE going in, now I’m an excited and invigorated. GOOGLE and technology present many opportunities for relatively small, flexible , proactive technology friendly businesses like SMART Business Insurance to take on the incumbents across many industries – insurance included. There is first, a lot of work to be done!
I can’t thank my hosts in the Valley and Google enough for their time and insights. It’s an exciting future for ahead for all SMART people.