Monday, October 09, 2006

Google, YouTube, Shona Brown, and Galaxy

What does the Google acquisition of YouTube have to do with the Galaxy? If you thought it’s going to be a way that a new feature from Google Earth will be integrated into Google Video post-YouTube, you’re wrong. The YouTube acquisition is Google's Second Act; the first product that, although similar and adjacent to Search, will be a category-killer for Google within a second distinct realm from Search. It also is Google's and Shona Brown's answer to how the company can avoid becoming another 'Galaxy.'
Shona Brown is Google's SVP of Business Operations (and some call her GOOG’s ‘chief chaos officer'). I had intended to write this blog posting profiling Shona as one of the top unsung heroes in business today. Then, Adam Lashinsky of Fortune beat me to the punch with a fantastic profile last week. (Nice to see that one of the off-shoots of the recent GOOG – AOL advertising deal is that the Fortune reporters are able to get some great access to Google execs.)
When you think of Google, you think of the Brin-Page-Schmidt triumvirate. Then, you probably think of Omid Kordestani (head of sales); then, coming on strong – especially in the pages of Valleywag – Marissa Mayer. Left out of the discussion, until Adam’s piece, was Shona Brown.

Shona is someone who it’s easy to feel intellectually inferior to, once you understand her background: Rhodes Scholar, Ph.D. in Strategic Management from Stanford under one of the best management scholars in the world today (Kathy Eisenhardt – who has been studying fast-growth Silicon Valley firms for over 20 years), McKinsey partner, Business Best-Selling Co-Author, and pre-IPO member of Google’s management team. In other words, just another brilliant Google employee; they pride themselves on their intellect. However, she’s also someone who is very down-to-earth and helpful.

At Google, she’s responsible for optimizing Google’s internal structure. She decided to take her main findings of her dissertation, which led to the book “Competing on the Edge,” and apply them to Google. (Who says consultants can't practice what they preach.) She found that the optimal organizational design is not too much formality/structure and not too fast-and-loose. (There is new research my firm has done that has found further empirical proof for this assumption. Some details are contained here.) The process by which she does this is partly described in the Fortune article. However, there’s another aspect to Brown’s job described in the article. And, not to put too strong a point on it, it is to solve the greatest challenge facing Google today: how to avoid the fate of being a one-trick-pony.

Google does Search. And it does it better than anyone else on the planet. Remember all the talk around the IPO and even up until about a year ago about how Microsoft was going to come after them? You don’t hear that talk any longer. Google’s won Search. Their multi-billion dollar empire is paid for by search advertisements. Though this preeminent position has given them the ability to develop a cadre of new products (and some, even within Google, think they created too many products), none has been a category-killer in the way that Search has. Much has been written about Google using its Search position to decouple users from the desktop and MFST’s control; yet, this is all still talk today. They have been a very successful one-trick-pony.

That’s where Shona Brown comes in. In her qualitative, case-study approach dissertation, she studied – over 10 years ago – a curious Silicon Valley company that experienced explosive growth and lots of bright young college kids, but had difficulty moving beyond their initial hit product to a 2nd product of similar success. In the end, their core product faced competitive pressures and they were not able to continue. She doesn’t name the company, but calls it “Galaxy.” As Lashinsky points out in his article from Fortune, Google and Galaxy share several interesting common traits. The question you are left to ponder is will Google find a Second Act?

The other night, I was ironically on YouTube and watched the now somewhat dated 60 Minutes glowing segment on their success. Lesly Stahl gushes about how she can text-message Google on her mobile phone to find the nearest pharmacy on the Upper-West Side. Although this is a “nice to have,” along with other Google products like Froogle, Google Earth, and Google Talk, none is yet a “must have.”

There’s always going to be another competitor coming along to challenge Google in search (for the current darling of Silicon Valley in this category, read this TechCrunch posting), even though their lead seems insurmountable today. So, they do need a Second Act. What will it be? Shona Brown and others at Google have been working hard to solve that question and yesterday we got the answer: YouTube.
The YouTube acquisition will be the transformative for Google. They immediately vault to the lead of controlling the search for video on the web. However, more than search alone, they control content in the format that will be increasingly be the preferred way for viewing. But this deal gives Google the first global brand beyond Google. It also allows Google users to interact in a way that hasn't been possible to date.
It's breath-taking to see how quickly YouTube has grown to dominate a space that was not a space more than 5 months ago. It is a wonderful day for their founders and backers, but this is a landmark day for Google and Shona Brown. She wasn't part of the conference call announcing the deal. But her hands are all over this. The analysts can discuss the synergies and do their projections. Shona can simply turn to her colleagues and say that "Google will be no Galaxy; this is our Second Act."

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