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The Google that Almost Didn’t Happen

It is sometimes interesting to look back at companies and see where the story could have been completely different. Interesting indeed the book “The Google Story” (by David Vise) highlights how it could have been so different. In 1998, the Google founders Brin and Page found themselves short of cash to add computers to their new method of downloading and analysing weblinks (the PageRank system) .

They turned to several potential ‘sugar daddies’, including leading search engines such as Alta Vista and Excite (remember them?). According to the author’s research they had planned on selling Google to AltaVista for $1 million. It is worth remembering in those early days of the internet that AltaVista had over 50% of market share in search.

But AltaVista, then owned by Digital Equipment (which in turn was being bought by Compaq), applied the ‘not invented here’ concept that has led to so many companies demise in recent decades. Excite and various other search engines did similar, and many venture capital and angel investors also turned their back on these two pioneers. Soon afterwards one of their Graduate school professors introduced them to one angel investor who promptly supported them and the rest is history.

Yet it could have been so different. Whether AltaVista or Exite would have allowed the founders to develop the basic advertising model that would become so successful is another question, but it just goes to show how a company’s rise to the top can so hit and miss.

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