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10 Years Ago Today: 3 Crucial Lessons From Google's IPO Filing

When Google went public, its S-1 filing served as its company culture manifesto in a big way. Here's what you can learn from it.
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Today marks the tenth anniversary of Google's IPO. Thanks to the detailed S-1 filing required by the Securities and Exchange Commission of all private companies planning to go public, Google created what is now a perfectly preserved 79,743-word time capsule. It reveals exactly where Google was a decade ago and where it thought it was going. 

After scrolling through the entire S-1 filing, The Wall Street Journal's Dennis Berman notes how self-aware the young company was at the time--a quality that worked to Google's benefit. Revenue then was just under $3.2 billion. Today revenue tops $65 billion, which puts the company ahead of all but 40 other public U.S. companies, Berman wrote in the WSJ.

"This success might seem inevitable because of the ascendance of the web. But if that were fully the case, Yahoo and Microsoft would have risen in tandem. They didn't," he observed. 

Google's success, Berman argues, can partially be attributed to the carefully chosen words of co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In effect, their statements shaped a company culture that would allow Google to remain fearless and experimental for years to come.

Prepping for an IPO shouldn't be the first time you get your company's identity down on paper. If you plan on being in business in the next decade, that's reason enough to do this now. To help you get started, here are three takeaways from Google's stab at it 10 years ago.

1. Keep it brief. 

Google's prospectus was thousands and thousands of words long, but its mission statement was short and simple. It defined its purpose as "instantly delivering relevant information on any topic." 

2. Tell it like it is.  

Google never promised its stakeholders predictability. The company wanted to be free to adapt however it saw fit, so Page and Brin didn't mince words. 

"Do not be surprised if we place smaller bets in areas that seem very speculative or even strange," they said. "As the ratio of reward to risk increases, we will accept projects further outside our normal areas, especially when the initial investment is small." 

3. Plan for longevity.

Continuing to state things plainly, Page and Brin indicated that they didn't want investors checking up on them and asking about the status of short-term goals. "A management team distracted by a series of short-term targets is as pointless as a dieter stepping on a scale every half hour," they wrote.

Google knew it would have greater success if it operated with the future in mind. Its 10-year-old prospectus is evidence of just how effective that strategy can be. 

IMAGE: Glen Scarborough/Flickr
Last updated: Aug 19, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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