There are only a handful of success stories quite like Google. I guess it sometimes seems like most of them start the same, with a couple of people in a garage, or dorm room, or basement, and the same is true for Google. A couple of friends at Stanford develop a search algorithm that becomes the most-used search engine and largest advertising platform in the world.
Your business may not have been launched on Sand Hill Rd., but that doesn't mean that there aren't a few principles you can borrow for your own startup story.
Here are three ways your company should be more like Google, and one thing to avoid:
1. Have bad ideas.
The best things don't usually happen because someone sat down at the beginning and had a plan. The best things usually result from trying something that results in an unexpectedly good outcome. Often the strength of being a scrappy startup is that you're able to take risks that you might naturally avoid later on.
Still, the fear of failure paralyzes too many of you from trying out new ideas. Sure, they might blow up in your face, but they also might become the next great thing.
Bad ideas aren't the problem. Clinging to them once you've realized they're bad is. Alphabet's (Google's parent company) has a division called X, dedicated to finding the next Google. It's basically a place where it's safe to try things, even if they fail.
Reportedly, X kills as many as 100 bad ideas every year and no one gets fired. It the second part that matters-- the fact that Google has a place where you're allowed to have that many bad ideas. Because that's how you find good ideas.
2. Seriously, stop trying to invent the next big thing.
It's tempting to feel like your success is measured by the thing you create that no one has ever done before. That's not how it works for almost any successful business. Instead, find ways to do it better, or faster, or how to make something complicated more accessible to more people.
Google didn't invent email, but Gmail is the most widely used email service for three reasons, it's easy to use, it's free, and it allowed basically unlimited storage. None of those things were true about email at the time.
Google didn't invent document creation software and storage, but Docs and Drive are used by millions of people and businesses because they can be accessed anywhere and made it super easy to collaborate and share work files across teams and companies.
Google didn't even invent the search engine, but I'm willing to bet that if I asked you which one was first, you'd have to "Google it."
3. Add value, even when it costs you.
Google started as a search engine, but today, you can use its products to make travel plans, map out a road trip, host your business email, create documents and presentations, measure your website performance, and target your customers with advertisements.
All of those new products and services were the result of Google seeing an opportunity to serve its customers, and creating something that met a need. By the way, they all cost huge amounts of money to design, and build, and deliver, but that's okay. They add value.
That doesn't mean that you should try to be all things to all people--that never works well, especially for young businesses. Instead, what I mean is that as you identify your customer audience, you'll see increasing opportunities to add value in ways that compliment your existing relationship.
Stop telling people your stuff is free.
I'm not going to get into a deep dive about the problems with creating "free" services that are designed to harvest your users' personal information and monetizing it as a business model. I've made it pretty clear that I think Google has a lot of work to do in this area.
The lesson, however, is this: be transparent with your customers and treat them with respect. If you do, you'll build trust, which has become the most valuable brand asset.
In fact, Google's biggest problem is that it has a massive conflict when it comes to protecting its customers' interests since they so directly contrast with its own. Every business exists to make money, but your goal should be to find a way to do that where the lines of accountability are clear.
The model should be: I provide this service to you, you pay me what's fair, without making it super complex and opaque to understand exactly what's happening. And since nothing is ever truly free, make it clear exactly the cost is in terms of giving up privacy and/or personal information.