After four years of working with Google as CEO of Fon (Google is our largest non financial investor) I would like to share what my experience has been like as a way to answer what I consider Larry’s biggest challenge as new CEO is. I write what follows in a spirit of friendship, with tremendous admiration for what Google has accomplished, and gratitude for its investment in Fon.

Google is an incredible company, a global giant that has just announced record financial results. A company that was built with a combination of great ideas coming mainly from its founders and amazing execution on the part of Eric Schmidt. But the biggest challenge I see at Google is that it still works like a university. This needs to change. At Google many managers come up with their own projects, frequently without a real connection to the whole enterprise and without real leadership from the top. As a result most fail. Google is a collection of brilliant minds, which is great for research but not for the execution of a visionary masterplan.

My concrete experience with Google relates to WiFi. In this field over the last four years I had the opportunity of watching Google hoping and failing to become globally relevant in WiFi connectivity. In the meantime 50 employee Fon has become the largest WiFi network in the world with over 3 million hotspots mostly in Japan and the UK, growing in other countries and hopefully soon in USA as well. But other than the investment for which we are grateful, everything else we tried to do with Google was a failure.

What I saw in Google’s WiFi´s effort were different “professors” running around with different ideas, trying to line up Google resources behind them only to end up with aborted projects. Initiatives like WiFi San Francisco, municipal WiFi throughout USA, never took off because of lack of company wide support. And WiFi is but one example. There are many areas in which Google has experimented and failed because of lack of vision, focus and consistency. For example the Orkut vs Facebook lost battle or the Twitter vs Buzz debacle. Googlers work for a great corporation but when they need company wide support for their initiatives most of the time they don’t get it. Sometimes they leave in frustration. Employee churn is now a big problem at Google and it needs not be. Churn comes from first making people believe they can do anything but then depriving them of the company support that is needed to succeed in their endeavors.

What Larry Page needs to do now is to change this situation and this can only be done by narrowing Google’s focus. Larry needs to spend weeks going over each Google project in detail. In this process he only needs to ask: Does this project make search or Android better? If it does not, kill it, and redeploy those talented employees into projects that do. And Sergey, in his new role as the head of business development needs to have the same discipline and only stick to new projects that enhance the two core areas of the company search which includes ads, and Android. Android is an incredible success so far and can be the computing platform of the future. Google TV should also be closely integrated with Youtube and in the end be part of Android. Youtube is another amazing but disjointed asset, add full length content and music to it and you have the iTunes that Android needs. Google Chrome is a huge success and that is good because those of us who use it (120 million of us) love to search off the browser box. If Larry succeeds in focusing, and I think he will, Google employees will work in projects that are backed by the company and are part of a common vision. Employee churn will decrease. Google will do even better.

As it stands today, in terms of management, Google is the opposite of Apple. Steve Jobs, who I had a chance to meet in private, is a genius dictator with a very strong vision. The whole company aligns behind him to execute. And lately, Apple’s Spartan style is winning over Google’s democracy. Larry and Sergey need to learn from Steve: to lead, to be tough and to say no (but hopefully without Steve’s ability to humiliate others when making a point). Google, like Apple, needs to adopt great design. I know that both Larry and Sergey come from the design school of “I don’t care how it looks so long as it works brilliantly”. Still I wonder how many people are not using AdSense because of how ugly the ads are. Apple has shown that both design and functionality are needed to succeed. For us at Fon, Apple, a company that is not even our investor, has been surprisingly easier to deal with than Google. Apple wants WiFi everywhere. That simple. In Japan, every iPhone is sold with a Fonera so there is more WiFi. We did a simple integration, it works well, and we have deployed millions of foneras in Japan together with Softbank. At Google, so far, we have been unable to integrate with Android regardless of the fact that we are partly owned by Google. We are millions of units ahead with iOS than Android. And every other project that we tried to implement with Google did not get off the ground. Failed to gain company wide support.

We all like democracy, but businesses, whether we like it or not, are more dictatorships than democracies. Even employees who like to debate issues outside of work prefer a clear sense of direction from those at the top at work. A clear mission. Google is not a start up that needs to find its destiny. Google has found its destiny and it is great. Time has come to focus on it and execute with a more forceful management style.

Disclosure: I am a happy Google shareholder and I am thankful to Eric, Larry, Sergey and all Google employees for their rising value.

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B on January 22, 2011  · 

Google just has one problem, facebook and the social searching

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Franco on January 22, 2011  · 

I totally agree with your post Martin, Google has achieved incredible success when it’s efforts were focused. As it happened to Microsoft, when the focus is lost, many projects fail.

My humble contribution to this matter can be read at my blog:

Congratulations for your blog, I totally love it!

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jm on January 23, 2011  · 

Google has another problem: i never use search on my smartphone!

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Dario on January 23, 2011  · 

Excellent post. To me, the point is the ability that google has now, when their cash machine (adwords), still having no huge competitors in the short term and what they can do with this money to produce something disruptive like facebook was 7 years ago.

If they couldn’t do that, I think they have a very big risk to lose the battle against facebook, apple or any other new competitor.

Google did not had another big success like adwords and now a little with android and big bets like chrome are fare away from IE or Firefox with no chance to beat them.

Maybe, the solution is to buy facebook whit their deep pockets.

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Plugger on January 24, 2011  · 

Smart guys there at Google.

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Luca on January 24, 2011  · 

Martin, I think you are dead right when you are saying that Google has to learn from Apple Spartan approach. However, as a researcher, I must say that among its many achievements, Google also revolutionised the way we think about open innovation. Especially in corporate research. And this is something in which apple definitely failed.
In fact, google was born inside a university lab ( and not in a university dormitory like FB). Folk in google managed to keep up contacts with *every* top tier university around the world and leveraged every opportunity to create new one through funding schemes.
The result is that google is publishing a lot of joint papers in the best conferences, they seduce the smartest students with very selective internship programs and they generate – a lot- of innovative ideas. Many of them ( actually most part of them) fail but some become viral (e.g. google maps).

In this respect, I dont think that their model ( being run like a university) is somethink they have to radically change. At least until they have the numbers on their side..


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Ben on January 25, 2011  · 

You’re quite right Martin, that WiFi coverage could have been *much* more widespread and you’re also quite right this has everything to do with the right vision, the right idea (and its proper execution of course).

On 26-6-2007 I sent you an e-mail at this domain. Unfortunately you never replied. I sent it because I had realised what was missing to create a breakthrough for the Fonera concept which would have resulted in a network that would have been several magnitudes larger than it is now. Over the past decades I have seen several insights I have had through the years become reality after a (far too) long delay. It’s frustrating to know you have a ‘solution’ but you’re not in a position to turn it into reality.

‘Another one’, you may think, and you probably have reasons to think so based on past experiences. Only… not on any experience with me. I have several insights and ideas that could be turned into useful and successful ventures but I can’t do it alone. And just informing someone of my ideas in the hope I will be included in the way I should be is something I have had bad experiences with in the past. I am both blessed and cursed with a well above average intelligence and analytical and problem solving abilities.

By now I know I get more information out of available data and can do more with it than most people by creatively combining it with my knowledge and experience. Add some lateral thinking and you’d be surprised how much can be achieved with logical reasoning and you’d also be surprised by the solid validity of the conclusions you can reach by such a process.

One problem at Google is that they have more money than they know what to do with. I’m sure they want to use a significant amount of that money to do useful things and create new services that can (also) be of benefit to the world’s population particularly by making computer technology in all its manifestations a better and more useful and beneficial tool because that’s what it is. A tool. An instrument. A means to an end.

Oh well… it’s up to you whether you want to contact me to discuss possible adoption of my insights/vision into the FON project. And if Google is interested I have had an idea for several years for quite a different service that will be very much in demand. Simply because there’s a huge need for it. Certain developments I’ve seen the past few years since I had the idea only confirm the validity of my insights. Same goes for my insights regarding the essential missing piece of vision with regards to the FON project. I have seen developments there too that hugely confirm my thoughts that it will definitely make a big, BIG difference.

Over to you Martin.

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steven on January 25, 2011  · 

Is FON doing it better?
1) FON is lacking the “openness”
they are showing things “better” than they are in reality… playing with “numbers” but without any proof. 3million hotspots? 3 million Users… fonerofonera; Even you sometimes mix the two.

2) Lack for communication?
FON never asks their community about their opinion…if they do…they will disregard it nevertheless… an example is the “personalized captive portal”…from out of the blue it’s removed… At least Google will mention this before unplugging a feature… Every Hotspot vendor is offering “customized hotspot portal”… fon has removed it… nobody knows which fonspot is theirs anymore…

3) lack for resources : FON invests all their resources on BT, Comstar, ZON, Neuf… But not on their own hardware… selling them with features that they don’t have… 3 million sales… none of them ever visiting the forum or tweeting about the devices…or showing up on the strange? -> all foneras sold in last 5 years are online…also those that were broken down several years ago? is this to not show how many are “not active”?

Nobody can “unlist” their fonera or account… it’s worse than a Facebook account? There are a lot to be found in Lakes/Sea … for that reason alone … for people that even invest time to do it that way

Last firmware of fonera 2.0n ?

Fonera Simpl has been sold for a year in Japan… Now that it’s sold in Europe the “limitations” are there…

no more ability to have FON_xxxx or cap the bandwidth

it took a month of European sales to get family&friends working (what did the Japanese do last year?)

the 3G feature of the fonera is worse than a Mifi; most people have noticed 3G isn’t so good

The printer feature is more limited than any other usb router on the market…which support usb redirection and thus also “multifunctionals”

I’ve placed a Fonera 2.0n & simpl together…they both were gone from the “wireless” as they jumped back&forth channels endlessly… which is a default setting. what if I have more neighbours?

Foneros can’t “email” each other… nobody knows there are “messages” on their fon panel… While I will get an email from Facebook that somebody left a message for me!

Perhaps FON should invest more time in itself…than judging other people.

I hear&see that you invested in Spotnik again… when will that service work again? People that bought it last summer currently have a dead device in their hands and no response from Swiss?

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Roberto on February 3, 2011  · 

Adwords will start loosing market against social search targeted ads. Facebook is at very early stage in targetting ads, but as they improve google will loose out. I agree that they need to focus more on search and less in any other Project.

Why would i want a fonera when i buy an iPhone if I have 3G. It would make more sense to sell the fonera with iPhods and WiFi iPads

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king porn on February 15, 2011  · 

I do know this isn’t exactly on subject, but i have a site utilizing the same program as well and i get troubles with my comments displaying. is there a setting i’m missing? it’s doable it’s possible you’ll help me out? thanx.

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