I am not sure who came up with the quote ‘don’t meet your heroes’, but for me, fortunately, it was proven wrong when I met Eric Schmidt last week. He was Google’s CEO for ten years during its formative years and served as an Executive Chairman for another seven, a board member for Apple for three years, and he also teaches at Stanford University among other premier institutions.
While this nimble introduction does not do justice to the man who built Google as we know it today, here are some pearls of wisdom from my interaction with him earlier this month at Mountain View, California.
Have the courage and stand up: We were a small clique of tech startup founders gathered to hear him speak. When he finished his crisp 8-minute keynote and opened the floor for questions, there a moment of hesitation from every one of us to walk up to the mic and ask questions. Schmidt swiftly urged, “If you are founders and tech people, you should have some courage to ask questions”. If we look at the philosophical side of what he said, every great idea was born when someone had the courage to question the status quo!
DNROOC: When asked about business strategy, he had an acronym that he wanted us all to remember – DNROOC which stands for ‘Do Not Run Out Of Cash’. It is important to understand that Google is a for Profit Company, whose revenue last year crossed $100 Billion with a capital B!
Among all the work a CEO does, driving revenue must be on top of the list, and Schmidt has been monumentally successful in helping Google drive its business and generate revenue that powers all their big bold bets. Even in the book ‘ How Google Works ‘ that he co-authored, Schmidt says the cheeky line ‘Revenue solves all known problems’. The sales guy in me cannot stop gleaming with joy.
From Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg, the world celebrates entrepreneurs; But Schmidt is a ray of hope for every intraprenuer who’s pushing the envelope to climb their way up a corporate ladder.
Let the press call you an idiot: A startup founder from the Google Launchpad Accelerator class 5 asked Schmidt about how to sustain a 15% month-on-month growth, while Schmidt’s witty response was to ‘forget about it’; he quickly got serious and advised that when startups are growing rapidly, they need to care more about human resources, focus on consumer demand, and most importantly to ignore what the press says. Schmidt urged the entrepreneurs in the room to pay less or no attention to what the press says, even if they call you an idiot.
When to fire an employee? Another startup’s question was about the changing paradigm of startups and private businesses owning more data about people than, say government. Schmidt joked by saying, ‘government has guns, they can get you if they want to’, but the real advice he imparted is about how entrepreneurs must set values right in the company to ruthlessly protect customer data and privacy, even if it comes at a cost of firing employees who are not value driven.
His learning from Google+: Google has its share or failures, Google+, its failed attempt at social networking, perhaps tops the list, one of the questions Schmidt got during our interaction was what his learning from the failure of G+ were? Schmidt said, while there are many lesson Google learnt from it, his personal take away was failing to use mobile as a method to create an identity; “people may change their email, but phone, not so much” he said, with a sense of ownership to the failure.
Winning in technology business today: Schmidt had a self-deprecating start to his keynote, he attributed his success in building Google was partly due to a less competitive computing industry when he was the CEO. He confessed he may not be ‘so successful’ in today’s fast paced scenario. This lead to Schmidt taking a critical view of how the world is getting smaller, timelines faster and a ‘crazy’ amount of venture capital coming in, called as ‘Softbank’; who has earmarked $100 billion to invest in startups.
Schmidt concluded that to successfully build a tech company, one must embrace Cloud computing for scaling (he prefers startups use GCP amongst Azure and AWS), and some amount of Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence to differentiate the product.
While he spoke enthusiastically about ML and AI being a key driver, he estimates mobile will still be big for the next four to five years and ML and AI may take another 15 to 20 years before it hits a peak.
Bonus: Here’s why I consider him a hero: From Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg, the world celebrates entrepreneurs; But Schmidt is a ray of hope for every intraprenuer who’s pushing the envelope to climb their way up a corporate ladder.
Silicon Valley has been a cradle for many maverick founders who thrive on disruptive innovations and build billion dollar companies, but did they do it alone? Not a chance. Behind entrepreneur who succeeds, there’s an army of intraprenuers down the chain.
Schmidt had a modest start as an intern at the beginning of his career, and today, as he’s preparing to handle the mantle to his successors, he has, among other accolades, a wealth of $11 billion, all earned through stock options from a company that he was neither a co-founder nor a relative to the founders – Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
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