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The parallels between Google and Microsoft (take 1)

January 22, 2011

When I joined Microsoft in 1997, the company had just over 20,000 employees. By the year 2000, it had grown to almost 40,000 employees, had a disastrous court appearance culminating in a DoJ consent decree, and was starting to question its future and its role in changing the world. Employees were talking (privately at first) that it wasn’t the same anymore, that the push for short-term profit was edging out the push for innovation and long-term successs. People were starting to question whether their role really was to “change the world”.

Now as I read the articles of about Google’s issues: only having one real product, employees complaining about bureaucracy, eliminating private projects, and being investigated around the world, I believe that there is a natual cycle to this. Google, like Microsoft, grew out of an idea held by a couple of really bright people who had the drive to make their idea stick. And once both companies got to that 20,000-30,000 employee level, the ability of that leadership to keep the entire company on task was starting to wane. I think Google is actually hitting this earlier than Microsoft did and their problems are in some ways more acute because their revenue is, even more than Microsoft’s was, completely focused on one single product. But it’s a natural evolution. The trick will be to get through it and get back to innovating… or fall by the wayside as an example of what could have been. Anyone remember Novell?

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