1998: Amazon Snubs Google
I recently read Brin and Page's 1998 paper describing their progress on Google while at Stanford.
It's ten years now, and I'm struck by how closely that paper still describes the basis of google's architecture (as best as I've been able to figure it out from what I've read and observed). In retrospect, it looks like a slam dunk. But at the time it hardly looked like it could be worth more than Amazon - a company that was actually selling something!
So what was Jeff Bezos thinking in 1998, when he rejected Google-to-be's advances to partner up? When I was an entry-level programmer with an office just outside Bezos's office, I regularly got to hear his unapologetic, geeky laugh punctuate every sentence of every phone call and meeting. There were just a small group of us in cubicles outside his office around that time in mid to late 1998, always being shuffled around by the office staff. On one side was a java programmer earning three times my salary (but no options), on the other side was a Chinese American secretary who as I remember it was the bouncer for Bezos. "Please do send the packet, Mr. Bezos will review it personally, and be in touch with you if he feels it is a good fit for his needs. No, Mr. Bezos is not available, but as I said, please do send a packet, Mr Bezos..."
Brin and Page, according to what I picked up from the cubicle, had been rejected by Amazon's original bankroll masters, Kleiner and Perkins. But K and P had strongly recommended to Google and Amazon to team up. Amazon was in the process of completing its offering of a $1 Billion convertible bond. $50 million would over two years would have been chump change.
Brin and Page presented their ideas for storing the world's information - complete with a working implementation. Bezos said nice idea guys, but your technology can't be all that much better than the next search engine. You've solved the easy problems, but what about the hard ones to come? Sorry, we've already got all the world's information in our own plans anyway. We actually sell something: all you want to do is give away the information for free? On my dime? Maybe somebody else wants to fund your little personal project. Thanks again.
So Page and Brin went back to California, unable to break through Seattle's foggy atmosphere near Amazon.com's office on 2nd Avenue.
"Please send a packet", repeated the secretary, again and again, day after day, her voice never varying. "Please send a packet, Mr. Bezos will review it personally and will be in touch with you if it fits his needs."