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Why Did Google’s Brilliant Founders Take a Step Down?

Google’s co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have officially stepped down from their executive positions at Alphabet, Google’s parent company. But the announcement was merely a formality that many already knew had been coming down for months. In fact, since around 2015, the duo has scarcely been seen in public.

Both will remain with a seat on the Google board of directors and a majority share. Really, they are stepping back from the day-to-day operations, but still retain control of Alphabet through special voting shares. The two are estimated to have a combined net worth of $123 billion.

Humble Beginnings

While students at Stanford University, Page and Brin wrote papers fighting for the consumers’ right to an “ad-free” search engine, but ultimately conceded that “it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.”  With that statement, they were off!

By 1998, they had officially incorporated Google and even tried to sell it for as low as $750,000 to Excite. Google today is worth nearly $1 trillion dollars.

Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, however, did see the potential and in 2002 offered to buy Google for $3 billion. However, with the massive amount of growth they had seen in a few short years, both of the founders believed that it was worth much, much more.

Google Goes Public

In 2004, Google went public at a valuation of $27 billion. However, Page and Brin notably created a super-voting Class B stock that only they and a handful of executives were granted. This allowed Page and Brin to keep just over 50 percent of the shares and a way to maintain control of the company. Even today, Page and Brin retain control of Google even though they have officially departed.

Larry Page and Android

In the summer of 2005, Page decided to snap up a small startup for $50 million. His instincts paid off as Android has become the most popular mobile OS in the world today.

Another Smart Purchase

In 2006, Susan Wojcicki, whose garage was used to house Google in the early days, urged Page and Brin to purchase YouTube for $1.65 billion. Since YouTube was new to the video race, it was a smart move on their part to pick up this now “mega monster” video platform.

Chrome Browser

As the company grew, Page and Brin embarked on its quest to build a better web browser. In turn, they hired Sundar Pichai from Mozilla Firefox. What came out of that hire was Google Chrome. The eventual domination of this browser put Pichai on track to take the CEO role years later. Current CEO Schmidt had to be convinced to change his mind, and Page finally did.

In January 2011, Schmidt stepped down as CEO and Page took the reins back. Schmidt then took on an advisory position as executive chairman of the board. The focus was shifting at Google. Page told The New York Times that “One of the primary goals I have is to get Google to be a big company that has the nimbleness and soul and passion and speed of a start-up.”

Problems with the Federal Trade Commission

Just when Page was on top, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2012 decided to launch an investigation into companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google for anti-competitive practices. The FTC investigated Google’s advertising platform and examined the way search engines rank its own content favorably. Some Democratic politicians have heralded the call for a break-up of Google and other tech companies seen as monopolies.

Google Turns to the Future

With Brin’s spectacular launch of Google Glass in 2012, Google was branching out into the future faster than any of its competitors.  

However, Page suffered from vocal chord paralysis in 2012. In May of 2013, Page began publicly talking of Google Island, a place where the tech industry wasn’t beholden to corporate interests, shareholders, or advertising.  That along with creating Calico, a company aimed at curing death, it was obvious that Page was moving away from the reins of Google.

Unfortunately, the following year, in 2014, it was revealed that Brin had had an affair with a Google Glass employee. This led to a divorce and a supposed rift between Brin and Page.

However, a year later, in 2015, the two were announcing the creation of a new company. Alphabet was formed and Page and Brin were removed from the day-to-day operations at Google and elevated to CEO and president of this new holding company. Sundar Pichai then took the reigns as Google CEO.

With interest in flying cars, politics, and curing death, it is certain that both have an interesting future ahead.

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