Back before Google? Aye, there's the Rub.
According to Google lore, company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were not terribly fond of each other when they first met as Stanford University graduate students in computer science in 1995. Larry was a 24-year-old University of Michigan alumnus on a weekend visit; Sergey, 23, was among a group of students assigned to show him around. They argued about every topic they discussed. Their strong opinions and divergent viewpoints would eventually find common ground in a unique approach to solving one of computing's biggest challenges: retrieving relevant information from a massive set of data.
By January of 1996, Larry and Sergey had begun collaboration on a search engine called BackRub, named for its unique ability to analyze the "back links" pointing to a given website. Larry, who had always enjoyed tinkering with machinery and had gained some notoriety for building a working printer out of Lego, took on the task of creating a new kind of server environment that used low-end PCs instead of big expensive machines. Afflicted by the perennial shortage of cash common to graduate students everywhere, the pair took to haunting the department's loading docks in hopes of tracking down newly arrived computers that they could borrow for their network.
A year later, their unique approach to link analysis was earning BackRub a growing reputation among those who had seen it. Buzz about the new search technology began to build as word spread around campus.
The search for a buyer
Larry and Sergey continued working to perfect their technology through the first half of 1998. Following a path that would become a key tenet of the Google way, they bought a terabyte of disks at bargain prices and built their own computer housings in Larry's dorm room, which became Google's first data center. Meanwhile Sergey set up a business office, and the two began calling on potential partners who might want to license a search technology better than any then available. Despite the dotcom fever of the day, they had little interest in building a company of their own around the technology they had developed.
Among those they called on was friend and Yahoo! founder David Filo. Filo agreed that their technology was solid, but encouraged Larry and Sergey to grow the service themselves by starting a search engine company. "When it's fully developed and scalable," he told them, "let's talk again." Others were less interested in Google, as it was now known. One portal CEO told them, "As long as we're 80 percent as good as our competitors, that's good enough. Our users don't really care about search."
Touched by an angel
Unable to interest the major portal players of the day, Larry and Sergey decided to make a go of it on their own. All they needed was a little cash to move out of the dorm and to pay off the credit cards they had maxed out buying a terabyte of memory. So they wrote up a business plan, put their Ph.D. plans on hold, and went looking for an angel investor. Their first visit was with a friend of a faculty member.
Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, was used to taking the long view. One look at their demo and he knew Google had potential a lot of potential. But though his interest had been piqued, he was pressed for time. As Sergey tells it, "We met him very early one morning on the porch of a Stanford faculty member's home in Palo Alto. We gave him a quick demo. He had to run off somewhere, so he said, 'Instead of us...