- REUTERS/Rebecca Naden
Next month, for the first time since 2001, Eric Schmidt won’t have an executive position at Google or one of its affiliated companies.
On Thursday afternoon, Schmidt announced he’ll be stepping down from his position as executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. He won’t be leaving Alphabet entirely – he’ll remain on its board and will serve as a technical advisor role – but he’ll be taking a step back from having a leading role.
Schmidt wasn’t a Google founder, but he joined the company early and played a major role in turning it into a global superpower. The company’s Google.com website is the most-visited in the world, and the company also makes Android, the world’s most popular operating system. And on the back of Google’s incredibly profitable advertising business, Alphabet is now worth $743 billion.
But Google’s start was much more modest.
Here’s a look at the company’s history, from its roots in a pair of Stanford dorm rooms, to Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s attempt to sell the company, to the formation of Alphabet, all the way through to Schmidt’s resignation announcement.
Google got its start in 1996 — but it wasn’t called that at first.
- Bloomberg Game Changers
The company originated with an idea formulated by Sergey Brin, left, and Larry Page, who were both Stanford PhD students at the time. They came up with BackRub, a revolutionary search engine that would rank web pages based on how many other web pages linked back to them, a process they called PageRank.
Page and Brin soon changed their search engine’s name from BackRub to Google.
The BackRub name didn’t last long. They quickly decided that a “googol” – the number one with a hundred zeroes after it – better reflected the amount of data they were trying to sift through. Playing on that word, Page and Brin, whose Stanford dorm rooms comprised their first offices, chose the slightly friendlier name Google for their nascent search engine and company.
The first-ever Google server was built in a custom case made out of Legos.
- Wikimedia Commons
The server was housed on the Stanford campus and its web address was initially google.stanford.edu. But Brin and Page registered the Google.com domain name on September 15th, 1997.
Eventually, Google drained too much of Stanford’s bandwidth, and its IT department kicked the search engine out.
Page and Brin relocated their fledgling company in the garage of future Google employee and YouTube head Susan Wojcicki.
Around the same time, Brin and Page got a crucial $100,000 seed investment.
- Wikimedia Commons
The funding came from Sun Microsystems founder Andy Bechtolsheim, above. With it in hand, Google officially incorporated in its garage headquarters on September 4th, 1998.
Google’s first homepage wasn’t much of a looker.
Neither Page nor Brin had much expertise with the web coding language HTML. They chose instead to focus their efforts on the algorithms that made their search engine run.
In 1999, Google was almost acquired by Excite, a leading search engine at the time.
Excite would have acquired Google for $750,000 in cash, according to Excite’s then-CEO George Bell, above. But the deal fell through for reasons that are still disputed, and Google continued on its own.
In March 1999, Google moved into its first real offices.
The office space was located at at 165 University Avenue in Palo Alto – the same building that housed PayPal and Logitech.
Not long after, Google raised $25 million in its first round of venture capital funding.
Investors included Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and Sequoia Capital. The money likely helped buy developers, like those above, a lot more beer.
Google debuted AdWords, which became its big money maker, in late 2000.
AdWords allowed businesses to buy ads related to search terms. By this point, Google’s search engine was already rising in popularity. AdWords provided the company with a steady revenue stream that kept it going through the dot-com bust that claimed many of its fellow startups.
Google’s star was on the rise, and Brin and Page were becoming rock stars.
While many tech companies were failing, Google was finding big success.
It was about this time Google adopted its famous motto: “Don’t be evil.”
- Tangi Bertin/Flickr
The full slogan, as spelled out in documents Google filed before going public, was: “Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served – as shareholders and in all other ways – by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.”
Brin and Page brought in Eric Schmidt to be Google’s CEO in 2001.
- Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
Brin and Page hired Schmidt, who replaced Page as CEO, at the urging of Sequoia. His hiring freed up the founders to focus on Google’s technology.
By this point, the Google team was outgrowing its Palo Alto offices.
So in 2003, Google leased its now-famous Googleplex campus in Mountain View from Silicon Graphics, an ailing, old-school tech giant. In 2006, Google bought the Googleplex outright.
The Googleplex became a symbol of Silicon Valley success — and a template for non-traditional workplaces.
- Reddit / SpaceCaseSixtyTen
Google worked hard to make the Googleplex a little more whimsical than your average campus. The original main campus building is well-known for having a slide that connects its first two floors.
Google was the first big tech company to offer free meals to employees.
- Flickr/Dmitry Alekseenko
The Google cafeteria became the stuff of Silicon Valley legend.
The Googleplex also has a famous dinosaur statue that’s often covered in flamingos.
A rumor among Google employees holds that the statue is meant to serve as a reminder to them to not go extinct.
Google unveiled Gmail, an e-mail service, on April 1, 2004.
- Biz Stone
The company initially rolled out the service in a private beta test. Because the announcement came on April Fool’s Day, many people thought it was a prank at first.
Google went public on August 19th, 2004, at $85 per share.
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Today, a share in Google parent company Alphabet costs more than $1,000.
After its IPO, Google set its sights on expanding beyond the search business.
- Flickr / Sancho McCann
To launch new products including Google Docs and Google Maps, the company started gobbling up startups.
In 2005, Google bought Android, a tiny startup that was making an operating system for digital cameras.
The startup, whose software would form the basis of the Android operating system, was led by Andy Rubin.
In 2006, the company bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock.
At the time, YouTube was a brand-new video-sharing site that had been founded by a bunch of ex-PayPal employees.
That same year, Google opened up its first wholly-owned and designed data center.
The data center was located in The Dalles, Oregon, on the banks of the Columbia River.
At its Oregon facility, Google started to develop its knack for squeezing out incredibly high levels of efficiency from its data centers using inventive new designs.
Google was so popular by this point that “googling” had become synonymous with “searching the Internet.”
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Merriam-Webster added the verb “google” to its dictionary in June 2006.
In 2008, the first Android smartphone went on sale to consumers.
The HTC Dream, above, was the start of a coming wave. Today, Android is the most popular operating system on the planet.
That same year, Google introduced its Chrome web browser.
Google designed Chrome to work well with its growing number of web services. The company wanted to ensure that on every device, people would continue using its products – and viewing its ads.
Schmidt stepped down as Google’s CEO in 2011 but remained on its executive team.
- Flickr / loiclemur
Schmidt stayed on as Google’s executive chairman to advise Page and Brin. Page took over as Google’s CEO.
Under Page, Google has explored some far-out ideas.
Most notably, Google announced in 2010 it was working on self-driving car technology.
Among the experiments was Google Glass, which the company unveiled in 2012.
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Google Glass was a wearable computer that would present information in your field of vision. It didn’t catch on the way the company hoped.
Google operates secret labs that are working on all kinds of nifty projects.
This contact lens can measure the glucose level in the blood of diabetics.
Last year, Google overhauled its corporate structure, forming Alphabet.
Brin, Page, and Schmidt established Alphabet as a holding company and turned Google into one of its wholly-owned subsidiaries. Page became the CEO of Alphabet.
Sundar Pichai, formerly head of Google Chrome, became CEO of Google.
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
That put Pichai in charge of guiding the future of Alphabet’s most important and profitable business. Under Pichai, Google has made big moves into artificial intelligence.
And now, Schmidt is stepping down as Alphabet’s executive chairman.
- REUTERS/Rebecca Naden
He’ll serve as a “technical advisor” for Alphabet and remain on its board.
Schmidt saw Google go from a few hundred employees to tens of thousands. And the rest, as they say, is history.