Ram Shriram, the angel investor who counseled Googleï¿½s founders during the earliest days, says success has no magic formula, but stems rather from continual small ï¿½block and tackleï¿½ moves and, oh, it helps to have a little book called ï¿½Ramï¿½s Book of Mistakesï¿½ to guide the way.
We joined a couple of hundred people listening at the feet of Shriram last night in Santa Clara, when he talked with President of TiE Silicon Valley Sridar Iyengar about the ï¿½Google story.ï¿½ Here are our takeaways:
–Success is pretty much a crap-shoot; there are too many unknown facts in a companyï¿½s early life to make all the right decisions. But good, quick judgment calls on multiple fronts helps multiply the chances of beating the odds.
–Not even the wise man can see it coming: ï¿½I had no premonition of the things to come,ï¿½ï¿½ Shiram said, about meeting the founders in 1998 for the first time at the office of Stanford professor Jeff Ullman, when he firsted tested their search engine. For two months, he didnï¿½t think anything more about it, until they called him.
–Itï¿½s the people, stupid. Shriram helped co-founders Larry Page and Serge Brin in the Menlo Park garage by consulting his ï¿½Ramï¿½s Book of Mistakes,ï¿½ which he said he started eight or nine years ago to help remind him of all the bad decisions heï¿½d made. Bad hiring decisions are the most fatal.
— Itï¿½s all in the grooming. Shriram set out to made sure Page & Brin hired only the very best, or ï¿½Aï¿½ people. He cited the well-known Silicon Valley tenet: Hire only A people, and theyï¿½ll hire other A people. If you hire the B person, theyï¿½ll hire C or D people. Someone asked a good question: How did Shriram decide who are so-called ï¿½Aï¿½ people? Grooming is a part of it. ï¿½I try to find out who their mothers are,ï¿½ he said. If they are raised well, theyï¿½re more likely to make good citizens, employees and entrepreneurs.
–(Aside note: Maybe thatï¿½s why it takes a grueling four hours of interviews for Google to make hiring decisions. And it’s turning away at least some candidates. Russell Beattie decided he didnï¿½t want to go through with it, as he writes in this interesting diatribe)
–Shriram counseled the audience: ï¿½Be bold and dynamic,ï¿½ noting that there are huge opportunities afforded by the new Internet economy — in China and India, especially.
–Enterprise software is one sector that is slowing. When asked about comments by Oracleï¿½s Larry Ellison that the tech sector is consolidating, Shriram said Ellison was correct, but only concerning software: ï¿½Iï¿½d say it’s Larryï¿½s personal problem.ï¿½ He noted that Yahoo, Google and eBay had created 24,000 jobs, and that Internet companies had created $200 billion in stock market value in the last 7 years. ï¿½Not a bad achievement.ï¿½
–Launching a company is easy. The great thing about the Internet is you can launch and test an idea easily, and cheaply. If it doesnï¿½t work, you can go back to the drawing board. ï¿½If you build your field of dreams, and no one comes, you can shut it down,ï¿½ he said.
–The trick is small engineering teams. ï¿½Bite-sized engineering projects,ï¿½ as Shriram calls them, where you can ï¿½know and measure each personï¿½s output on a project.ï¿½ That allows you to remain innovative and to launch and scrap projects quickly.
–Oh, and Shriram hasnï¿½t made a new investment in 12 months. And no, he’s not publishing his “Ram’s Book of Mistakes” any time soon.