Innovation according to Google Wave co-creator Lars Rasmussen

Posted on October 31, 2009


Google Wave co-creator Lars Rasmussen delivered the 2009 Warren Centre Innovation Lecture, where he explained the development of Google Maps and Google Wave. Here are some notes for aspiring entrepreneurs: (MP3 Audio and MP4 Video versions available).

13.04: “Now that I’m a seasoned innovator … I’ve come to really enjoy when people tell me that it can’t be done… I’ve come to form this theory that if no one tells you that something can’t be done or shouldn’t be done, you’re probably not being ambitious enough, you’re probably not actually on some innovative track. And so now I go, actually seek out the more experienced and smarter people I can get to tell me I’m crazy, the better I feel.”

13.55 They met with Frank Marshall, a prolific angel investor in California, who introduced them to 5 VCs (venture capital) firms in Silicon Valley. No one was interested. He met with Australian friends  Noel Gordon and Stephen Ma, who had also been laid off during the tech wreck, and they joined them.

15.10 “Don’t tell me the spirit of innovation is not alive in Australia.”

15.44 Frank Marshall opened some more doors for them. The last one of 11 or so, was Sequor Capital, the ‘big dog’ in Silicon Valley, who helped start Apple, Cisco, Google and Yahoo. Then the investor got spooked because Yahoo changed their maps. They called Ram Shriram, founding board member of Google and one of the first investors in Google.

19:18 “It is safe to be a small company negotiating with Google.” They spent an hour with Google co-founder Larry Page who said, “What can you do on the web?”

This was 2004 ….

21:20 “By the time we got our first pay cheque from Google in mid 2004, Jens and I had $US16 between us… we had maxed out our credit cards … ” Entrepreneurship = risk. They sold to Google.

23:34 Jens had the inspiration for Wave.

30:35 “… Autonomy. We wanted to have the same amount of say over Google Wave as founders in a start-up would. And we wanted the rest of Google to only have the say that an investor typically has sitting on a board.”

35:44 “… and this is another thing I’ve come to believe very strongly, that pathological optimism: ‘we have 100% chance of succeeding’ is an absolutely necessary ingredient in innovation.”

39:18 “People often ask, ‘so what is it about Google that makes us sort of more innovative in my opinion, the absolute top answer to that question is a philosophy that’s ingrained in the company that we put user happiness over short term revenue.”

43:47 “I often get asked this question about, ‘What’s it like being innovative here versus there?’ and at least in my industry of the web, it doesn’t matter a lot where you are. I think you need to obviously be in a place where you can attract enough engineers to carry out what you want, and Sydney has that a-plenty. I should say actually I found it’s interesting that in Silicon Valley, Australia has a reputation of being a land of leisure. A reputation of beers and barbies and beaches and I find it wholly untrue in my experience. Not that there are not good beaches and so on, but the engineers that we’ve hired here, Adam for example, work every bit as hard and focussed as engineers in Silicon Valley, incredible thirst for success here… tourism is such a strong industry here and those guys are actively promoting this slightly backwards view of Australia… When I first asked Google can we set up shop here in Australia, that’s what they said: ‘But isn’t that just a place where people hang out on the beach all day… and so now there’s a big office here.”

Pretty much a billion and a half or two billion people on the internet every day using this sort of thing (email).

47:21 ” … Interviews that Serge and Eric have done recently. They talk about how now they have a formal innovators’ review very high up in the company where people can come and present ideas.”

50:40 “When we launched Wave we were 60 engineers… I don’t think a lot of start-ups get the opportunity to work for two and a half years with 60 people before they have to launch. It was a wonderful thing that we could do that inside Google.”

52.45 “I think the top thing we’ve learned is the following, that most people can do more than they think they can do. I can’t say it often enough with people. It’s all about the, ‘are you willing to take those risks, are you willing to push yourself a little further?’ Innovation takes place outside of the comfort zone… with younger engineers we spend a lot of our time just pushing people to do things they feel ucomfortable doing because that’s where you really do great things … that’s I think what innovation is all about.”

53:45 “There’s a famous quote about innovation … Thomas Edison famously said that innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration… That very much matches our experience.”

54:37 “Innovation is all about ambition. It’s all about being ambitious enough to push yourself outside that comfort zone.”

Posted in: Inspiration