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Web 2.0 Summit: Entrepreneurial Spirit Too Strong For Google Alumni

The money was great... Larry and Sergey were focused... but a panel of ex-Googlers revealed why they have now gone off to build their own Web 2.0 fortunes.

Google alumni on Friday described the search company as a great place to work, but said their entrepreneurial spirit was too strong to keep them at their jobs.

During a panel discussion at the Web 2.0 Summit, four former Google employees described what it was like to work at a company that in less than 10 years has grown to become one of the richest and most powerful companies in the tech industry.

Three of the four panelists left Google to start their own companies, and one, Patrick Keane, joined CBS Interactive as an executive VP and chief marketing officer. While all the men enjoyed working at Google, those that formed their own companies said the desire for independence was too strong.

"I left because I wanted to go on my path," said Bret Taylor, who is now an "entrepreneur in residence" at venture capitalist Benchmark Capital. Taylor, who as a product manager at Google launched its local search and mapping services, is in the process of building his own company.

Aware of the difficulty in keeping highly talented people, Google has established a Founders' Award in which employees who show extraordinary entrepreneurial achievement receive stock grants. The awards have been worth millions of dollars.

But Founders Award-winner Keane, who was in charge of Google's North American sales strategy, said money won't keep everyone. "The financial incentives are important," he said. "But I think there are bigger things -- not that Google isn't a big thing."

David Friedberg, who was a founding member of Google's corporate development team and led several of the company's largest acquisitions, said Google hires people looking for more than just money. "There are certain kinds of people where it's not about the money. And Google hires those kinds of people," Friedberg said. These people look for something they can build in their own way, something that they really care about. Friedberg is chief executive of the Internet company WeatherBill, which he founded.

In describing Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Friedberg said they were the kind of bosses that would get "high-fives" when they walked into a room. "They're really down to Earth," he said. Despite their congeniality, Page and Brin never lost sight of the fact that they were running a company. "At the end of the day, it is a company and there are products, and you have to deliver the products," Friedberg said. Nevertheless, the founders did a good job of communicating with employees.

Page and Brin were also steadfast in their belief, which became a founding principle for Google, that a company can make money without doing evil. Friedberg said the two men wanted to know before every acquisition what the negative consequences were, and whether it was "evil."

"That was always the consideration," he said.

In striving to do good, Page and Brin made Taylor feel like he was part of something special. "They always made me feel much bigger than myself," he said.

Despite the founders' lack of business experience, they were exceptionally skillful, Keane said. "They're instincts and ability to do deals was extraordinary," he said.

Going forward, however, one of the biggest challenges for Page and Brin will be in keeping Google agile and innovative as it becomes larger, and potentially, more bureaucratic. "The challenge for Google is to remain unconventional and to hold on to that creative spirit," Taylor said.

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