1998: Google First Incorporated – Pivotal Moments

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Welcome to our tenth Pivotal Moments blog. If you follow us on social media, you’ll know what this is all about. To paraphrase Confucius, it’s only by knowing where we’ve been that we can know where we’re going.

“Study the past, if you would divine the future.”


There are very few corners of the globe where Google isn’t a household name. Not just a name, it’s also a verb, meaning to look something up using the Google online search engine.

But like many Pivotal Moments in the history of technology, Google has a classic story of hard work, perseverance and a little luck. It’s nothing short of inspiring, actually.

A leader in the digital and technological fields of the world, Google is one of the wealthiest companies in the world and an innovator and leader for the rest of us. With an admirable mission statement (“don’t be evil”) and a billion users, the story of Google is one that we can learn from even today, well after the company’s 20th anniversary.

With a Google mindset, we can grow and push boundaries. But the company started out as they often do, small and humble…

Early Years

Google founders posing with smiles and folded arms in front of yellow shelves and Google signs
Image source: Wired

Stanford University, 1995. A student, Larry Page, was considering taking up a placement at the school. But before he committed, he wanted to have a look around. Sergey Brin, already a student there, was assigned to give him the grand tour, and when the two men met, they immediately disagreed on pretty much everything they discussed.

It doesn’t sound like the ideal origin story… and yet a year later they were working together to build a search engine. Originally designed to rank and determine the importance of web pages online, the pair initially named the search engine Backrub. Not quite the name we all know today.

Thankfully, it was quickly renamed after a “googol”, the term for the number 1 when followed by 100 zeros. They found the term in a book of mathematics. For the founders, this was an apt name, considering how much information they were designing their search engine to sift through.

The system the pair of grad students worked on was entirely unique, using a technology they developed themselves called PageRank. This tech analysed a website’s relevance by considering:

  • The number of pages on the site
  • The importance of the pages
  • And whether they linked back to the original site

Prior to this, search engines ranked results based on the number of appearances of a search term on any given site. Remember the days of websites utterly stuffed with keywords that made for unreadable garbage? Yeah, you can thank the early search engines for that, and Google for changing the game.

Given the brilliant reviews that Google received, even early in its development (while still under the moniker of Backrub), Page and Brin threw themselves into the project. It wasn’t long before they’d built their own server using computer parts from wherever they could get them. They even maxed out credit cards to buy enormous amounts of disk space as cheaply as possible.

The Pivotal Moment

Open laptop on white tabletop, Google on the screen, phone and office chairs in background

By August 1998, Google was wowing the curious in demonstrations, which led Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim to write out a cheque for $100k. Unfortunately, the cheque was made out to Google Inc.: a non-existent company at the time.

It forced Page and Brin to run around setting up the corporation just to be able to cash in, but luckily for the rest of us, it didn’t take them too long. By September 4th 1998, Google was officially a real company. And their incorporation and initial $100,000 meant they had the means to raise more money. $900,000 more, to be exact.

Now with the funds they needed to really kickstart the project, Page and Brin could open their first office in California, launching Google.com as a beta test that answered around 10,000 queries each day.

Finally, in 1999, Google could officially remove the “beta” from their title.

How Google Grew

Google web app open on a modern smartphone, held in off-screen hand, black background

Even just as a search engine, Google was already an impressive piece of tech. Unconventional from the start, the company continued to hold on to their innovative, push-the-boundaries outlook to grow and develop into the worldwide name they are today.

In 2001, Larry Page was listed as the inventor of PageRank when Google filed for a patent for the technology. This was around the time the company went truly public, which had many of the people involved worrying that the culture at Google might change as it grew.

To honour the company’s commitment to stay objective and stick to its values, Google then created the role of Chief Culture Officer, to keep them in check.

The company grew massively, quickly introducing product after product, many of which we still use. Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive and Chrome were all released in succession as the company acquired other platforms like YouTube and expanded. One monumental move was the exploration of the mobile phone sector, leading to the creation of Android, a Google-run phone operating system.

By the time 2015 came round, Google had restructured and had several divisions under the name of Alphabet, a vast conglomerate. Original founders Brin and Page took on the roles of President and CEO, respectively.

How is Google still relevant?

Google-branded tech on table

The harder to answer question is how is Google not still relevant?

They’re still one of the biggest companies in the world, despite their small-time origins. And they’re constantly pushing ahead and releasing new tech and software on a regular basis.

The creation of Google AdWords (now Google Ads) and pay-per-click (PPC) services was a huge addition. It changed the way we use and attempt to rank on Google, as much for average users as personal brands and huge companies. Digital marketing and search engine optimisation have become essential artforms, changing the face of the digital world entirely.

Flash Forward

In 2004, Google launched Google Scholar to index entire sections of scholarly literature, making them available worldwide, for free. A year later, Google Maps was created – which many of us use daily to travel around not just the country, but the world. Google Earth followed soon after, then Google Analytics – all tools that we use on a personal and professional level every day.

Once Google was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, the company continued to try to organise the world’s data with Google Calendar, Google Finance, and Google Trends. Then they released Google Translate in 2006 to break language barriers worldwide.

In 2007, Google was ranked as the top company to work for – the same year the company did it again, released Google Streetview and, of course, Android.

In 2009 they brought us Google Voice, then in 2011, Google Flights. 2014 was the year Google brought us Google Classroom, designed to simplify file sharing and grading between students and teachers, later improving the service by integrating it with Google Calendar and Google Meet. In 2015 we then got Google Photos to store images online for free. In 2016 there was Google Home.

And while continuing to spew out amazing new services, products and technology, Google has remained transparent through it all, working to genuinely improve the world with investments in renewable energy and self-driving cars.

All in all, it’s hard to keep track of Google and its many achievements these days. But if we can say one thing for certain, it’s that they’re going nowhere. In fact, they might have even released something new before this post goes live!

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