Oddly, Orkut became a sensation in Brazil. “In Brazil, Orkut is the Internet and Google is search,” wrote one local journalist, who added that using Orkut was “like putting sugar in your coffee, watching Globo telenovelas, or heading to the beach from Christmas to Carnival.” On a trip to Brazil in 2006, Sergey Brin was asked why, and he responded, “We don’t know—what do you think?” When pressed, Googlers would refer to stereotypes of Carioca sociability, but that didn’t sufficiently explain why Orkut became the social networking choice of this country over other competitors—or why Orkut was so badly left behind in the rest of the world. Marissa Mayer’s personal analysis was based on the Google yardstick of speed. Brazilians, she says, were used to lousy Internet service and thus more tolerant of the delays. “They would just keep sitting there and waiting,” she says. Orkut was also dominant in India, where it was the number one Google service—ahead of search and Gmail. “There is no second product in India—Orkut is dominant,” said Manu Rekhi, the Orkut India product manager, in 2007. “I’ve seen beggar kids who use their money to get on Orkut.” Mayer also attributed that success to its quick response compared to other services. “Do you know why Orkut took off in India?” she would ask. “Opposite time zone, and no load on the servers at night. Speed matters.” (Why Orkut ruled in Brazil, however, was a mystery never solved.)
An integral part of a public offering is a “road show,” during which company leaders pitch their prospects to bankers and investment gurus. Brin and Page refused to see themselves as supplicants. According to Lise Buyer, the founders routinely spurned any advice from the experienced financial team they’d hired to guide them through the process. “If you told them you couldn’t do something a certain way, they would think you were an idiot,” she says. The tone of the road-show presentations was set early, as Brin and Page introduced themselves by first names, an opening more appropriate for bistro waiters than potential captains of industry. And of course they weren’t attired like executives—the day of their presentation of Google’s case to investors was one more in a lifetime of casual dress days for them. Google had prepared a video to promote the company, but viewers considered it amateurish. It was poorly lit and wasn’t even enlivened by the customary upbeat musical sound track. Though anyone who read the prospectus should have been prepared for that, some investors had difficulty with the heresy that Google was willing to forgo some profits for its founders’ idealistic views of what made the world a better place. On the video Brin cautioned that Google might apply its resources “to ameliorate a number of the world’s problems.” Probably the low point of the road show was a massive session involving 1,500 potential investors at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. Brin and Page caused a firestorm by refusing to answer many questions, cracking jokes instead. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Some investors sitting in the ballroom began speculating with each other whether the executives had spent any time practicing the presentation, or if they were winging it.” The latter was in fact the case—despite the desperate urging of Google’s IPO team, Page and Brin had refused to perform even a cursory run-through.
Even more controversial was Google’s insistence on relying on academic metrics for mature adults whose work experience would seem to make college admission test scores and GPAs moot. In her interview for Google’s top HR job, Stacy Sullivan, then age thirty-five, was shocked when Brin and Page asked for her SAT scores. At first she challenged the practice. “I don’t think you should ask something from when people were sixteen or seventeen years old,” she told them. But Page and Brin seemed to believe that Google needed those … data. They believed that SAT scores showed how smart you were. GPAs showed how hard you worked. The numbers told the story. It never failed to astound midcareer people when Google asked to exhume those old records. “You’ve got to be kidding,” said R. J. Pittman, thirty-nine years old at the time, to the recruiter who asked him to produce his SAT scores and GPA. He was a Silicon Valley veteran, and Google had been wooing him. “I was pretty certain I didn’t have a copy of my SATs, and you can’t get them after five years or something,” he says. “And they’re, ‘Well, can you try to remember, make a close guess?’ I’m like, ‘Are you really serious?’ And they were serious. They will ask you questions about a grade that you got in a particular computer science class in college: Was there any reason why that wasn’t an A? And you think, ‘What was I doing way back then?
That’s true,” said Brin. “Ultimately I view Google as a way to augment your brain with the knowledge of the world. Right now you go into your computer and type a phrase, but you can imagine that it could be easier in the future, that you can have just devices you talk into, or you can have computers that pay attention to what’s going on around them and suggest useful information.” “Somebody introduces themselves to you, and your watch goes to your web page,” said Page. “Or if you met this person two years ago, this is what they said to you.” Later in the conversation Page said, “Eventually you’ll have the implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer.” It was a fantastic vision, straight out of science fiction. But Page was making remarkable progress—except for the implant. When asked in early 2010 what will come next for search, he said that Google will know about your preferences and find you things that you don’t know about but want to know about. So even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, Google will tell you.