Is Google Too Insular with Its Acquisitions?

Ann All

I've written about Google's insular corporate culture before, citing a 2007 Newsweek article that found many of its hires came from similar backgrounds with a large number of them, for example, having parents who taught at universities. (To be fair, Google is far from the only Silicon Valley employer struggling to create a diverse work force.)


And there was the reportedly leaked memo from a former company employee that described Google's work environment as "just like college" in that it relieves employees from thinking about even basic needs like food and transportation. (Again, Google isn't the only company to provide perks like free food and transportation for its employees.)


I also shared tech pundit Robert Cringely's take that Google's famed policy of allowing employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on new ideas of their own rather than company-sanctioned projects might result in many of them leaving Google.


So it's not too surprising that Google has made a habit of purchasing companies founded by Google alumnae, a trend GigaOm calls an "acquhire binge." GigaOm points out other tech giants have employed similar strategies, with Cisco calling its investments in former employees' startups "spin-ins."


This makes sense on several levels.Google notoriously has so much going on that it's bound to miss opportunities to internally nurture ideas that go on to prove themselves in an outside environment. Even if it has no plans to develop them further, buying companies with products that may have germinated inside Google will at least prevent competitors from benefiting from them.


But I wonder if a lot of these products produced by former Googlers are pretty similar to ones that ultimately would have been created inside Google? (Maybe the Google alums just got tired of waiting for their ideas to be noticed.) If so, Google is missing out on an opportunity to diversify its product offerings. Google may gain new ideas through Google Labs and other efforts to engage consumers in product development, but the recent privacy flap over Buzz shows it needs to put forth more effort in bringing outside ideas in. Acquiring companies without overt Google connections might be one place to start.

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