Open Thread – January 22nd, 2011

By Razib Khan | January 22, 2011 2:41 am

Google is in the news, with Larry Page’s ascension. Generally when I hear people compare Larry Page and Sergey Brin it is Page who is described as the “Big Think” guy. But these guys didn’t always think big. Stupid Business Decisions: Excite Rejects Google’s Asking Price:

In 1999, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google (GOOG), decided that their creation was interfering with their studies and offered it to a slew of companies (including the defunct Alta Vista, which passed, and Yahoo (YHOO), which also passed, but had a strong enough product that they were able to stay afloat with their own technology). An offer was then made to Excite’s George Bell, who deemed the asking price of $1 million too high. Vinod Khosla of Kleiner Perkins went back for another attempt — this time for $750,000 — and was thrown out of Bell’s office.

George Bell still seems to be around. I guess when you achieve a certain level of success truly stupid decisions don’t matter. Whatever happened to “skin in the game”? But notice that Page and Brin actually thought about selling their idea for $1 million dollars in 1999! Bell wasn’t the only one who was lacking vision and genuine perspective. It should remind us that genuine innovation is by its nature hard to predict.

Also, Kambiz Kamrani is back blogging at Too bad he won’t be blogging chicken genetics! And another interesting blog, For what they were… we are.

  • AG

    Razib, I am waiting for your book. With your writing skill and knowlage, I am surprised that you have not published some thing. I am sure you will have a lot readers like me if you do.

  • dan

    yes! i second this. just do a little “learner” book on HBD. those tiny little books with awesome illustrations are great for getting people started on physics and evolution and i’d doubt anyone’s made one that has an “edge” to it yet. yours could be the first.

  • Razib Khan

    re: book. stay tuned.

  • dan

    nailed it. make it a pithy one, R;)

  • Barry

    I was “in the neighborhood” at the time, the story sounds revisionist and apocryphal to me. Having produced both Excite and Yahoo, the value of search engine technology was well understood at Stanford, and the limits of it too.

    Page and Brin weren’t studying what they were studying by accident, they were looking for something better than Yahoo, because Yahoo was seen as vulnerable both on technology and as a business model by then.

    In those days, Khosla would spend $750K on a party, I can’t see him not knowing the potential value of the original google scoring algorithm or the weakness of existing marketplace. Unless he met Page and Brin at 1 o’clock some day for the first time and happened to have a meeting that day at 2 with Bell, this didn’t happen.

    And no way in those days of rising valuations would the passage of time result in an offer of *less* money to take something valuable off of one’s hands.

  • Razib Khan

    yeah, i actually heard the story as relating to yahoo a while back. i should check up and see if it’s true, it does border on not passing the smell test….

  • M. Möhling

    Razib, you asserted that Global Warming could lead to an Ice Age. Given that our present interglacial will end short-term anyway, geologically speaking, whether you’re right or not, and possibly abrupt, does it make sense to rely on wind, solar, and hydropower, as that will fail then in many parts, time in all likelihood being too short for transition? Is that a valid argument on its own, adding to the known ones against “nature based” energy?

  • Razib Khan

    . Given that our present interglacial will end short-term anyway, geologically speaking,

    i don’t know much about climate, but we’re overdue. i think there is a non-trivial possibility that we’ve terraformed the planet and shifted it toward a new equilibrium (agriculture). i can’t hazard to offer an informed guess on energy really. haven’t thought/read about. i’m just a typical ‘tard on those issues.

  • Fred R.

    Yeah Razib, write a book!

  • US

    Perhaps the story isn’t true, a lot of that kind of stories aren’t, but then again the bubble hadn’t popped yet. Perhaps Bell met with several web-innovators on a weekly (/daily?) basis working very hard to sell him a lot of hot air at that point in time – if so, Page and Brin could have just gotten lost in the noise. Considering how the story is told (‘thrown out of his office’) it’s likely that Bell considered them nothing but hot-air salesmen. I wonder what google’s cash flow looked like when they approached Bell (if the story is true)?

    Oh, and +1 on the book thing.

  • Skip Foreplay

    Can’t be true. I first heard of Google on the Internet Chess Club when somebody put up a link to an early beta. This was definitely 1999 if not before.

    I was actually looking for the address of Payard Chocolates in NYC at the time and getting nothing from whatever engines I was using. That Google beta produced it as the top hit.

    I would have paid a $1 million on the spot.

  • Razib Khan

    skip, what does when you found out about google have to do with it? i knew about it december 1998

    so? did you have $1 million then?

  • EcoPhysioMichelle
  • Skip Foreplay

    I’m not boasting I’m some super early adopter; just saying that by 1999 Google’s superiority was clearly evident. If Salon knew about it by 1998, then this must be 1997 I’m talking about. There was early an beta release on the Internet Chess Club, and everyone who used it was clamoring to buy stock because it was so obviously better than everything else.

    Hence, I doubt this story.

  • Razib Khan

    yeah, i agree. something is fishy about this story.


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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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