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Rushes Sequences - Marissa Mayer interview - USA (Video)

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 18:32 UK time, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Marissa Mayer is Vice President of Search Products and User Experience at the internet search company Google. She met with the programme three team to discuss her early experiences at Google and the implementation of the Adwords advertising systems.

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(Please note that this transcript is the 'raw data' text we receive from a transcription company. It is a tool commonly used in production to facilitate editing and review the content. We publish it for users in that same spirit, rather than it standing as a 'perfect' representation of the content.)

Intv I'd like to take you back to almost your first day, what was the atmosphere like, what did it feel like as a company?

Marissa Well I think then, actually one of the more interesting anecdotes from the early days, in terms of giving people a sense of what it was like, ah, was back at doing my interviews, which were in April of 1999.  Ah, and at the time Google was a seven person company, ah, I arrived and I was interviewed at a ping pong table, which was also the company's conference table (laughs).  Ah, and, ah, it was right when they were pitching for venture capital money, so actually after my interview, Larry and Sergey left and took the entire office with them to the venture capitalists.  So the office manager, who was the only person remaining, came in and apologised and said, "I'm sorry, I know it was very important for us to get the interviews done today, but everyone has left (laughs), so you'll have to come back tomorrow."  Ah, and so I came back the next day and on that day, ah, I met, got to meet the company, because in those days the whole company interviewed you.  And my last interview was, ah, with a fellow Amit Patel, and when Amit came in he said, "You know, it's somewhat awkward because I just started this morning, so I'm not sure exactly what to ask you (laughs), but you know, let's have a chat anyway."  And so, ah, so it was really interesting to see just how fast the company was growing, that it literally grew, you know, from seven people to eight people, what is that, like 15%, ah, overnight?  And we really had to come to speed quickly, like Amit had to become an expert interviewer, em, what types of qualities does it look for in a Googler, literally within his first few hours of starting.

Intv By the time you joined, there was like fifty people?

Marissa No, no, so, ah, when I, so I interviewed in April and there were, ah, seven people growing to eight on the second day of my interview, and I started two months later after I graduated in June, at the time the company was running fifteen.

Intv During that phase, were people thinking about money or was it just about building the best search engine?

Marissa Ah, well certainly we were really interested in building a sustainable business and we had just received venture capital money, we wanted to think about how to invest it and how to scale the service.  Ah, but it is notable that the very first day when I arrived, ah, they had two projects that they assigned me, one to work on and one to help out with, ah, so I was, I was the lead on one and, and sort of the helper on the other, and one of them was working on the ad system, and the other was building a better way of buying products, or searching for products to buy online.  So they are still two things that we're very interested in today, but that commitment was there right from the beginning.  We knew we needed to build an advertising system and I actually believe that on the, you know, some time in that first week, and the fi, second or third day I worked here, someone pointed out that the goal really was to have ads, they were as relevant and as targeted and search was, also it added as much to the user experience, so that was the vision, you know, from right, right when I started on.

Intv It's always been incredible clean and clear.  Did it feel like you were trying to go back to an earlier version of the web?

Marissa Ah, well I will give you the background story on the home page and our signature look, because people ask me that all the time, because I've now been in charge of the home page for almost ten years and people say, you know, what was the minimalism about?  Was it a statement of the clutter or the web?  Was it a profession of, of, of being a sort of, ah, a goal of minimalism?  And the answer was neither.  Ah, it was really just expedience, cos I can't take credit for it, Sergey did the original home page and when I asked him, I said, "You know, Sergey I get this question all the time and you've got to tell me, what were you thinking when you made the first home page?"  And Sergey looked at me like I was crazy and said, "We didn't have a web master and I don't do HTML," (laughs) so he just made the most, the, the, the simplest web page he possibly could, which was a Google logo and a search box.  In fact the first one he made didn't even have the search buttons, because it turns out the return key works just fine (laughs).  Ah, so we really stumbled into our signature look, ah, but it really was perceived with a lot of confusion by people.  Ah, we did our first user study in January of 2000, so the company was quite old at that point, about eight, ah, eighteen months old and, and there were about eighty people working here, and when we went, one of the first tasks we asked people, we wanted to have them do an unguided task first, so we'd say, and no one had used Google before, we'd say, "In your browser, open up www.google.com and construct some searches to help to, to try and answer the question, which country won the most gold medals in the 1994 Olympics."  And so we had two users sitting at the computer, so they would converse with each other, so that way we wouldn't be as interruptive, ah, and they would turn and they would load up the homepage and they would wait, they would wait fifteen seconds, thirty seconds and of course, this was our first user study and we didn't want to interfere, because as long as when you interfere, you know, you can't observe a system without changing it, you know, you could actually change the results.  But after about forty five seconds of them just waiting, like are they trying to construct searches, it means it's hard to think about what key words you want to type, you'd have to lean in and say, "I'm sorry, but what are you waiting for?"  And this happened to all sixteen users we had, all day long, they just looked at us and said, "I'm waiting for the rest of it."  Because the web had become so cluttered and so, everything flashed and revolved and asked you to punch the monkey, that like this blank white web page was just presumed to have not been all of it, that there just had to be more loading and coming in the background.  Ah, and so after that user study, one of our big advances was we, we reinstated the copyright on the bottom of the home page, because we went to the, the lawyers and we said, you know, "Can we put this copyright on the bottom of the home page?"  They said, "Well copyright's actually implied, you don't need to put it there."  And we said, "Well actually we're not trying to assert legal rights, we're just trying to give the page a sense of punctuation, like that's it, nothing else is coming, please start searching now."  So it was really interesting to see, you know, just the confusion it caused with people and the many, many wasted hours around the planet as people just misunderstood the Google home page (laughs).

Intv In the simplest terms, can you tell me how AdWords came about and what it does?

Marissa Ah, well the core idea behind it, AdWords, is could we create ads that are as relevant as search results?  And one of the big issues with advertising, at least in the market of 1999 was banner ads.  Banners ads were, one, really expensive to create, they probably cost two or three thousand dollars of professional graphics design help to create one and, two, people were seeing a lot of banner blindness on the web, where people, because they'd just seen so many banners, had just learned to ignore that shape, that size, that kind of space that flashed and revolved.  Ah, and so we thought, well if we really want ads to be as good as search results, we're going to need a lot of them, we have a lot of web pages, that's one reason we can come up with such good answers to searches, is because we have a lot of web pages to choose from to present us those answers.  But the beauty of text ads is they're very cheap and easy to create, you can create a new sentence for every possible search, right?  So if a person searches for this, then you, you answer them with that, and you can actually have people write those creatives much more quickly than you can create banners.  So it really worked for advertisers because, one, they could be much more targeted, two, they could create their advertisements much more, much more cheaply, and it worked for us, because it really enhanced the user experience by giving us a large volume of ads, so we could find the very best ad for those users.

Intv Did it feel that you were going to launch it and if it didn't work, what's next?  Was there a plan B?

Marissa Well, so we lau, had launched a preliminary advertising programme, where we had taken some textual advertisements from premium advertisers.  But the real insight between, with AdWords was allowing people to create their ads online, pay with a credit card online, and immediately see it show up on the search results.  And yes, there was a lot of trepidation, like, we weren't sure, like, could we just immediately begin showing the ads on search results?  Would they be good enough, ah, for that?  Ah, we were pretty sure the volume was there, because the idea that you can reach, I mean, search occupies this really magical moment in advertising, where demographics, billboards, commercials on television, they're really trying to find people who are likely to be thinking about buying a service, or think, they think about buying a product, and with search, we don't need to guess, we know what they're thinking about, because they've just typed it into the box.  And we're like well, you know, for an advertiser, that's the perfect moment, and so we knew there would be some element of demand, but that's why we were nervous, we spent a long time building the system, I was there, I was helping as one of the launch engineers, it was before I moved into product management, and there was a team of about twelve of us who had stayed up all night, who launched the system, we had it all there, the credit card payments were there, the user flow of creating the ads was there.  And of course the first, you know, the, the team that launched it, we were all busy filing ads on the system, you know, one each, to sort of make sure that it worked.  And like I remember my ad actually was on my parent's name, and said, "Hi mom and dad, I'm finally done with the project now," so I told them each day to search for themselves and they'd know, and I was free to talk again.  Um, and so we had these twelve ads and I remember we had the stash board where we could see all the ads that had been filed and then, all of a sudden, there was a thirteenth ad.  And we were all like, well wait, which, which of us just filed the thirteenth ad?  Who, who, you know?  And then all of a sudden we looked and it wasn't, it wasn't one of us, it was happylobsters.com, they were our first ad, AdWords customer (laughs).  And like it was just this thrilling moment that like, someone out there saw the service, like, created an ad with a credit card and, and it happened within about fifteen to twenty minutes of launch and I think, from that moment on, we were really sure.  It made sense that there was a demand for this, it was a really good product, it's a really good way of advertising and just the speed of happylobsters.com and them finding this service and beginning to advertise through it was, was really a validation of, of all those hunches.


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