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Summary:

In past week or so, Google has lost some high profile executives, including AdMob co-founder Omar Hamoui and YouTube CEO Chad Hurley. Google Maps/Google Wave co-creator Lars Rasmussen also quit and is joining Facebook, lamenting inability to get anything done at the lumbering web giant.

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Google has made it a habit of making news for the wrong reasons! Days after it reported a blockbuster quarter, the company’s chief executive made some childish remarks about privacy.

And, in past week or so, the company saw three well-known executives leave the company. First it was Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube, who decided it was time to hang up his CEO spurs. (Hurley is staying on as a special adviser.) Then came news that AdMob co-founder Omar Hamoui was leaving. Then, over the weekend, news spread that Lars Rasmussen, who was one of the co-creators of Google Maps and Google Wave, is leaving.

Rasmussen is trading Google for Facebook. He apparently likes the new gig so much he would give up Sydney and move to the San Francisco Bay Area. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Rasmussen said:

It feels to me that Facebook may be a sort of once-in-a-decade type of company. The energy there is just amazing, whereas it can be very challenging to be working in a company the size of Google. (SMH)

According to some estimates, one in five Facebook employees have ties back to Google, including COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Bret Taylor. Google has over 23,331 employees according to company’s recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Facebook has about 2,000 employees.

Rasmussen explained in his interview that getting things done (GTD) was a big problem at Google, and shutting down his project, Google Wave, a year after it was made available as a beta is a sign it was becoming difficult to get things done at the search giant.

We were not quite the success that Google was hoping for, and trying to persuade them not to pull the plug and ultimately failing was obviously a little stressful. It takes a while for something new and different to find its footing and I think Google was just not patient. (SMH)

He’s not alone. Many former members of AdMob have privately expressed frustration at their inability to get things done at Google. Others who have quit the search giant have expressed similar sentiments. Sometimes, money and perks aren’t enough to retain talent. If today it’s Facebook, then tomorrow it will be yet another hot startup that will keep fishing in Google’s talent pool and find eager biters.

I don’t think rivals (including upstarts) have the ability to stop Google’s financial steamroller. It will continue to be a dominant force in search and online advertising for years to come. But if it doesn’t reign in its talent problem, the company will have a long-term crisis on its hands. It was exodus of talent and inability to get things done that has brought giants of the past — Yahoo for example — to their knees.

For the longest time, Google has been the beacon for the smartest and most talented people in the world, especially from an engineering perspective. If these super-smart people start getting frustrated by their inability to get anything done, they’re going to follow Rasmussen to somewhere they can find a more receptive and nurturing environment.

In the end, that’s the single biggest problem for Google.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d) about Google:

  1. Please the hyperbole on Facebook is nauseating, smart adventurous people always move on, and GOOG is feeling this now bigtime !

    I’m sure you read this which is Arrington’s best post ever

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    1. Steve

      I think you miss my point. Sure today it is Facebook. But tomorrow it is something else and Google’s big problem is making sure that things get done and people feel some of their projects are getting somewhere> it is ability to attract and retain talent that is a Google’s big challenge and now there is a lot of competition for talent, Facebook being one of those competitors.

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      1. Rick Thomchick Monday, November 1, 2010

        I’d take it a step further and say there is great significance in this massive shift of brain power. There’s always competition for talent but this is easily on par with the brain drain at Microsoft when Google starting stealing their talent a few years ago. GTD is also a problem at other juggernauts like VMware, even more pronounced–they are hiring almost as fast as Facebook, but they’ve also lost some talent to the “cool kids” around the corner. Perhaps it is a side-effect of rapid growth, who knows? Maybe we’ll be having the same conversation about Facebook 5 years from now.

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  2. Hi Om – yes thx for clarification and I agree esp. with there is a lot of competition for talent…and being a Pirate today is better than ever ;)

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  3. There are entpreneurs who love to innovate in an environment that’s fast-paced and close-knit, and people who are thrilled signing up to work at a multi-thousand person company and dealing with inherent challenges therein. An entrepreneur who came in via a purchase (and thus has “FU’ money) is *very* likely to leave not long after they are fully vested, unless they discover some new challenge that they find as exciting as the lure of the next startup. All three of the people mentioned in the article came to GOOG as part of an acquisition. Startup people often cite “beaurocracy” as the reason for leaving; of course a big company feels beaurocratic compared to something you started yourself!

    My question: is Google losing the folks with previous big company experience because of the “GTD” problem, or are they sticking around?

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  4. I respect peoples desire to accomplish,
    and not spin their wheels while an elite few at the top
    lurch forward (mostly in singularity).

    But more importantly,
    I’d like to see these professionals decide where they’re going
    based on HOW THE COMPANY TREATS USERS.
    I’m looking at you Facebook & Google
    (and friendfeed – oh wait)

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  5. Om,
    Today it’s X, tomorrow it’s Y. IMO there is no single reason why PEOPLE leave COMPANY. It’s different for everyone. There are thousands of ways to piss people off and only one way to keep them. It’s easy to point at A or B as reasons for a few people, but hard to ever point it to a single issue.

    You’re correct that people with similar qualities (intelligence it this case) move in similar manners (to Facebook). What Facebook had was the startup. As soon as they lose it (as all companies do) they will go down next. Now going down doesn’t mean losing everything, but it means to stop gaining. When that point happens (IPO, Job Loss, Dividends) there will be something fresher that no one except kid genius had thought of and executed on.

    So what do you propose a company of Google’s size do? They already have projects in place to bring in talent, train to the minimum, set them free to startup ideas, and reacquire. What else does a conglomerate need to do?

    My answer would be to look at a company like SAS. Currently they’re holding employee’s even with some of the dullest work on the planet.

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    1. Hey Thanks for the comment. Can you elaborate on the SAS comment. I think you might have something here.

      On what should Google do, well, I am thinking about ti and perhaps write up a follow up post later this week.

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      1. Hi Om
        you can also put it this way.
        Today google is going through such phase and tomorrow it could be Facebook.It is a natural process.People take pride in working for companies which are attracting more attention.When google was at its PR peak you would have observed lots of pople shifting from gaints like SUN,ORCLE,APPLE.One thing we should observe is google is not doing any less innovation than facebook.Its just the shift in PR attention which is driving people to facebook.

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      2. Perhaps, SAS already has the dumbest people hired? And that’s why the dumbest people don’t mind the dullest work?

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  6. Google is a big company now, a late market behemoth. It needs to start practicing Christensen’s separation. That cuts through this whole getting things done problem. It also decouples the new stuff from the cost structure and policy structure of the parent Google. And, it would let each new thing pass through the technology adoption lifecycle on its own terms. Otherwise, expect continued failures.

    Google has too much money to develop good software. It competes with every company that ever wrote code, and doesn’t do it better than they did. Google Chess? Oh, come off it. Portal. Same. Sad. Evil.

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  7. Google is facing the problem that all technology-based successes face. When they grow, they need to hire management layers that have little affinity with the original culture of innovation. For a period of between 12 months and four years, there will be uncertain adjustments as the new managers start to challenge the original culture. Google is now moving into the third stage, where the new managers have gained cultural authority and are exercising it.

    Microsoft went through this in late 90s and early 2000s.

    Sometimes this settles down into a new equilibrium, as in Microsoft’s case. Sometimes it doesn’t.

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  8. Om, this is bad journalism:
    * Using a couple of isolated incidents to generalize and write an attention grabbing headline. Have you looked at what the real attrition rate at google is, how it compares to other tech companies (including facebook) and especially to companies at a similar stage in their evolution.
    * Using a tautology as your conclusion — hiring and retaining top talent is the biggest problem for any top company (google is no exception).
    * In a company of google’s size, there will always be some unhappy employees. Google is a business and it has to take hard decisions and some folks will be unhappy with these decisions.

    I think your article would be much more interesting if it said something more meaningful and provided more solid evidence.

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  9. It does seem like FAcebook now is just dangling money in front of Google staff, less to help Facebook and more to slow down/hurt Google. Note: A (satirical) post on my site addresses the Lars exit.

    Really, I think that’s all this is. Money. Not “environment”.

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  10. Thanks for sharing and summarizing that Herald interview, Om. I suspected when I read the “no imagination” article that leaving Google for Facebook was more about being engaged than it was about money, and the interview seems to confirm it. I was really disappointed when Google killed Wave, and it’s comforting to hear that the developer still believes in his vision. I can’t wait to see what he does at Facebook!

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