Google CEO Eric Schmidt Interview: His Thoughts On Search, Books, News, Mobile, Competition And More

A week ago I had a chance to sit down for a hour-long one on one interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt. There were no rules, and the whole interview was on the record. Part of the interview was on video as well.

There’s so much material that we’ve broken the interview notes up into a few different subject areas. We’ll post separately with his thoughts on the future of search, books, news, mobile and more. Schmidt also spoke candidly about the Microsoft/Yahoo search alliance, Twitter (he mentioned them before I did!) and Facebook.

What Is Google?

I started the interview with a simple question: What is Google?

Most people think of Google as a search engine, a place to start and end the day. People also think of it as an advertising company. But Google is obviously more than that.

Google says its mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But that’s too much of a 50,000 foot view of the company – and it’s so vague it’s not very useful.

Schmidt describes Google:

I think of Google as a set of overlapping things. It’s a consumer platform, consumer phenomenon of which search is its fundamental activity, but there are many other things you can do than search…I think of Google as an advertising company who services the broader advertising industry in the ways that you know. And the first and the second are inter-related. The third is I think of us as a network of partners and infrastructure. I don’t know how many billions of dollars we hand to everybody. But by the time you look at the publishers, the use of AdSense and so forth, it’s literally billions of dollars going through Google and to other people which we hope fund additional software, additional web applications, additional content and so forth and we care a lot about that.

He also says Google has a certain way of doing things internally, a theme comes up repeatedly later in the interview. It involves the small cultural things, like free soft drinks, snacks and lava lamps. But he also says Google has always focused on solving big problems:

And then I also think of Google as a cultural phenomenon in and of itself, you know, the lava lamps and the way in which Google is run and so forth. That’s how I like to think about it. With respect to product buckets, we’ve always taken the position of we want to do things that matter to a large number of people at scale. So, we don’t define ourselves as search only or ads only or what have you. We sort of wait until something comes along which could actually affect, in a positive way, a lot of people. We don’t want to work on problems that only affect a small number of people.

Five years ago (about the time Google went public), Schmidt says, he sat down with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to talk about Google’s strategy:

And so, we had a – Larry and Sergey and I had a strategy meeting five years ago…I said, OK, well, let’s write down our strategy. We never really had a strategy. And so Sergey basically got up and said, our job is to do things that matter to the world at scale and it should just boom, boom, boom like that. And that became our strategy. And then Larry and I wrote down in detail some of the ideas that happened from that. But it’s not just a search company or not just an advertising company. It doesn’t even have to be just an Internet company, although obviously, the Internet is key.

More interesting conversation from the interview coming up in additional posts. We’ll also update this post with links to those, too.

Additional Posts:

Part 2: Google CEO Eric Schmidt On The Future Of Search: “Connect It Straight To Your Brain”