Larry and Sergey just yelled at us until we became what they needed us to become, and get done what they needed to be done. And so I said, look, I’m going to just rinse and repeat that, hopefully with less yelling. We ultimately brought in management coaches and all kinds of mentoring.
I think you can have high expectations as a leader, and as long as they’re consistent and clearly communicated, a lot of people find that really inspiring. I always knew what Larry and Sergey wanted. I knew what good looked like to them, and so I never got discouraged by them saying, “Wait, I don’t think this is ready” or “I think this is overly ready.” At a start-up you never really know when should you launch something. So Google built the philosophy of launching early and often. Try things out and see what works.
As Google grew, how did you work to maintain a cohesive culture?
There are different phases of companies. When you’re in the tens of people, the idea itself either attracts people or it doesn’t. People are there because they think the problem you’re trying to solve is just that important.
The next phase is where it’s really critical and it’s hard. Getting from 100 employees to 1,000, you have to be very careful. There’s a strategy around compensation at that point, where you really want somebody who’s coming for the right reasons. To get the people who are really aligned with the mission, you want to make sure that they’re fairly compensated, but not necessarily motivated by that compensation. I had a strategy both at Yahoo and at Google of “meet, not beat.” It’s the trade-off between mercenaries and missionaries.
And then around 1,000 people, the culture and the mission become self-reinforcing. At Google I’d always ask new people, “Why did you come?” When we were about 1,200 people, all of a sudden, for the first time, I actually heard the answer, “I came for the culture.”
“I’m proud of what we achieved at Yahoo. That said, we had a quickly decaying legacy business. All we really managed to do was offset the declines.”
— Marissa Mayer
Why did you leave Google?
I was 37, and I had been working at Google for 13 years. I had been on search for 10 of those years and just had very recently made the change over to focus on Maps as a search technology. And I was like, “You know, I’m just not sure that I want to be like the 50-year-old search girl.”
I’d always had huge respect for Yahoo as a company. When we were here in this office, we dreamed of maybe getting the Yahoo contract, maybe one day powering Yahoo search. In 1999, Yahoo was the internet. And I knew that while there were a lot of things going wrong for the board and leadership at Yahoo, there were a lot of really good people there working on the products.