In the fast-paced world of today, Google has become synonymous with search. However, rewind to 1999, and you’ll find Ask.com, formerly known as Excite, reigning supreme in the web space. Back in the ’90s, Excite was a household name, and the thought of a corporation passing up the opportunity to acquire Google seems inconceivable. To unravel this intriguing narrative, we must take a journey back to the 1990s, a time when Yahoo!, Lycos, and Excite ruled the realm of internet search engines.
In the final weeks of their undergraduate careers at Stanford University, six ambitious students made a bold decision: they preferred to be their bosses rather than work for someone else. This pivotal moment led to the birth of Excite. Founded in 1993 under the name Architect Software, the company’s initial mission was to create a search engine.
It wasn’t until late 1994 that Architext’s founders, after a year of relentless work on their invention, accepted a funding offer from Vinod Khosla, a Stanford University alum representing Kleiner Perkins. The infusion of capital marked a turning point. Following a series of successful fundraising efforts, Architext rebranded as Excite.com in October 1995. The web search engine wasted no time and soon began selling advertising sponsorships, a move that would prove to be worth millions. At its launch, Excite.com had indexed 1.5 million pages—a number that pales in comparison to the staggering 50 billion web pages indexed by Google as of March 2013.
Excite’s journey continued with its successful initial public offering in April 1996, coinciding with George Bell’s appointment as CEO in January of the same year. As the company continued its rapid expansion, it surpassed the $150 million mark in 1998. Amid this period of persistent growth, Excite merged with @Home, leading to a series of acquisitions and mergers with various brands.
However, the early 2000s saw the beginning of a downward spiral for Excite, as it failed to meet growth expectations. The turning point came in March 2004 when the Ask Jeeves network, which we now know as Ask.com, acquired Excite.
While Excite was dominating the tech industry during the same decade, a lesser-known brand was quietly making waves. Larry Page and Sergey Brin initiated Google in 1996 as a side project, but it swiftly evolved into much more. Google was gaining recognition in tech circles as the superior search engine, surpassing well-established names like Yahoo!, Lycos, and even Excite. By late 1998, Google had already indexed an impressive 60 million pages.
Although it may sound like an urban legend today, in 2010, Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures claimed that Google was ready to sell for less than $1 million, but Excite wasn’t interested. The reason? Excite’s interference with Brin and Page’s research. Khosla, who was a partner at Kleiner Perkins at the time, managed to persuade the Google founders to reduce their asking price to $750,000. Yet, George Bell, Excite’s CEO, remained uninterested.
Google didn’t dwell on Excite’s rejection. Instead, multiple rounds of funding followed, culminating in a successful public offering in 2004 with an initial share price of $85. Fast forward to today, and Google boasts annual revenue exceeding $50 billion, with a share price standing at $812.
Some have labeled Excite’s decision as one of the worst in tech industry history. Had they acquired Google for $750,000, Excite might have gained access to an early version of the Google algorithm, known for its exceptional search results. However, it’s important to recognize that in 1999, Google was far from the tech giant it is today. The contributions of early Google employees like Brin and Page played a crucial role in the company’s subsequent success. These individuals could have remained with Excite-owned Google or pursued different paths. Many key figures in Google’s expansion could have begun their journeys at Excite.
Even with the acquisition of Google, it’s uncertain whether Excite would have achieved the same level of success in the search industry. Google has evolved into much more than just a search engine, making comparisons challenging. Furthermore, predicting Google’s future dominance in the late ’90s, when Excite and Yahoo were thriving with their algorithms, was a difficult task. Even Brin and Page, as they shopped Google around, likely didn’t anticipate the rapid ascent to the pinnacle of the tech world. While hindsight may deem Excite’s decision a monumental mistake, it must be viewed within the context of the late ’90s tech landscape.
Tips and FAQs for Entrepreneurial Insights
Why Did Excite Miss the Google Opportunity?
- You might wonder why Excite, a once-prominent player in the web space, turned down the chance to acquire Google for $750,000. The tech landscape of the late ’90s was vastly different, and hindsight is 20/20. The decision was made based on the circumstances of that era.
Learn from Past Mistakes
- When considering business decisions, it’s essential to acknowledge that even major companies can make pivotal choices that, in hindsight, seem misguided. The tech industry is no exception. Learn from Excite’s missed opportunity to make informed decisions in your entrepreneurial journey.
The Value of Visionary Founders
- Visionary founders like Larry Page and Sergey Brin played a critical role in Google’s success. They took a side project and transformed it into a tech giant. As an entrepreneur, surround yourself with individuals who share your vision and passion.
Adaptability in the Tech World
- The tech industry is ever-changing. What might have seemed like a small acquisition in 1999 could lead to significant developments over time. Stay adaptable and open to new opportunities in your entrepreneurial endeavors.
Innovation Beyond Search Engines
- Google’s evolution from a search engine to a diverse tech conglomerate shows the value of diversifying your business. Don’t limit yourself to one niche; explore new avenues for growth and innovation.
Tech Industry Insights
- The late ’90s tech landscape was characterized by numerous search engines vying for dominance. Understanding industry trends and competition is crucial. Stay informed about your industry to make well-informed decisions.
Building Long-Term Value
- While quick acquisitions can be tempting, focus on building long-term value in your business. Google’s success wasn’t overnight; it was a result of years of innovation and hard work. Be patient and persistent in your entrepreneurial journey.
Leverage Networking Opportunities
- Vinod Khosla’s role in the Google-Excite deal highlights the significance of networking. Connections can lead to crucial opportunities. Attend industry events, engage with peers, and build a robust network to enhance your entrepreneurial prospects.
Seizing Opportunities When They Arise
- In entrepreneurship, opportunities often come when you least expect them. Be prepared to act decisively when an opportunity presents itself, as it could be the catalyst for your business’s growth.
The Unpredictable Nature of Tech
- Tech evolution is unpredictable. What seems insignificant today might become a game-changer tomorrow. Stay open to possibilities, and don’t underestimate the potential of emerging technologies.
Success Requires More than Just Capital
- While funding is essential, it’s not the sole determinant of success. Google’s rejection by Excite showcases that success hinges on factors beyond financial backing, including vision, execution, and adaptability.
Continuous Learning and Innovation
- The tech industry rewards those who embrace continuous learning and innovation. Stay curious, keep evolving your skills, and be open to exploring new technologies and trends.
In the ever-shifting terrain of the tech world, one thing remains certain: opportunities often present themselves when we least expect them. The tale of a missed opportunity involving a once-dominant web player underscores the importance of staying alert to these possibilities.