Google is now a ubiquitous tech giant used by billions daily. But in 1999, it was still a scrappy young startup trying to make its mark on the world. How did Google go from a small private company to the behemoth it is today? Let‘s explore what Google looked like back in 1999 during its critical early days of growth.
Overview: Google‘s Launch and Explosive Growth in 1999
Google‘s journey began in 1995 when Stanford PhD students Larry Page and Sergey Brin first met and started collaborating on a new search engine technology called Backrub.
This evolved into Google, which launched its beta website Google.com in September 1998. At the very end of 1998, Google was handling just 10,000 queries per day.
But over the course of 1999, Google absolutely exploded. By December 1999, Google fielded more than 3.5 million searches per day – a 350X increase in volume. Revenue also grew from essentially $0 to $220,000 in 1999. By 2000, revenue would top $20 million.
Google also ballooned from a tiny team working out of a cramped office space to over 60 employees relocated into their own headquarters. Across the board, 1999 marked monumental growth for the young company. Next, let‘s examine different aspects of what Google looked like in 1999 during this pivotal year.
Google‘s Homepage: Simple and Sparse
The Google homepage design in 1999 would look familiar in some ways yet starkly different from today‘s homepage.
- Multi-colored Google logo, though with an exclamation point
- Prominent search bar positioned directly in the center
- "I‘m Feeling Lucky" button to take users straight to first result
- Listed as "beta" since Google was still testing the engine
- No navigation links or menus as found on today‘s homepage
- Black background instead of white which became standard later
- No doodles, images, or anything beyond the bare essential search box
Overall, 1999‘s homepage stood out for its simplicity and focus on search above all else. There was no clutter – just the logo, search bar, and buttons on a black background.
|Google Homepage Comparison|
|1999 Homepage||Today‘s Homepage|
Comparison of the Google homepage in 1999 (left) vs today (right)
This minimalist design was revolutionary among search engines of the era like Excite, Lycos, and AltaVista which had flashy graphics, menus, and cluttered layouts. Google‘s founders bucked the trends with their simpler design optimized for search speed and results.
Leaving Beta: Google‘s Official Launch
In October 1999, Google removed the "beta" label from its homepage, marking the official public launch of the search engine after over a year in testing and development.
To coincide with this launch, Google introduced an About page to provide more info on the company along with a Jobs page as they began to rapidly expand their workforce.
The Origin of Google Doodles
Google Doodles started by accident in 1998 with a simple stick figure indicating founders Larry and Sergey would be out of office at the Burning Man festival. This sparked the idea to decorate the logo for other occasions.
In 1999, Google invited outside artists to submit unofficial "doodled" versions of the logo to display. These early doodles paved the way for the beloved tradition Google Doodles are today.
Some of the earliest Google Doodles from 1999 by guest artists
Search Results Page: No Ads, Focused on Relevance
Google search results in 1999 would look rather bare compared to today‘s ad-heavy search pages. There would be a list of 10 blue text links with each site‘s URL.
PageRank percentages appeared next to results indicating relevance. But no ads or other content populated the page – just the core search results.
Without metadata as prevalent as today, result title and snippets contained minimal description. But Google did display the number of results found at the top, similar to today.
Overall, the 1999 search results page was incredibly clean and focused purely on returning the most relevant results without any distractions.
Google‘s Scrappy Team and Culture
From incorporation in 1998 to December 1999, Google ballooned from about 10 employees to over 60 employees. But the company culture remained informal and fun.
Early on, the entire Google staff fit around one table, with dogs roaming the office. Engineers dumped lava lamps on each other as pranks. Unique perks like free meals for employees were part of life from the start.
Google‘s full staff attending a meeting in early 1999 – about 20-30 employees
Key early team members included:
- Larry Page – Co-founder and CEO
- Sergey Brin – Co-founder and President
- Craig Silverstein – First employee and Director of Technology
- Marissa Mayer – Key early engineer and VP
- Susan Wojcicki – Marketer and current YouTube CEO
Turning Down Excite: The Biggest Missed Opportunity in Tech History?
In 1999, Larry Page and Sergey Brin tried to sell Google to rival search engine Excite for $1 million. Excite CEO George Bell rejected the offer.
When Excite investors later tried pressuring Page and Brin to lower the price to $750,000, Bell still refused. Excite ultimately went bankrupt just 2 years later in 2001.
The rejected Google deal is considered one of the biggest missed opportunities in the history of technology. Excite could have acquired Google for pennies on the dollar of what it was worth.
Venture Capitalists Bet Big on Google
Google secured its first major venture capital financing in June 1999, raising $25 million.
Top Silicon Valley VC firms Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital saw major potential despite Google‘s age, backing the company early. This investment fueled Google‘s rapid 1999 growth.
Moving Offices Repeatedly to Accommodate Growth
Motivated by its fast-climbing headcount and space needs, Google moved offices twice within Palo Alto, California in 1999:
- From Susan Wojcicki‘s garage to an office on University Ave
- Then from University Ave to a larger office on Charleston Rd
This kicked off Google‘s tradition of creating colorful, playful offices with perks to attract talent. In 1999, they already offered on-site laundry, snacks, and other distinctive benefits.
Google‘s Traction: Revenue and Query Growth
- 10,000 search queries per day handled by Google in 1998
- 3.5 million search queries per day handled by Google by December 1999
- $0 revenue for Google in 1998
- $220,000 revenue generated by Google in 1999
- 0 advertisements on Google in 1998
- $20 million revenue just 2 years later in 2000 from AdWords ads
This tremendous growth in queries, revenue, and ads set the stage for Google‘s total domination of the search industry in the 2000s.
From Scrappy Startup to Tech Giant
It‘s remarkable Google was still a small private company in 1999, unknown to most people. Within just a few years, it would reshape the entire tech landscape.
Thanks to visionary leadership, smart employees, and world-changing technology, Google leveraged 1999‘s growth to build the search empire it is today.