No Risk, Just Reward With Google Memoir
For the 99.9 percent of Americans who were not in the right place at the right time to become dot-com multi-millionaires, the title of Douglas Edwards' memoir, I'm Feeling Lucky, seems entirely appropriate. Edwards was Google employee number 59. For six years, he was director of consumer marketing and brand management, responsible for the look and tone of Google's communications with its users. Readers, imagining the kind of wealth with which Edwards left the company after its IPO, will undoubtedly exclaim with just a hint of envy: You were lucky!
Yet, the simple title is surprisingly eloquent, for it was the "I'm feeling lucky" sentiment of a gambler that first sent Edwards to Google. He was 41, married with three children, and had a good job at the well-respected and solid San Jose Mercury News. Taking a $25,000 pay cut to go to work for an obscure dot-com whose product was yet another search engine was far from evident. Yet he felt that something exciting and important was happening in Silicon Valley, and he wanted to be a part of it — even if he wasn't a 20-something genius engineer.
A Marketer Amongst Engineers
Over the span of his tenure at Google, Edwards would persevere at the company despite a constant battle that he and his boss, Cindy McCaffrey, waged for respect and recognition. McCaffrey, especially, comes across as heroic in her continuous attempts to keep the company on good terms with the press. Google was clearly a science- and mathematics-driven company that had little patience or appreciation for the niceties of public relations and marketing.
One classic example is the launch of Gmail on April 1, 2004. Google's founders decided to make the announcement of the new e-mail service ambiguously humorous so that journalists wouldn't know for sure whether or not the new service was real — not exactly the best way to endear journalists to your company.
However, while there are, as expected, conflicts and tensions, there are no true villains in Edwards' memoir. He clearly left the company on good terms when it went public, and interviewed a number of former colleagues to support his descriptions of the events at the company.
When Work Becomes Life
In some ways, I'm Feeling Lucky is similar to many insider corporate histories, with turf wars, staff meeting battles, and good and bad decisions being an inevitable part of the life of an ambitious company.
Most companies, of course, don't have bloody roller hockey games or a dedicated office for people to sleep when exhaustion takes over.
Most of all, other companies don't have the driven, brilliant, hyperenergetic Larry Page and Sergey Brin leading the charge — and an unrelenting, untiring charge it was. Work/Life balance is not an issue when the work is your whole life, as it was for most of Edwards' young colleagues. "A very pregnant project manager — overcome by exhaustion — apologized to me for not answering an e-mail I sent her after midnight," he writes. "She shamefacedly admitted she had fallen asleep." This shows the level of dedication that Google's employees had to the company and to the vision of its founders.
One of the themes of the book is that Edwards tried to bring a more cautious and traditional perspective to a company where caution was not a familiar — nor desired — word. ("I had read [David Ogilviy's] Ogilvy on Advertising to prepare for my career," he writes. "Sergey had read [Charles Darwin's] On the Origin of Species.") Especially in the early start-up years of Google's existence, however, Edwards discovered that often what he saw as unnecessary risks bound to end badly turned out to be genius strokes of creativity and innovation.
In the end, Edwards felt lucky, but not because his Google adventure made him wealthy — a result that he downplays as much as possible. Instead, he feels lucky because he was able to play a part in the story of a company that clearly changed the daily lives of most people around the world.
"Smart people, motivated to make things better, can do almost anything," he writes at the end of this detailed, well-written memoir. "I feel lucky to have seen firsthand just how true that is."
Receive all of our latest book reviews in your inbox each month.