It was during the early part of 2016 when Astro Teller, a scientist, entrepreneur, and author, took over the stage of TED to talk about the significance of failure in the approach used by Google’s X to pioneering projects.
He started by telling people about how big the moonshot factory is. He referred to moonshot as a reminder for the people to keep their visions big and to never stop dreaming. Among the people from the Wall Street and within the Alphabet (the parent company of Google and X founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin) were some comments about how Teller was actually wasting money on insane experiments.
There were times when Google extravagantly spent on some products which only flopped in the market, including the self-driving cars. There was an enormous amount of money lost, and just in 2015 alone, the amount reached $3.6 billion which was twice of what the company had lost the year prior.
During his talk, Teller reframed these failures as something that will lead to a more successful and more productive path. He mentioned a number of experiments which only ended up failing before he finally moved on to mentioning one of the most lucrative projects – the Project Loon.
It might sound crazy but Project Loon is all about making balloon-powered Internet. Based on the initial plan, it is going to be a network of balloons that will be sent into the stratosphere that will be providing Internet connection to the rural and remote areas in the world, which could give billions of people all over the world a free access to the Internet. It is going to be a huge help for those who have little to no access at all to this technology. And that is a total of 4 billion people who will benefit from this endeavor.
After that speech by Teller, six months passed before the project leader Mike Cassidy stepped down. It was also around the same time when the self-driving car engineer, Urmson, left Alphabet, and David Vos, the leader of the X’s drone project, stepped down from Project Wing. There were several other departures that happened not long after Teller’s rousing speech. A number of divisions just lost their leads in design and engineering.
The reorganization of the company also known as “Alphabetization” was led by the new chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, who joined the company in May 2015. One of her first mandates was to bring discipline and focus to Google – a company that’s already capable of making so much money – so that it will never need too much of it. She was the author of very stringent policies and budgeting, and she even forced other divisions to pay for the Google services they utilized.
Because of these changes, the investors at Alphabets were very pleased. Since Porat joined the company, the stocks have increased by 35 percent. But because her management and tenure have been very controversial, she was labeled as the “Ruthless Ruth.” Critics and other top executives of Google said that the company was challenged when it comes to balancing innovation and the core business – search advertising.
Porat was not given the go signal by Alphabet for an interview, but during the company’s most recent earnings call in October, Porat explained and defended the reason behind Alphabet’s demanding approach when it comes to innovation. She said that there was a necessity to take a pause in certain areas of the business in order to “lay the foundation for a stronger future.” Alphabet had already spent $3.6 billion on research and development in the third quarter of 2016 alone, which is already an enormous amount of money.
Teller pointed out at TED that the most important thing is that they should only pursue innovations which are worth the money. And that the only way for people to work on big, risky things and running at all the hard parts of the problem is when they are given a path of least resistance. He concluded his talk by his belief in the moonshot factory and that enthusiastic skepticism is what he called the perfect partner of optimism.