A Spooky Halloween Decision to NOT Buy Google for $750K in 1999

In 1999, the number two search engine behind Yahoo! was a company called Excite.  (Other throwback search engines at the time were Lycos, Web Crawler, and Alta Vista.)  Excite had the opportunity to purchase a little start up called “Google” in 1999 for $750,000 and about 1% of Excite.  Turns out the founder of Google, Larry Paige, wanted to sell it so he could go back to Stanford and finish his PhD.

On paper, the numbers worked and the deal looked great.  Paige showed Excite’s leadership that if they used his algorithm, they would increase their search engine revenue by $150,000.  Per day.  The deal would pay for itself in less than a week.  There was one stipulation:  Excite had to swap out their inferior algorithm with Google’s superior one.

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Excite’s CEO, George Bell, looked at the numbers, weighed his options, and decided to pass on buying Google.  Bell couldn’t stomach the thought of replacing his algorithm with Google’s — if he did that, his “baby” would no longer exist!  In other words, he made a fatal decision based on his heart.  And Excite went “extinct by instinct”.  A year later the tech bubble burst, Excite went bankrupt, and soon closed its doors. 

Google is now worth about $600 billion dollars.  To quote Homer Simpson, “Doh!”.

As a business transformation keynote speaker, I often share with audiences how decision making is a balance between art and science, data and instincts, your head and your heart.  If you rely too much on one or the other, you and your organization can suffer the same fatal mistake that Excite did.  So how can you ensure you do not fall into this fatal decision-making trap? 

One simple solution is called “the power of visual display”.  You and your leadership team are going to actually draw a Venn Diagram.  No laptops, tablets, or cell phones.  Simply use a big white board, one of those large 2’ x 3’ “sticky note” pads, or a regular piece of paper.  You’ll be more creative and resourceful this way.

Draw a big circle and label it “Instincts”.  Draw a second intersecting circle and label it “Data”.  In the first circle brainstorm all the solutions to your problem that your gut, instincts, feelings, and intuition is telling you.  In the second circle, brainstorm as many solutions that the relevant data, science, and logic is telling you.  Then take a 30-minute break.

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After your break, come back and look at your masterpiece with fresh eyes.  Fill in the overlapping part of the Venn diagram with the best of both worlds.  List as many solutions as possible that combine the best of both art and science.  Brainstorm at least three options and try not to give yourself more than six.  (In future posts, I’ll share with you simple ideas on how to determine the best of these balanced decisions.)

This simple Venn diagram solution can help you, your team, and your business avoid going “extinct by instinct”.  And for more ideas on how to make better decisions in business and life and reach a level of peak performance with balance, not burnout, please visit my website at www.michaelveltri.com or hit me up on Twitter @mpveltri.