4 Lessons from Google for Entrepreneurs Day in Denver

Google is in Denver today at Galvanize for its “Google for Entrepreneurs” event. More than 350 people are registered for the event, which features speakers from the team Google created to reach out to entrepreneurs.

The first few presentations have been about Google’s global strategy and some products, but afternoon sessions will discuss building business through AdWords and working with APIs (application programming interfaces) for products like Maps. The event finishes with a panel about building out Denver’s entrepreneurial scene.

Here are some quick takeaways from presentations by Mary Grove, Google’s director for entrepreneurship, and Bridgette Beam, another Googler. The points and observations are about Google, but they also are lessons for the people building their own startups (and maybe the next Google.)

1. Google remembers its roots. It’s hard to recall a time when Google was a feisty startup, especially if you’re younger than 30. (I’m willing to bet about half the crowd here at Galvanize never used Alta Vista.) But Google does, and it doesn’t seem to just be a gesture.

That’s part of the reason why Google does events like this and helps promote Startup Weekend. But more importantly, it’s why it has teams like Google X and projects like Glass: It needs to keep flexing those entrepreneurial muscles.

2. Google hasn’t forgotten history, and doesn’t want to be doomed to repeat it. Beam briefly touched on the example of Henry Ford, one of the greatest entrepreneurs and innovators ever—Ford disrupted not only an industry, but a way of life. And then he got complacent and GM kicked his ass. (Funny how history repeats itself.)

Google has faced and seen off many challenges, like Microsoft’s Bing, and taken on some huge challenges it won’t necessarily win, like the mobile phone battle with Apple and social-network competition with Facebook. But whatever the outcome, those fights show Google is not being complacent—it understands that complacency guarantees you lose.

That thinking might explain why Google is really extending itself with projects like Glass and the self-driving car. There might not be an immediate payoff, but the company needs to keep challenging itself.

3. Google’s reach is global because its user base is global. Beam spent some time in her presentation talking about Google working with startups in Afghanistan and other projects in the developing world. It’s about market development, it’s also the right thing to do, and it keeps the company open to new ideas—you need to know your users, even if they’re on the other side of the world.

4. Using Google+ makes more sense when someone from Google explains it to you. There are a few social media tools out there that businesses use a lot more than Google+, largely because they have an active user base that’s more vibrant. With so many options, and so little time, devoting a lot of energy to yet another social network can seem more like a burden than an opportunity.

But features like Hangouts and Circles really do seem like promising ways to target specific groups of customers, and new features like G+ Ripples and Google Now could make it even more valuable. Google+ might not be one of the top social platforms now, but it’s probably too soon to write it off.

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