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Larry Page is fostering Google's start-up spirit

Co-founder Larry Page officially becomes CEO again Monday. He wants to restore the rush of innovation that was Google's hallmark 12 years and about 24,000 employees ago.

April 01, 2011|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

That's what die-hard entrepreneur and Google employee Jonathan Sposato wants to hear. Google has bought two of his companies. The latest was Picnik, an online photo editing service that quickly became one of Seattle's fastest-growing Internet start-ups. Sposato, who had his pick of companies to sell to, said he chose Google because it had the speed of a start-up and the resources to reach millions, even billions, of users.

"With Picnik we wanted to continue to grow the business and continue to make an impact," he said. "Even prior to Larry's takeover, Google ran more like a start-up. Unlike other big publicly traded companies, Google doesn't have the layers and layers of management. And that is a beautiful thing."

Page wants more projects to function like start-ups inside Google, similar to video-sharing service YouTube and mobile software unit Android. Google bought social media company Slide last year for $179 million, and the company operates autonomously within Google.

Google says that even though it has a rap for losing star entrepreneurs to new ventures, such as Foursquare's Dennis Crowley and Twitter's Evan Williams, two-thirds of the founders of companies bought by Google in its 12-year history are still at Google. Google shelled out $1.8 billion to buy 48 companies last year.

Paul Saffo, a managing director at investment research firm Discern Analytics, says Page may have an edge in keeping engineers and their entrepreneurial drive from leaving Google because he is a founder, which carries clout with employees in Silicon Valley.

"All things being equal, they are going to be a lot more likely to follow a founder than they are to follow a professional executive," said Saffo, who owns Google stock.

In his book, Levy calls Page "perhaps the quirkiest person to ever run a $30-billion company."

"Google has had a wild ride over its first 12 years," he wrote. "It's about to get even wilder."

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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