Today, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, announces its fourth quarter 2015 earnings. But it’s also going to do something different. The company plans to separately break out the results of its core businesses from its “other bets.” By doing this, the company opens itself up to some criticism about the investments that it makes in unproven, risky technologies – from driverless cars to Glass. But without those investments, Google would never be the kind of company that it is today.
And this is a company that has had an enormous impact on my business, and millions of other small businesses, particularly over the past decade. Google’s innovations have utterly changed the way we do business. In three big ways.
Google brought Microsoft into the 21st century.
I just upgraded my Windows 8 laptop to Windows 10 – for free! And I use a version of Microsoft Office on my smartphone – for free! Thanks Google.
A decade ago, such talk would be heresy. Upgrade a Microsoft product…for free? Get Microsoft software…for free? Microsoft had no reason to do this. The company dominated operating systems and office software. Its competitors were few and far between, as were our choices. Their products were good. But they were on-premise and expensive, requiring us to fork over thousands every few years for upgraded software and new PCs while still frequently enduring sluggish performance, bugs and blue screens of death. Google’s cloud based business apps – from Docs to Spreadsheets to Drive – was a refreshing, productive (and much less expensive) alternative that we could rent and use on any device! Google showed us the power of software that could work across platforms and that could provide as many features in the cloud as on the desktop. Google provided a better browser (Chrome) and a powerful operating system (Android) to humble Microsoft and dominate our mobile experience. And Google was one of the factors behind the changes that removed Microsoft’s old guard of senior executives, replacing them with younger and more flexible leaders that are creating a company that now makes great, productive software regardless of their customers’ operating systems. Thanks to Google, Microsoft is a better company. And small businesses are better for that.
Google has given us new ways to grow our businesses.
A roofing client of mine used to hand out leaflets. Now he targets people online who are searching for roofing services in real time and in specific zip codes. A restaurant near me streams live cooking classes to a worldwide audiences – and charges for attendance. My landscaper knows which service on his website is most popular among visitors – by season. What is this black magic that was once only available to the largest of companies?
Back in the day, B2B companies like mine had limited marketing choices. We could take out a local ad in a newspaper, or buy some space in the Yellow Pages and Thomas Register and hope for the best. But not anymore. Now, with AdWords we can reach audiences for our products that we could never have afforded through traditional advertising platforms. Like a TV station, we can now stream our meetings, trainings, interviews and case studies to an unlimited live audience with Google+ Hangouts On Air and then save them on YouTube. We can analyze our website visitors with Analytics to better understand what’s working, who our prospects are and where they’re coming from. Google introduced free cloud based email (Gmail) and phone services (Voice) to small businesses like mine, allowing us to communicate with anyone, anytime without having to invest in larger scale office-based systems. And the company’s core search features have grown to provide us with quick answers to any questions, including answers buried in about textbooks, academic papers and even patent filings. Thanks Google, for helping us make smarter business decisions and find customers we never knew existed.
Finally, Google’s most powerful application has been a driver behind millions of startups and entrepreneurs.
I take taxis all the time. And just about all the time my driver, who is routinely an immigrant barely able to speak English and getting his start in America, can take me to my destination in this strange American city with the help of Google Maps.
More so than the cash register and the double-entry accounting ledger I would nominate Google Maps as one of the most powerful applications ever created for small businesses and entrepreneurs. This is not just about figuring out how to get from place A to place B, which as any taxi driver new to this country will tell you, is the difference between making a livelihood and begging. It’s because of the enormous popularity of Google Maps that location based services has exploded. Google Maps has created a place for small businesses to advertise their locations to potential customers. And once a business is found on Google Maps using location based services, communities are formed who check-in, give comments, leave reviews and share their brilliant thoughts with other potential customers. Google Maps provides driving directions to the travelling salesman, new customers for the family-owned Italian restaurant and advertising opportunities for the local clubs and hotspots. Its popularity has contributed to the success of millions of small businesses, retailers, merchants and restauranteurs.
There are other Google technologies that I don’t have space to mention. But you get the point. So to the execs at Alphabet/Google, I say this: keep innovating and taking risks. Your gain is my gain. Your success will continue to have an enormous impact on small businesses.