Google CEO Sundar Pichai: American small business and big business must grow together

FILE - Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

It’s hard to imagine, but 21 years ago Google was a small business. So small, in fact, that our employees could fit inside a two-car garage. We knew back then (and still do) how hard it is to find customers and earn their trust, to hire and retain good people, and to balance quality with growth.

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Every day millions of small businesses are creating and building amazing things -- and experiencing the same growing pains as we did. I believe larger companies like Google should play a role in helping them. Some people assume that big companies can only succeed at the expense of small ones. Our experience is precisely the opposite. For us, the last two decades have shown that big businesses and small businesses can grow together, especially in the digital economy.

A mail-order business in Maine selling lobsters was the first to sign up when Google launched its online ads platform, and today a significant amount of Google’s revenue comes from small businesses. We take a lot of pride in this, because we know how important small businesses are to our communities. They are the bakeries that help feed our families, the shoe stores that support the high school track team, and the independent bookstores that know just what to recommend.

They’re also the beating heart of the American economy. Today, small businesses employ just under half of all private sector employees and account for nearly two-thirds of new job growth.

The internet has created new opportunities for small businesses to succeed, but it’s also introduced a level of complexity that most business owners don’t have time to navigate. At Google, we see it as our job to help small businesses leverage the power of technology,  whether it’s finding new customers, teaching employees new skills, or working more efficiently. Google’s free tools, along with platforms like Cloud, Search, Maps, Ads, and YouTube, give small businesses the same advantages as bigger firms when it comes to distribution and global reach.

At Google, we see it as our job to help small businesses leverage the power of technology,  whether it’s finding new customers, teaching employees new skills, or working more efficiently.

One of the biggest opportunities is to help small businesses create connections with customers in their local neighborhoods and beyond. While the internet has given people the ability to buy anything from anywhere, often they are searching for what’s right next to them: the closest pediatrician, the best pizza delivery in Omaha, a hair salon open today. Search interest for shops “near me” has increased consistently since 2004, hitting a record high in 2019.

At its core, connecting local businesses with customers is an information problem. So when someone asks Google to find the best BBQ restaurant or dry cleaner “near me,” we try to get as much relevant information in their hands as possible. That includes information like driving directions, hours, or popular times to help plan a visit, along with easy ways to make a purchase or reservation on the spot. Each month, this access to information is part of what helps Google drive over one billion connections for businesses nationwide.

For many businesses, there’s a big opportunity for growth in connecting to customers around the world. Businesses that export goods are more competitive, more profitable, and more resilient to economic downturns. Now, with the help of tools like Google’s Market Finder, any business can reach a global market. This presents a huge opportunity as one-third of the clicks on Google ads posted by U.S. businesses, and over 60 percent of watch time on YouTube content produced by US creators—including businesses—come from abroad.

Finally, we see an opportunity to help small business owners and entrepreneurs build their skills and the skills of their employees. Small business owners often tell me there’s just not enough time to become digital marketing experts and run their business.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of people who want to own a small business of their own, but don’t know where to begin. That’s why, two years ago, we created Grow with Google and committed $1 billion to expand economic opportunity. Since then we’ve helped train three million Americans in digital skills, including small business owners and entrepreneurs. And today, Google.org is making a $10 million pledge to help entrepreneurs from underserved communities start new businesses. The first grant will be a $2 million contribution to the American Library Association to support entrepreneurship centers at libraries in ten states.

Small businesses have historically been the backbone of the American economy, and they will be just as critical to its future prosperity. Companies like Google, who have benefitted from the long tradition of American innovation, have a stake in making sure small businesses have the same shot at success as we did.

Sundar Pichai is CEO of Google.

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