The CEO of Youtube
Yes, Google started in Susan Wojcicki's rented garage. But in her mind, that might be the single least important fact about her long and deep relationship with the Internet giant.
Thirteen years ago, the then-tiny company's former landlord became its 16th employee and first marketing manager. Today, she is one of its 12 senior vice presidents, although by one measure she is first among equals: The advertising products she oversees accounted for about 96 percent of Google's revenues in 2010.
In her years at Google, the 42-year-old Wojcicki (pronounced Whoa-jit-ski) has been a driving force in many of the company's signature initiatives: AdSense, which places Google advertising on other websites and blogs, and its acquisitions of DoubleClick and YouTube. Even the doodles that distinguish Google's home page were developed by her.
Wojcicki, in short, might be the most important Googler you've never heard of -- even many who recall her garage's place in Silicon Valley history don't realize that its former owner went on to become arguably the key figure in Google's online advertising juggernaut.
Wojcicki's contributions to Google's growth are "absolutely not" appreciated outside of the Googleplex, said Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a former Googler. "I don't think she's concerned about that. Susan's interested in doing a great job and making sure her team gets recognition for the things they do. ... Within Google, the executives and certainly the people on her team have enormous respect for her."
More Early life
Inside the company, the low-key, even-keeled executive is known as a talented manager who inspires people under her with her willingness to share credit. As Google's chief moneymaker -- advertising products under Wojcicki brought in $28.2 billion in revenue in 2010 -- she also has a striking belief in the odd mix of professorial idealism and capitalistic ambition that comprises Google's sense of self.
"The reason I like my job is that I have this desire to create," Wojcicki told the Mercury News recently in a rare interview. "I have this desire to create things and build things, and Google has enabled me to build and create things and to build products that are used by people all over the globe."
Wojcicki has still another role at Google. She has helped shape the company's unconventional culture, drawing on her experience as the first Googler to have a baby and as a pioneer who has navigated the cultural land mines that make women so rare among Silicon Valley executives.
Though she is guarded personally, Wojcicki made clear in the interview how important that role is to her. "I have tried to be a leader," she said. "I have tried in my role of being one of the first women at Google, let alone the first woman to have a baby, to really try to set the tone that this is a great place to work for diversity reasons."
Wojcicki's clout at Google reflects her unique relationship with co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Like them, she is from a family of academics. "No one in my family had worked in business until I came along," she said.
The three met when Brin and Page paid Wojcicki $1,700 a month to rent the garage of her house in Menlo Park, the first home for a newly incorporated Google in 1998. Along with the parade of venture capitalists, journalists and other visitors who found their way to the offices of the embryonic search engine through Wojcicki's living room was the woman who became Brin's wife -- Susan's youngest sister, Anne.
More than a dozen years after that first encounter, Wojcicki is one of about a dozen executives who convene with Page and Brin in Google's boardroom each Friday for a meeting dubbed "Execute." Those newly inaugurated meetings are aimed at achieving Page's stated mission, as he becomes CEO in April, of remaking Google into a company that can innovate with the nimbleness of competitors like Facebook.
But her prominence within Google contrasts sharply with her relative anonymity outside.
Costolo had just finished a chat with Wojcicki at a recent tech conference when another executive came up beside him.
"They said something like, 'Hey, who was that you were talking to over there?' And I said, 'It's Susan Wojcicki,' " Costolo recalled recently. "And they said, 'Oh, that's Susan Wojcicki!' "
During her talk, she highlighted Volkswagen’s use of the viral ‘Trololo song’ in one of its ads for the Convertible Beetle, where a skier scares everyone in a supermarket when he walks in but forgets to take his ski mask off, as a video that expertly uses a meme to appeal to its targeted audience.
“They took advantage of this meme and put it in their ad, making it far more relevant for millennials,” she said.
She also pointed out T-Mobile’s ‘Royal Wedding’ ad (which now has nearly 30 million views on YouTube) that parodied the viral video of a wedding party dancing down the aisle to Chris Brown’s ‘Forever’ as another example of advertisers using memes to connect with young audiences.
In addition to memes, Wojcicki said that advertisers need to stop building new content for old mediums – namely, creating television-like spots for YouTube ads. She said that throughout history this has been an issue, as advertisers initially used too much text on billboards and radio ads used to be read like print ads.
She said Nike, whose ‘Rinaldinho’ ad was the first YouTube video to reach one million views just four months after that platform was founded, was one of the first brands to successfully grab viewer attention on YouTube by bucking convention. Instead of formatting the ad like a traditional fifteen or thirty-second spot, Nike made the video nearly three minutes long.
“Even though TV and YouTube are video, YouTube is its own medium. It has its own rules and norms and it needs its own flavor of video advertising,” she said.
According to Wojcicki, more than one billion people visit YouTube every month.