A Google Interview, NIH, and Why Google Wanted to Be Intuit

Fred at Wired’s Epicenter blog has a useful “found” interview from 2005 with Google’s Schmidt. Funniest part: How Google’s BinPage were so pissed at Oracle install costs that they nearly wrote a Quicken killer. Luckily, I think, they surmounted their own NIH problem.

For example, we had an accounting system which was an Intuit based system designed for five users, and they were using it for 20 people. It was too slow to use, so I suggested that they implement an Oracle system. It was a huge crisis. We ended up spending $100,000 for this. Larry and Sergey nearly had a cow over it (because they thought it was so expensive). A hundred thousand dollars is the cheapest Oracle system ever implemented in history I think.

How did you convince them that you needed to do this?

Well, it was actually very interesting. Larry and Sergey suggested that we should build our own, because most of the existing accounting systems weren’t any good. And I said, “I’m sure that’s true, but you’ll never get it audited,” And I thought that was a pretty clever argument. The auditors would never pass financials (generated out of software) that we built ourselves. And Larry and Sergey today will complain about the Oracle system, but they’ll also say “We had to get one that was auditable.”

I’ve always said that if the company were founded today on an empty lot, we would build the buildings brick by brick. We can’t imagine someone else building our buildings, we’d have to build it ourselves. This is a build-it-yourself culture. The good news is there’s no free land, and so we have to rent the buildings, rather than build them. But the culture is around building things. In that sense, by the way, it’s similar to some of the companies (Intel, Dell, Sony) that I mentioned earlier.


  1. This is a psychological phenomenon endemic to engineering driven cultures at startups.
    Cf. engineers at SGI had the same attitude in the early days (“Why hire plumbers? We’ve got CAD systems – we could do it ourselves!”)
    In a way, it’s a sign of the right attitude for an innovation driven startup – a necessary eccentricity that seems odd to normal people – like the attitude of a pro golfer who “erases” memories of mistakes and/or shifts the blame to his caddie, the wind, or anything to enable him to maintain his confidence…
    If you find a small startup that doesn’t have founders that think like this, they’ll probably not be as innovative…
    Eventually, the successful ones get big, MBAs get hired, bloat sets in, etc. Then they can buy big $$$ ERP systems and whatnot…

  2. dub dub says:

    Well, we have our own in-house accounting system, (we are manufacturers, and existing tools are still awful) and our accountant/cpa only needs our chart of accounts, ledger, financial statements, and a few balance-sheet statements to sign off on our books. I’ve never dealt with a big accounting firm, and it’s a bit disconcerting (if true) to think a firm would bless your books just because you were using Oracle, etc.
    However, we’re not large yet (certainly not public), so perhaps I have some unpleasant realities to look forward to. You’ve given me a nice topic the next time I meet with our CPA :)
    I’ve seen first hand at least a half-dozen companies who could not grow because their books were not under control. It’s a more-serious problem than you think. Again, I’m speaking as a manufacturing, not a service company (the latter’s books are easier). And certainly not a “web 2.0 company”…