A fireside chat with Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy – SVP Ads & Commerce at Google
“In many ways I am probably the worst person for you guys to be talking to”. This was the first thing Sridhar Ramaswamy said to us at a talk he gave at Dogpatch Labs recently. Unsurprisingly, this drew a surprised reaction coupled with laughter from the crowd gathered to hear Google’s SVP of Ads & Commerce. The decisions Sridhar makes can impact the whole online advertising industry and so it was an unexpected statement of humility. But this was the tone set for the friendly chat between a senior executive of a large multinational company and the Irish Startups who had gathered to hear him speak. Luckily for me, I was one of the few who managed to attend the talk with the man, worth millions, billed as “The most important figure in online advertising” and who rarely does public speaking. In this blog, I will distil some of the important takeaways that you can learn from this top Google Exec.
Expensive Experiments and Painful Lessons
One of the first things Sridhar touched on in the talk was that Google has had many expensive experiments and many painful lessons. This is a business model that Google has kept through the years. Always innovating and willing to make a mistake and to learn a lesson. This constant innovation has allowed Google to become the lean and efficient company it is today. You might be thinking at this point, ‘my business can’t afford to be like Google’. However, this is not the point that Sridhar wants you to take. For innovation, size and effort aren’t always enough. Being in the right place at the right time is what matters. This is not to say that you need to be psychic to see what the future holds. Your company needs to be open-minded and nimble to be in a place to innovate at the right time.
- Bonus Insight – One of the areas Sridhar sees as ripe for innovation is on the consumer side of the retail industry. At the moment there are tough privacy laws and a security climate. He believes that while this makes innovation harder to come by it will also benefit those who are able to execute on an area that’s ripe for innovation.
Success is driven by a few truths and a few principles
The talk was chaired by Paddy Flynn, the Director of Geo Operations at Google. Paddy had previously worked with Sridhar in the Trust and Safety at Google. They both agreed that the success of Google, and others like Amazon, was driven by simple truths and principles/values. For Google, it was to make knowledge accessible to people. The simple truth here is that Google provides ‘amazing searches’. For startups these ‘amazing searches’, as Sridhar puts it, have allowed small businesses the ability to quickly gain massive reach. For Amazon, the simple values were an amazing price, inventory and ability to deliver. For your business, it is important that you instil a simple value proposition within your company from early on, and to stay true to those values as your business grows.
Innovation is Everybody’s Job
Sridhar and Paddy were joined on stage by Mark Cummins from Pointy and Alessandro Prest from LogoGrab, who are both Google supported Irish based startups. Google has partnered with Pointy in innovatively adding product information to the knowledge panel of desktop display and Google Maps, while LogoGrab won Google’s Adopt a Startup programme just last year. Paddy and Sridhar explained that at Google, it’s everybody’s job to innovate, a sentiment shared by the Irish Businesses on stage. In the startup phase of a business, you can be very focused on putting the head down and working towards a desired destination. But if you don’t lift up the head every now and then to see what’s out there, you might be working towards the wrong destination.
Diversify your Voices
To get to the right destination, innovation needs to be present culturally, at all positions. This will help diversify the ideas within your company and help your business become more open-minded and nimble. Speaking on the topic of diversity, the men on stage agreed that this is an issue within the tech industry that needs active attention. Diversity of ideas is a huge asset to businesses. For example, women have a lower participation rate in the tech sector compared to men. Google and the businesses on stage agree that the way to tackle this is to create a more open and inclusive environment. This will filter down to when young women and girls are making career choices earlier in life and eventually increase participation. It is a long and slow process but the important takeaway is that you need to be deliberate in acting on this.
- Bonus Insight – When asked by a member of the audience, where is the revenue in AI/Voice Assistant for Google? (Something Google are currently investing a lot of resources into) Sridhar’s answer was that it didn’t bother him. Google’s philosophy is to be useful and relevant. To monetize is something they might figure out later, but it is not what is important.
Google is one of the most successful companies out there. In this talk with Sridhar and Paddy, we can see the blueprint that startups and businesses, in general, have in front of them to follow.
- Have an open-minded and nimble business able to react to emerging trends.
- Instil early on a few truths and values that your business adheres to.
- Innovation is a cultural process at a company, at every level and position for more diverse ideas and visions for the future.
A big thank you to Dogpatch Labs and Google for hosting the very informative event for Irish startups. For more info on events and content from Dogpatch, you can sign up to their newsletter here.
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