Sonar is a blog about marketing, code and coffee from Submarine.

When Excite nearly bought Google

There are a lot of stories about the early days of Google, and one famous example is how Yahoo turned down an offer to buy them for around $1 million.

I've been reading the book In The Plex by Steven Levy and found a story that I hadn't heard before. Back in 1997, when Google was still called BackRub, Excite very nearly bought Google for around $1.6 million - but the deal fell through mainly as a result of Excite's new CEO George Bell, a former magazine executive who clearly didn't understand much about search.

One of Google's early engineers, Scott Hassan, gave a demonstration of their new technology in a side-by-side comparison with Excite's.

Bell was visibly upset. The Standford product was too good. If Excite were to host a search engine that instantly gave people information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site, using BackRub's technology would be counterproductive.

"He told us he wanted Excite's search engine to be 80 percent as good as the other search engines", says Hassan. And we were like, "Wow, these guys don't know what they're talking about."

Published May, 2014

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