Marissa Mayer, Google’s (GOOG) vice president of local, maps, and localization, was among the search company’s initial recruits, joining in 1999 as a new Stanford University grad. She spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek Editor Josh Tyrangiel for 90 minutes Tuesday night before a Manhattan audience at the 92nd Street Y. Amid a life story of hard work and good fortune—Mayer, now 36, applied to 10 colleges and sorted through 14 first-job opportunities—she offered a few insider anecdotes about the company.
• Google’s basic, white home page wasn’t conceived as some sort of ode to minimalism—it was pure necessity. “We don’t have a webmaster and I don’t do HTML,” Mayer recalls Google co-founder Sergey Brin saying.
• Mayer almost killed the idea of targeting ads against users’ e-mails, having initially considered the idea “creepy.” A colleague working an all-nighter ignored her rejection of the idea, and ads-in-e-mail later turned into Google’s AdSense, a multi-billion dollar business.
• Google has calculated that an ad on its home page would cost at least $10 million, if not more. Don’t get excited—the space isn’t for sale.
• Most Google pages sport a small copyright notice at the bottom. It’s not necessary, but company leaders installed the symbol after initial test users did nothing but stare at the home page, “waiting for the rest of it to load,” Mayer said. The symbol was a sign that the minimal page was loaded, ready for a search.
• Mayer once had an intense fascination with Motorola’s circa-1996 StarTAC mobile phone and bought used models on eBay to build a collection. (Google is now buying Motorola; there’s no connection.)