Please don’t quote me. Rather, quote Olamide, one of Africa’s frontline hip-hop rappers, who in one of his popular rap lyrics asked one of his fellow rappers “are you a learner?”. This underscores how bewildered I was, some three weeks ago, when I threw a question at an enlightened colleague of mine who referred to  Google as a search engine. My question to him was “Are you a learner?”

True to the point, many of us writers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and techies truly think Google is a search engine, mainly because that is how we engage Google on a daily basis.   We are neither truly wrong, nor are we right and should not be blamed entirely.  Google’s Alphabet (the company) is one of the most valuable companies on planet earth, according to Forbes, with a total market valuation in excess of $500.0 billion.  However, the search engine service has been the company’s flagship.

But, hey, wait. Google is more than a search engine! Google is virtually into anything and everything, as much as you and I engage with that service on a minute, hourly and daily basis. Google became an incorporated entity in 1998, about 19 years ago.  First as a search engine, but it has since transformed itself from an information delivery service into a bank, a mapping company, an investment company, a healthcare company, an advertising company, a cloud company, an artificial intelligence and machine learning company, an auto company, a photo company, a media company and what have you….

This article is meant to be an eye-opener for emerging African private companies, startups and SMEs (or SMBs) alike, to see how the founding team at Google kept re-imagining, re-tweaking and re-inventing itself so that within nineteen years, the company and brand had become the most valuable company on planet earth with a 2016 turnover in excess of a whopping $80.0 billion! (and that’s bigger than the annual GDP of many African countries!).  Google did not start by doing everything; rather, the founders had the initial wow idea and, then, expanded it into verticals, by engaging the smarter tool of merger and acquisitions.

But how did this come about? Google since 2003 has acquired about 184 companies in all and probably spent close to $30.0 billion on these acquisitions. Why? Google only acquires startups which enable it offer a new product line not currently available in the group. It also acquires in order to merge and enhance (an) existing product(s) it offers, thus offering better value for the consumers.  Larry Page, the founder, developed a formula known as the Toothbrush Litmus Test, which forms the basis of any acquisition.  The target company (to be acquired) must be a producer of something people use once or twice, everyday and what is produced must make life better! Hmmm….What a test.

For instance, based on this test, Google acquired Applied Semantics in 2003, which upon integration to the search engine, created Adsense…and today contributes over 20% of Google’s turnover…and thereafter, the Android operating system, which runs on over 80% smartphones across the world, thus making Google not just a telephony company, but also a software company and, in fact, Android is the best of all Google’s acquisitions till date! What about DoubleClick (the display advertisement company), Youtube (the most visited website on earth after the Google search engine), Keyhole, Where2 and Zipdash, all delivering the versatile Google Map, Urchin, Waze, Deepmind and Titan Aerospace which will enable Loon Google (Project Loon, formerly Google X) to deliver fast internet services across Africa and other developing countries.

Time won’t permit me to mention Skybox Imaging which enables Google Map deliver accurate and up-to-date imagery; Nestlabs and Dropcams which allows the delivery of increased home automation line-ups;  ITA Software which enabled Google Flight to be launched recently and Admob for mobile app monetization and in-app advertising  -a fairly big space already exploding!

As startups, we must revisit the Google miracle, recognizing that change is the only constant law of life and, in fact, entrepreneurship… and that growth is real, when we encourage reinventions, re-creations and innovations all the way.  Google  (the search engine and now part of  the Alphabet group) is a  master in the art of growth and business expansion, engaging innovations not only from within but, also, from without. Could I ever imagine the activities of over 61,900 employees of Alphabet Inc. worldwide?

I only hope before I drop my pen, you would not hear the publicist reveal Google has acquired Spotify or Netflix, or even self MTN, Glo or DSTV. Never say never! Who would have thought all the companies previously owned to the tune of 80% by Nigerians some fifteen years ago (Guinness Nigeria, Nigeria Breweries, CocaCola and others) would now be owned to 90%, today, by foreign investors?  Now, you know. We are all learners. We have the right to know.

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Israel Ovirih1 Posts

Israel Ovirih, a serial entrepreneur, is Chairman and CEO, Banklink Africa Group

  • James Jolapamo

    Fabulous insight. But shouldn’t there be a regulation that limits the fear of recolonisation in Africa…. c’mon? (some may say)

    • Israel Ovirih

      Recolonization is real…. but Africa and Africans need to get set to avoid second colonization… Our Governments can be helpful… but we hope they will be helpful… So help us God!


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