Semi-Organic Growth

Jan 7, 2023

Neeva, a search engine startup founded by an ex-Google exec, just released an LLM-powered search. It answers queries with AI, citing real sources and using real-time data. Tough technical questions, and why it doesn't seem better than Google's Knowledge graph, it's certainly something new and a refreshing hint of competition.

But Google didn't just win by having the best product. The best product helps, but it doesn't sell itself. Even Google had to market its search engine. In fact, when you have a great product, semi-organic growth is often the best strategy.

Google used acquisitions as a significant source of growth – everything from acqui-hires of small technical teams to patent acquisitions to billion-dollar M&A. Many of the key parts of Google's portfolio can be traced to acquisitions – just take a look at this impressive Wikipedia page.

In many ways, Google did semi-organic growth much differently than its predecessors (e.g., Apple). How it integrated teams (allowing some like YouTube to operate independently), and what stages of companies to pursue (even small technical teams).

It's another dimension of the distribution vs. product debate and maybe a helpful lense to look at how companies might compete in today's environment.

There's a good book on this topic for anyone interested in technology M&A that focuses on Google called Semi-Organic Growth. It follows Google's M&A strategy up until 2015 (when the book was published). At the end of the book, it makes some predictions about Google's 2015-era acquisitions, which drifted away from core search and distribution into more "moonshots." Interesting to read in both retrospective now that Google is pulling back many of these moonshots.

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