Why Google Keeps Losing Employees to Facebook

Last Updated Nov 3, 2010 8:59 AM EDT

Google (GOOG) has always had a reputation as corporation that encouraged individual creativity. But in recent weeks the departure of two high profile employees -- AdMob founder Omar Hamoui and Google Maps and Google Wave creator Lars Rasmussen -- has highlighted Google's growing challenge: keeping highly entrepreneurial tech types happy within a massive corporate structure.

Rasmussen gave an interview to the Sydney Morning Herald in which he admitted feeling frustrated at Google. So when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg reached out to him personally, Rasmussen jumped at the chance. "The energy there is just amazing, whereas it can be very challenging to be working in a company the size of Google," Rasmussen told The SMH. Google has about roughly a dozen times more employees than Facebook.

Google famously gives its employees 20% of their time to work on independent projects. But as Clint Boulton notes over at Google Watch, about one in five Facebook employees is now a former Googler. In other words, 20% of Facebook employees chose to change jobs instead of taking advantage of Google's 20% policy.

One problem that Google seems to have is giving projects enough time to succeed. "[Wave was] not quite the success that Google was hoping for, and trying to persuade them not to pull the plug and ultimately failing was obviously a little stressful...It takes a while for something new and different to find its footing, and I think Google was just not patient," said Rasmussen.

A prime example of Google's impatience costing them would be Dodgeball, the location based startup Google acquired back in 2005. Co-founder Dennis Crowley left two years later. He wrote on his blog about the departure,
It's no real secret that Google wasn't supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we couldn't convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. And while it was a tough decision (and really disappointing) to walk away from dodgeball, I'm actually looking forward to getting to work on other projects again.
Crowley re-imagined Dodgeball as Foursquare, which has now become one of the hottest startups in the booming world of location based services.

Google clearly continues to be a massively successful company and is producing innovative work in the smartphones and web TV markets. But it also seems as though the company would be well served to provide a bit more independence, time and resources to its top talent. It can certainly afford it.

Image from Andrew dela Serla
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  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.

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