What is Alphabet? Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products contained in Alphabet instead. What do we mean by far afield? Good examples are our health efforts: Life Sciences (that works on the glucose-sensing contact lens), and Calico (focused on longevity).
Google has been focused on diversifying their business for a long time, even before their IPO. In August of 2003, they posted a job listing on Craigslist looking for a manager to run their collection of Googlettes, which were essentially startups within Google:
What is a Googlette? It’s a new business inside of Google that is just getting started — the start-up within the start-up. We’re looking for an experienced, entrepreneurial manager capable of offering direction to a team of PMs working on a wide array of Googlettes. You will define Google’s innovation engine and grow the leaders of our next generation of businesses.
Georges Harik, who is now an advisor for Google Ventures, was a former director of the Googlettes:
As director of Googlettes, his team was responsible for the product management and strategy efforts surrounding many nascent Google initiatives including Gmail, Google Talk, Google Video, Picasa, Orkut, Google Groups and Google Mobile.
At the time, I riffed on this idea a little and imagined Google spinning out these businesses as a confederation of stand-alone companies:
Instead of generating ideas and people for internal use, what if they’re incubating start-ups to spin off into companies of their own? Fast forward five years and instead of being a big huge company, Google is a big huge company at the center of a network of 10-20 large to medium-sized companies with similar goals, values, and business practices. Most of these spin-offs would be engaged in businesses similar (and probably complementary) to each other and the Google Mother Ship, some of them maybe even directly competing with each other.
In hindsight, Alphabet is a much better name than Google Mother Ship.