If you don't fail sometimes, you are not being ambitious enough: Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai during an interview with TOI in New Delhi on Wednesday. (TOI photo by Sanjeev Rastogi)
Source: Kim Arora & Vikas Singh
Physically, Sundar Pichai seems to have hardly changed since August 2015, when he was named CEO of Google. Sure, running the world's second most valuable company by market cap may have added a few flecks of grey to his beard, but he's still slim and retains a boyish demeanour that belies his age (44). However, rapid change and constant innovation are the mantras of the technology giant that he heads. So, at the start of a new year, what are the big trends that he's betting on?
"Last year was a big one for us. We focused sharply on machine learning and artificial intelligence and how we can use it to make our services better. We think of this as an important inflection point. We brought out products like Google Assistant and Google Home. Pixel (Google's smartphone) also has the assistant built in. I view that as a foundation for how we will think about things for the next many years," Pichai told TOI.
While Google has near-total dominance in search, its social media initiatives, including Wave, Buzz and Google+, haven't done too well. What has Google learnt from these experiments, we asked. "We want to always work on ambitious things and by definition, we won't succeed in everything. If we do, we are not being ambitious enough," he said.
"If we meet 70% of our objectives, we consider that a success," added Pichai. "To me, what's more important is, are we continuing to innovate?
Are we at the forefront of applying computer science to solve problems for our users, consistent with our mission? I think we do that, and we have to do that in the future too." Google CEO Sundar Pichai expects his com pany's real time automatic translation feature to be widely available in less than five years. This will break down language barriers in communication all over the world and will be especially useful in a multi-lingual country like India.
What does he think about the government's big digital push through demonetisation+ ? "Big platform shifts tend to have enormous effects. Just because people have phones and phones have location built into them...they can have things like ride-sharing and the whole transportation industry changes. That's because of a platform shift. So I won't underestimate it," he said. Warming to the theme, he elaborated, "These things can have tremendous multiplicative effects for a place like India. This country has a chance to leapfrog some things other countries have struggled with.We're doing it with cellphones instead of landlines. Similarly , in digital payments, the UPI stack in India is phenomenal. Something like that doesn't exist in most countries. I do think we have a unique opportunity. There is a lot more infrastructure here than people realise. The foundations have been set for digitising India on the payment side as well. I am not an expert on this. But I think it is a courageous move and from Google's perspective, if there is anything we can do to help, we would be glad to do so."
How often does he meet Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin? "I see them every week. And they haven't changed at all.
They're always pushing me and everyone else hard to make sure that we are working on really ambitious things so that we make a difference for users. They are very committed to the values we share as a company . They always make sure we stay true to our core mission and ideals. They help me do my job well, my exchanges with them are always a big part of how I think about what to do.I value that a lot," he said.
Have Page and Brin set him any golden rules on how to run Google, we asked."This is a partnership I have with them....(there are) no rules as such...I've worked with them long enough that we share the same goals. We have had crazy debates and arguments about specific product ideas. But never on values and ideals," replied Pichai.
Given his hectic work schedule, does he set specific targets for how he allocates time? "I definitely want to spend as much of my time as possible on people building things. So, I strive to increase the time I spend working with engineers, product managers, and designers to build things. I wish I could spend 90% of my time on that. I obviously don't, but I always strive to be closer to that," said the CEO of arguably the world's most influential company , who clearly remains an engineer at heart.