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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 22:31 GMT 23:31 UK
Does Google feel lucky?
By Clare Matheson
BBC News Online business reporter

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Google's founders could be about to become very, very wealthy

When the world's favourite search engine announced it was to float on the stock market it said: "Google is not a conventional company".

Well, it's stuck to its guns and declared it won't be heading to market in the traditional manner.

Usually when a privately owned company offers stock for the first time to fund either early development or expansion - is made through brokers, with institutional investors - such as mutual funds and insurance companies - getting most of them.

But not Google.

Instead the group has said it will take the alternative route of making its initial public offering (IPO) online.

Google hopes to raise up to $2.7bn (1.62bn) by auctioning its shares - a move that could see the group valued at more than $20bn.


That way, it explained, the general public will have a greater chance of grabbing a share in the company.

And in a further flourish, the company remained close to its geeky roots - apparently the share offering is something of a mathematical joke.

The exact offering, $2,718,281,828, is the product of "e" and $1bn, where "e" is the base of the natural logarithm -a logarithm that is particularly useful in calculus -and equals 2.718281828.

To be exact "e's" decimal point stands for a billion dollars - so "e" is 2.718281828. And if you're not rolling round in the aisles after that one, well it is a mathematical gag after all.

Google staff in the office
Will staff desert after they cash in on the IPO?
Google has been very tight-lipped about its plans and finances in the past.

Strangely, it was a 70-year-old law that prompted triggered the public sale of the six-year-old firm's shares.

Under US rules, once a firm has $10m in assets and 500 shareholders it must release detailed financial information - much the same as a public company has to.

Google is thought to have breached the set threshold last year when it issued shares to staff.

Ahead of filing its accounts, speculation was rife that it would see the event as a timely opportunity to announce an initial public offering (IPO) of its shares.

And those rumours proved to be true. Why would Google go to the time and expense of revealing its details to the public - and its rivals - with no benefits at the end of it.

Joining the big boys

Now founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence, or Larry, Page - who are known for their quirky ways of running their company - have joined the world of big business.

Good news from a Google float could renew interest in the technology sector which is in the tentative stages of a recovery from the dotcom crash of 2000.

A Google IPO would "display confidence" in the tech sector and the economy, said Joel M Bernstein, partner in LA-based law firm McDermott, Will & Emery.

It may even push more firms to go public, with Ernst & Young predicting that a successful flotation would "help pull the sector forward".

There's so much value in Google, it's hard to think they're not going to want to unlock some of that
Steve Berkowitz, Ask Jeeves
According to IPO Monitor, just 16 companies have taken the plunge and gone public this year.

None of them were anywhere nearly as big a name as Google, a company that came to the fore just as the dotcom bubble was heading for a crash.

High returns

Employees and venture capitalists who helped build Google - such as Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolstein and former Amazon business development vice president Ram Shriram - stand to make a killing from a public offering of their shares.

Ironically, the list of beneficiaries would include rival Yahoo, which invested $10m in the firm back in 2000 in exchange for a stake that could now be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The same goes for Silicon Valley venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

They invested a total of $25m and could see billion dollar returns for their efforts.

Then there are the celebrities: Tiger woods, Henry A. Kissinger and Arnold Schwarzenegger are also in on the act, albeit with small stakes, according to New York Times.

Stanford University, where the two men met, could also see a substantial windfall.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (L-R)
Will the dynamic duo soon rival Microsoft's Bill Gates?
The university still owns the search technology for Google which it leases back to the firm under a deal that saw it take some stock and an annual royalty payment.

And of course the founders - thought to own between a third and half of the company - will not just be taking home pocket money.

Bill Gates made his multi-billion dollar fortune when Microsoft's shares were sold to investors.

Straightening up

But what would a stock float mean for the group.

On the plus side, it would raise even more money to put into research and development, or even expansion.

In recent months, Google has launched G-Mail and Froogle - the online equivalent of shoppers haggling for the best price in the marketplace.

"These are guys who have one of the best brands ever created in such a short time," said Ask Jeeves chief executive Steve Berkowitz.

"There's so much value in Google, it's hard to think they're not going to want to unlock some of that."

On the downside, the group might have to sit up straight and ditch its laid back Californian attitude.

A hit?

Wall Street would want to know what is happening on the money and the business side.

And there would be more regulatory hoops to jump through.

Investors would also want updates on the latest innovations the Google team is working on - something that could jar with their usual "test behind the scenes until we're happy with it" ethic.

Google HQ
Google's IPO could push more tech firms to float

Peter Thiel, who took his internet scheme Pay-Pal public in 2002 before selling it to eBay, said a flotation would change "the emphasis from building a great business to trying to meet the quarterly (earnings) figures".

The windfall could also see staff desert in droves as they chose to bag their cash and retire or even set up their own firms, possibly threatening Google's crown.

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