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The Transcommercial IPO
Jamais Cascio, 30 Apr 04

One of the early WorldChanging pieces I'm most proud to have on the site is Alex's November 2003 essay, The Transcommercial Enterprise. If you haven't read it, you really should; I think that Alex has caught the scent of something big. Transcommercial practices could be a fundamental reshaping of how corporations do business -- and the signs are all around us that people are beginning to wake up to the possibility.

The most recent signifier of a shift towards transcommercial philosophies is today's news about the Google IPO. The idea of making a bundle by going public is hardly earth-shaking (let alone worldchanging), the way Google is doing it -- and the stance the company's founders are taking in their official filings -- may well be. Google is structuring its stock offering to simultaneously reduce the influence of investment banks (which often reward friendly investors with specially-priced stock presales to allow the quick "flip" of the stock at the overheated IPO prices) and reduce the ability of investors to pressure the company to think only in terms of short-term profits. The New York Times has a couple of good articles about the IPO, including the startled reaction among investment bankers to Google offering stock through an auction, and making sufficient amounts of stock available to head off an IPO price spike & crash cycle.

(More discussion in the extended entry...)

In their "Letter from the Founders," Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin make clear that their goal is to run Google with a long-term perspective:

As a private company, we have concentrated on the long term, and this has served us well. As a public company, we will do the same. In our opinion, outside pressures too often tempt companies to sacrifice long-term opportunities to meet quarterly market expectations. Sometimes this pressure has caused companies to manipulate financial results in order to “make their quarter.” In Warren Buffett’s words, “We won’t ‘smooth’ quarterly or annual results: If earnings figures are lumpy when they reach headquarters, they will be lumpy when they reach you.”

Moreover, the Letter makes clear that Google does not intend to reduce the support given to employees in the name of higher profit margins:

We provide many unusual benefits for our employees, including meals free of charge, doctors and washing machines. We are careful to consider the long term advantages to the company of these benefits. Expect us to add benefits rather than pare them down over time. We believe it is easy to be penny wise and pound foolish with respect to benefits that can save employees considerable time and improve their health and productivity.

In addition, Google will increase its giving to non-profits, and continue to think about how to implement its "don't be evil" policy to larger issues:

We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. With our products, Google connects people and information all around the world for free. [...] Last year we created Google Grants—a growing program in which hundreds of non-profits addressing issues, including the environment, poverty and human rights, receive free advertising. And now, we are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form. We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

Google isn't perfect, by any means. Their apparent willingness to work with the Chinese government to censor the Internet as seen in the PRC is highly troubling. But it does appear that Google is increasingly transcommercial -- and that's good.

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