My Next Google

A perspective from employee 75

On February 14, 2000, Google hired me as their 75th employee and the company’s first ad executive. The search engine start-up had just completed beta testing an innovative advertising solution that took an unconventional approach. The new system was bravely designed to put the needs of Google’s search users first — ahead of its advertisers. Larry and Sergey believed that if the ads on our site were relevant and non-intrusive, users would engage with Google more frequently and even find the ads useful. Initially most advertisers didn’t understand this new idea. Many even resisted it. But as we all know by now, Larry and Sergey proved to be right — in a big way. Google users were happy, the number of searches and users continued to increase, and they interacted with the new ad format far more than the conventional banner counterpart. Advertisers were big winners too. Their ad investments with Google delivered outstanding, market-beating returns.

Of all the amazing ideas I was exposed to at Google the thing that made the biggest impression was this: Google had developed the best search engine which would ensure the company some level of success. However, the company’s approach to monetization, which honored the user experience, is what brought Google the outsized returns and unprecedented financial success. The consumer product (search) and the monetization product (ads) each enhanced and benefited from the other. I committed to always keep an eye out for opportunities that demonstrated this same powerful dynamic.

In 2008, I found it again. Shortly after I left Google, a friend in Google’s finance group introduced me to a then fledgling social impact real estate company. Soon after, I would become a partner at the firm. (More on that later). I didn’t realize it at the time, but this firm — OpenPath Investments — would completely open my eyes to the way I looked at investing. It would expose me to the previously unknown fields of commercial real estate and social impact. I once again would fully appreciate — and benefit from — that special dynamic I had so greatly admired in Google’s business.

The magic of the model.

OpenPath, like Google, was founded with the belief that by putting the end user’s interests first, we can create better outcomes for everyone. OpenPath looks for opportunities in growing cities where the existing housing supply for working families is constrained and the needs of these renters are underserved. When OpenPath acquires a property, we immediately invest in improving the lives of the residents. There are two key aspects to this. First, physical improvements are made with special focus on common spaces (i.e., clubhouse, fitness room, picnic areas, etc.). Secondly — and perhaps more importantly — improvements are made to the property’s social fabric through a program we call Urban Village. Our community-building initiatives take shape in a number of ways including the formation of resident-led leadership councils, monthly town hall meetings, the creation of community gardens, babysitter exchanges, and many others. At the same time, OpenPath, in partnership with our residents, works to make our properties eco-friendly and reduce its carbon footprint. Incidentally, Google has long maintained similar practices in their workplaces.

What kind of impact do these initiatives have?

A path forward.

Of course, social impact real estate investing is different than internet search and advertising; they’re completely different businesses operating at different scales. But in an important way OpenPath feels a lot like Google in those early years.

I am not a CPA or professional financial advisor. All opinions are my own. OpenPath investment opportunities are for accredited investors. Feel free to reach out david@openpathinvestments.com.

In the meantime, this short video is excellent.

Investor, Partner, Advisor. First Google Advertising Exec (2000–07), ex-Chicagoan. Now at OpenPath Investments & FullCycle Climate Partners

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