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How To Adopt Google's Office Culture In Your Company
Gilberto Gaeta, Google marketing head in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and South Asia, offers an inside look at how entrepreneurs can apply Google's culture in their companies.
Gilberto Gaeta has a solid track record of business leadership in Asian growth markets and specialises in digital advertising, coaching, consulting and start-ups. This expertise and experience led him to his current position as the Country Head of Google Marketing Solutions in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Asia frontiers. When he’s not expanding Google’s business across multiple markets with a focus on enabling businesses like start-ups and SMEs to increase their digital presence, he’s exploring his passions in a variety of ways.
If you were to start your own company, what would be the top three things you would apply from Google?
I think Google has done better than any other company out there finding the core of what the company stands for, and this is something that many startups struggle with for a long time. For example, if I ask you what is Deliveroo doing, you may say, “Well, they deliver food.” No, they want to make home cooking obsolete. So what does Google do? Well, we power search. From very early on we have been making information universally available. I think that the moment you find a core that's so powerful it will be useful and valid for a long time, then you can really build a great growth story on top of it.
Secondly, I would apply the quantitative focus that Google has. Too many times I hear entrepreneurs say, "This is a startup, so we need to be scrappy. We don't have time to do analysis." I generally feel that it's not the right thing to do. When you invest your time and money, you want to make an informed decision. Google has analytics on virtually everything so they can look at not just business output, but also things like the satisfaction of their managers and clients.
Third would be the focus on people. For example, despite our scale, we never lower the hiring bar. Even though Google can easily hire someone else if an employee leaves, we over-invest in people. We make sure that we have professional development plans for each of them, so there is huge focus on the values they want to uphold.
What does it take to succeed in a high-growth company and how do you stand out in a crowd of such high achievers?
One thing is to thrive in ambiguity. These companies change frequently, so if you're apprehensive about change, then that's really not the place for you. Ambiguity also means that no one comes and tells you what jobs you have to do or what your career path will be in the next 10 years. You have to just get it on your own.
The best coaching tip I received was from my previous boss. He told me, "You have to work on the brand you want to create for yourself. Find something that will allow you to bring your uniqueness to work. That way when people think of you, they think of more than just that your education or background". That's when I started to become more comfortable sharing my passions at work. For example, I started a salsa club in the Singapore office and now we have salsa classes every Wednesday.
Google maintains such an entrepreneurial spirit on such a large scale. What are some of the company’s culture traits that enable this to happen?
We do struggle with it, because when you grow to a certain point, you need more processes and structure. But at the same time, you want people to break the rules. Some things we do to maintain the right balance include following the mantra of, ‘Ask for forgiveness, not permission’. We also give people the tools to pursue their projects and cultivate a culture of calculated risk taking. We actually have a forum where people can share their ideas, and when they do, we have a hard rule of no reductive thinking. We will never say, "Yes, but ...". Instead we say "Yes, and ..." It's constructive thinking that creates the space to build on ideas.
What have been the biggest insights and lessons you’ve learned from running businesses across different markets in Asia?
My biggest lesson learned is that if you want to keep challenging the status quo, you need to understand the dynamics of the local reality and tailor your products to that. For example, how do you make YouTube work in places where there is low bandwidth, such as the Philippines? How do you enable ecommerce in emerging markets where people don't have credit cards? These are all local problems that require local solutions, so the global platform will not always help.
In your opinion, what are some of the key disruptive trends that are going to shape the future of the Internet and consumer behavior?
I think the biggest one is certainly machine learning and artificial intelligence. For example, decisions about our health like what we should eat and what medicines we should take are much better made by machines than ourselves. So I think machine learning will completely change the way we interact with technology and make our lives much easier. Everything from mobility to health tech to finance will be completely revolutionized.
What are some examples of technology that you use to make your life easier?
This is a shameless plug, but one thing that I do use quite often is Google Feed. I just feel that it knows what I'm interested in and gives it to me before I even have to go looking for it. Otherwise, I'd spend hours on LinkedIn or newspapers searching for that information.
Are there any podcasts you can suggest for people interested in technology and entrepreneurship?
I really like How I Built This by NPR. It features interviews with entrepreneurs who have changed the world. For example, they interviewed the founders of Instagram and Zappos and discussed how they built their startups. I love kind of getting inside these people’s minds and understanding how they built these things from scratch.
Can you tell us about some books that have really had an impact on you?
I love reading books on leadership and coaching. I just finished Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, which is the sequel of Start With Why. Prior to that, I read Sapiens and Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari, both of which I found very thought provoking on the topic of machine learning. I also highly recommend Search Inside Yourself and Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan.
What's on your bucket list?
I’m passionate about hiking, so there are some mountains that I still want to climb with my wife and my kids. Other than that, I don't have a list of places I absolutely need to be. It's less about being there and more about the people I want to be there with. My kids are five and six now, so I would like to explore places that allow us to connect through our passions like hiking, diving and watersports.
Professionally I'd like to run a business, either my own or an existing business that allows people to have a better life by connecting with their passions. For example, a business like Airbnb that allows you to be a host or provide an experience and monetize it at the same time. I don't know what that is yet, but I'd love to find that space.
What do you plan to learn in the year ahead?
Professionally, we're opening new markets that are going to be our next wave of growth, so now is the time to look at those markets and understand how technology can make an impact for the better. From a personal perspective I'm learning a new style of yoga, so let's see if I can manage to do that in my spare time.