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Meet Google's human search engine for innovation

Google startup-hunter Don Dodge sheds Microsoft roots, 'kisses a lot of frogs' in quest for cool technology

By , Network World
March 01, 2011 04:16 PM ET
Don Dodge

Network World - It was November 2009, and Don Dodge had just been laid off by Microsoft. Instead of writing a new resume and collecting unemployment, he just waited for the phone to start ringing. Within two days, he had a new job at Google -- one of his former employer's biggest rivals.

"I would probably still be [at Microsoft] if they didn't lay me off," Dodge said this week during an interview at DEMO Spring 2011. "But two hours after I got laid off, Google called me and several other big companies called."

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Dodge became the developer advocate at Google, and now treks across the country looking for innovative startups that Google can partner with, sign business deals with, invest in, or even acquire. "We find companies that are building applications [on top of Google platforms] and we help them be successful."

It's roughly the same job Dodge performed at Microsoft, where he spent five years. But working for Google is quite a bit different than working for Microsoft.

"The job is the same," says Dodge, who's enjoyed a three-decade career in tech with such companies as Digital, Compaq, AltaVista and Napster. "I'm still working with developers and startups and venture capitalists and finding companies. The environment is what's different. Google is younger, and more eclectic and kind of fun and funky. Microsoft is older and has a more traditional structure, but that just comes with the territory. When Google is 35 years old we may be a different company too."

Dodge's home is in New Hampshire, but he's only there four or five days a month. He can often be found in Google's Mountain View and Boston offices, but last week he was at the Launch conference in San Francisco, this week he's at IDG's DEMO conference in Palm Desert, Calif., and soon he'll be on his way to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

You'd think startups would be begging to talk to Google, but if they're innovative enough, that's not necessary. Don Dodge will find them. "Over the course of these events, I'll see 250 to 300 startups," Dodge says. "You never know what you're going to find. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince. We'll look at anything, but the sweet spot is mobile, location-based services, social, e-commerce, that kind of stuff."

At Redmond, Dodge was involved with about 30 companies that were eventually purchased by Microsoft, including Onfolio, Powerset and FAST, whose search technology is now integrated with SharePoint.

At Google, "there are some in the works, but acquisitions take time," Dodge says. Google bought 40 companies last year, and Dodge refers some of his startups to Google's mergers and acquisitions group. But there are plenty of ways Google can help a new vendor without purchasing it.

"I think there are several levels when we see companies," Dodge says. "The first one is can we partner with them. Can they build applications on our platform, and make the platform more valuable. The second level is can we do a business development deal with them, or a licensing type of deal. The third level is acquisition, and then there's even a fourth one which is Google Ventures, the venture capital arm of Google. We may find companies we want to invest in."

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