The 20th and 21st centuries have brought with them a new, invincible generation of female entrepreneurs and businesswomen from various industries. While there is currently a long list of women who have become successful in their field, we will be looking into a particular individual who has paved the way for women in technology and women’s rights.
About Susan Wojcicki
One of Susan Wojcicki’s most notable successes throughout her career has been being the motivation behind Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006. As the company’s 16th employee and first marketing manager, Wojcicki has grown alongside the business she supported. She’s actually transformed YouTube into a streaming titan with a net worth of over $90 billion and the title of second-most-visited website online.
In addition to pursuing her career, Wojcicki also champions parental leave programs for her employees and the IT sector as a whole. She is currently ranked #18 on Forbes’ list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World.
When asked to identify the turning point in her life, Wojcicki responds with the phrase “finding technology after earning a humanities degree.” Although Wojcicki may have discovered technology later in life, she has always been an entrepreneur at heart.
Her first foray into business came when she was still only a child, selling ‘spice-ropes’ door to door but quickly turning a profit. While Wojcicki has come a long way, boasting previous projects like AdSense (which won her the Google Founders’ Award), Google Analytics, and even Google Doodles, she still finds time to inspire and fight for the new cohort of women in technology.
Prior to working at Google, Wojcicki grew up on the Stanford campus. The fact that she grew up surrounded by excellence is not surprising given all that she has achieved. After graduating with honors from Harvard in 1990, Wojcicki had planned to go straight into a Ph.D. and a life of academia. Nevertheless, after taking a computer science class her senior year, she found a love of technology. After getting her Masters in Economics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her Masters’s in Business Administration from the UCLA Anderson School of Management in 1998, Wojcicki started in the marketing department at Intel, determined to pursue her passion for technology.
After moving to a new position as a management consultant for Bain and Company, a chance meeting with the founders of Google would change her trajectory and the trajectory of the internet forever.
5 lessons learned by Susan Wojcicki
Now that we are aware of her professional career and the accolades Susan Wojcicki has achieved, let us look at some mistakes she made and lessons she learned along the way to make her the successful businesswoman she is today.
1) Get in on the ground floor
Wojcicki played an even more prominent role in creating Google than she gets credit for. In fact, she rented her garage in Menlo Park, California, to Sergey Brin and Larry Page, where they developed Google Search. Wojcicki initially only thought of the duo as tenants helping her pay the mortgage. Thanks to their proximity, Wojcicki caught up with the friends regularly and got acquainted with the product, using it to help her solve problems in her management consultant job. A few months later, the site went down for the day, and Wojcicki found herself unable to complete her planned work. Realizing how heavily she relied on the site, it dawned on her what a game-changer Google could be. As a result, she joined the friends and became their 16th employee, Google’s first marketing manager.
This prestigious title also meant that she helped develop Google’s famous logo and many projects that turned out to be pivotal to the company’s continued success. An early example is AdSense, a revenue-making marketing tool where businesses can pay to run ads on customer-matched websites. This tool dramatically increased Google’s advertising potential, mainly contributing to increased ad revenue which was over $95 billion by 2017. While the ads are solely maintained by Google, the revenue is split between the publisher and Google itself.
Wojcicki was awarded the Google Founders’ Award for her contribution to the company. She’s also been recognized as the brains behind the Google Logo, as well as the Google Daily Doodle. The Daily Doodle has been a conversation starter across the world. The doodle team creates 400 doodles a year, 50-100 are animated, and 12 are fully interactive, giving a human face to the technology giant and helping Google connect with consumers on a daily basis. Overall, Wojcicki added over ten revenue streams to the company during her tenure.
Wojcicki’s ability to capture and communicate a vision was honed here, when she started bringing engineers into her circle and creating pivotal projects. Shared doodles were a genius way to get people to share the company logo. The linked companies can enjoy benefits like a quarter-million hits a day or Amazon jumping your book 377 places up the bestseller list. Wojcicki also co-created the Google image search with engineer Huican Zhu. These successes made Wojcickin a shoo-in for control when a new Google Video department was created. While Wojcicki struggled to generate traffic to the video site, she encountered a new video website her kids were enraptured by. After some investigation, she encouraged Google to buy the 18-month-old company, which boasted 8 million views a day, a profitable decision, generating $15 billion in 2019.
Wojcicki says the lesson here is always to stay open to criticism and learn from those who are doing it well. Had Wojcicki dug her heels in and refused to admit that YouTube was generating more traffic with a better design and customer experience, the video-sharing platform would not be under the Alphabet umbrella. In 2021, the company’s paid subscribers surpassed 50 million and reported over 100 billion hours of gaming content watched on the platform.
2) Keep family a priority
While Google has Wojcicki’s children to thank for YouTube, Google employees have her children to thank for introducing maternity leave at the company. Wojcicki was five months pregnant when she joined Google, making her their first pregnant employee. As a result, she paved the way for working mothers at Google. In 2008, the company announced an increase in paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks and paternity leave of 12 weeks – they recently paid family leave to 24 weeks.
Thanks to their policy on family leave, the number of women who left Google dropped by 50%. This data showed Google that the extra cost was well worth the return on investment. In her personal life, Wojcicki is a working mother of 5 children, and offering women a balance is one of her priorities. This balance is something she practices as well as preaches.
It’s well known at YouTube that Wojcicki makes sure she is home by 6 pm on the dot for dinner with her children. She says this balance also makes her a better leader and dinner with her children allows her to keep up with the world from a different perspective.
Additionally, between 6 pm and 9 pm, Wojcicki doesn’t check her email, allowing her to switch off entirely. This strategy has two benefits; Wojcicki gets to refresh her mind but also has to ruthlessly prioritize throughout the day to achieve this goal making her more efficient. She’s become a powerful symbol of a working mother at the c-suite exec level, and her success instills a sense of safety for working mothers and companies alike.
Wojcicki penned an article for Time magazine in June 2022 advocating for the extension of flexible working from home hours for new parents during COVID. Leading by example, she used the op-ed to announce Google’s policy of offering three months of working from home for any new parents, demonstrating that employee health is essential to Google.
These issues will become increasingly important, primarily since women with college degrees in the workforce who were parents to young children increased during the pandemic. Wojcicki shows again how she is ahead of the curve when spotting profitable business trends. Under her leadership, YouTube’s percentage of female employees has risen from 24% to 30%.
3) Be agile in your response to criticism
There are always issues when a business grows too fast, especially when content is freely able to be uploaded by any consumer without checks. YouTube has faced its fair share of criticism around content guidelines, and this issue has resurfaced and been dealt with many times. In 2019 after an issue involving children, Wojcicji disabled comments on videos involving children and later in the year created a system where creators had to flag their videos as family-friendly.
After a second scandal, YouTube updated its harassment policy to ban content that ‘maliciously insults’ others, the basis of this can be any qualifying characteristic, including gender, race, and sexual orientation. In response to repeated issues, Wojcicki hired 10,000 video moderators and implemented an AI system to widen the department’s reach. In 2019 alone, this team made 30 changes to the platform.
Over a billion Youtube users upload 500 hours of content every minute. This new process removed over a million videos in 6 months, with 75% removed without a single user viewing the video. This update is especially important as YouTube has announced its next venture into children’s learning. After the pandemic, the market for homeschooling opened up tenfold. YouTube is constantly updating its privacy rules to keep children as safe as possible on the platform. However, this is not a cut and dry issue, and each update comes with fresh concerns that could impact people’s freedom of speech. YouTube being the internet’s second-largest website and Wojcicki being considered the ‘gatekeeper of the internet’ means these companies wield large amounts of power.
Spiderman’s famous quote, ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ must ring in Wojcicki’s ears daily.
While her roles at work and at home are demanding, Wojcicki has shown no sign of stress. Recently called ‘the most measured person in tech’ by the New York Times, Wojcicki is calm and measured in her manner and leadership style. She’s refused to bow to public pressure and delivered every update of YouTube’s guidelines in her characteristic measured manner.
If Wojcicki had to sum up her philosophy with one piece of advice, she would say, “I don’t follow the rules.” This summary may come as a surprise. However, in hindsight, a woman who decides to buy a company she discovered via her children and is putting constant pressure on the technology world to hire women is not someone who follows the status quo.
Throughout her career in marketing and product management, she’s earned many accolades, including being named the most important person in advertising in 2014 and the most powerful woman on the internet in 2015. Her career-defining moment of acquiring YouTube on the ground floor before transforming it into the 2 billion user juggernaut it is today takes talent. But Wojcicki notes that talent is just hard work and lots and lots of failure. Failure that you derive lessons from.
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