Marissa Mayer: I Thought Google Had 2% Chance of Success

In 1999, engineer Marissa Mayer thought Google was another startup with a small chance of success -- maybe 2 percent -- but at least they didn't make fun of her when she applied.

Mayer, now Google's vice president of local, was choosing between two startups at the time -- Google, which had only eight engineers and she would be the only woman, or the first female engineer at another startup with 48 engineers. She said the "jeers" at the other office made it easy to choose Google, according to Fortune.

Mayer, 36, joined Google when it had just 20 employees, and she now helps run the technology giant, which is 29,000 people strong. She credits Google policies such as its 20% rule – employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time developing new ideas – with its success in fostering a creative and innovative culture as its workforce has grown. Approximately half of Google product launches originate during that 20% time, Mayer says.

The goal is not to have success all the time, but failure. "It's totally fine to fail, you just have to fail fast," Mayer told the crowd at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Monday. Google, she said, spends about 10 percent of its resources on "far-flung" ideas like a driverless car. The reason? She said that the more a company empowers employees, the better it is, because innovation comes from the bottom up.

We think Mayer's comments about innovation and ideas are spot-on, but it was likely easier to spot and nuture innovation when Google had a mere 20 employees rather than today's 29,000.

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