Evan Williams: Big companies can’t accommodate big ideas

Even at a place like Google, new ideas don’t always thrive.
Even at a place like Google, new ideas don’t always thrive.
Image: Getty Images/Adam Berry
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Startups may be on the decline but they’ll never completely disappear. No matter how well large companies master innovation, startups are the best—if not only—place to foster the really big ideas.

So says serial entrepreneur Evan Williams. He’s co-founded platforms such as Twitter, Blogger and Medium, but also worked for Google in 2003 after Pryra Labs, which created Blogger, was acquired. Back then, Williams says he was in awe of Google saying it’s the best company in Silicon Valley.

“When I got there I realized why there’s always going to be a place for startups and entrepreneurs,” Williams said today at Wired magazine’s business conference in New York City.

“As dominant as Google was very early in their history, it didn’t make sense for them to do that many new things. …Their scarce resource was engineers. Every engineer that came in the door could be applied to search or advertising or to Blogger.”

In terms of revenue-generating propositions, it’s a no-brainer. “To bet on a new idea you have to have faith—you can’t analyze it, you can’t justify it,” Williams told Wired senior writer Steven Levy.

If too many people focus on a new idea it won’t thrive. In the early-generation stage, it’s like a spark kept alive by passion, vision, and focus. Big companies tend to put too many resources toward a new idea, which kills it.

So Levy concluded, “To really think big, you can’t be at a big company.” To which Williams replied, “You said that, I didn’t.”

His post-Google history speaks for itself.