Stroke of luck for masseuse who found millions at Google

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The Independent US

Google has contributed an adage or two to the business world – it's best to do one thing really, really well; fast is better than slow; do no evil. This one, though, may be the truest yet: if you rub my back, I'll rub yours.

That has been the experience of Bonnie Brown, who, back in 1999, answered an advert for a part-time masseuse at what was then one of many burgeoning internet companies in Silicon Valley. It didn't pay all that well – she took home just $450 a week, hardly enough to keep body and soul together in the dizzying world of funny money. And it never dawned on her that the Google stock options that came with the job would ever be worth much, if anything.

Five years later, though, her stock was worth so much in the wake of Google's public share offering that she was able to retire as a multimillionaire. She now lives in a large house in Nevada, gets her own massages once a week and travels the world for her own enjoyment and for the benefit of a charitable foundation she set up with her unexpected millions.

And the money has kept rolling in as Google's share price, which started out at $85 when the company first went public in 2004, hit the $700 mark last week before falling slightly. (It was trading at about $665 yesterday.)

"I'm happy I saved enough stock for a rainy day, and lately it's been pouring," Ms Brown told yesterday's New York Times.

Rarely has a single company been such an engine of stratospheric wealth creation. According to a filing that Google made with the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York last Wednesday, past and present employees are holding options they can cash in at any time for a total value of about $2.1 billion. They also hold another $4.1bn in stock and options that have yet to mature.

For people such as Ms Brown, such wealth was a matter of pure luck. Back in 1999, at the height of the so-called New Economy, venture capitalists were plunging tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars into companies whose business models consisted of little more than the word "internet" and the vague promise of new ways of doing things.

Many of those companies adopted gimmicks such as in-house massage services, along with gym facilities, gourmet chefs serving up free lunches, and other perks that reinforced the upside world of the New Economics. As one writer, Po Bronson, has wittily pointed out, making money in 1999 was as easy as having sex in 1969.

Most of those New Economy companies, though, imploded as spectacularly as they arrived when the internet stock bubble burst in 2000-2001. Google was a grand exception – arguably the grand exception – as its founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, found ways to use their cutting-edge search-engine technology to marry advertisers to site users making subject-specific internet searches.

Ms Brown, of course, played no part in that. She applied to Google mainly because she was desperate for a job after a nasty divorce. And her duties consisted purely of rubbing the backs of the software engineers who drove the company from success to success. She was one of a whole panoply of in-house pleasures and diversions, along with table football and a hot-tub sized pool filled with plastic balls to dive in.

When she started, Google had just 40 employees. It now has more than 10,000 employees working in more than 30 countries worldwide. She is, though, the first person to acknowledge just how lucky she has been.

She has written a book, yet to a find a publisher, which sums up her attitude. Its title: Giigle: How I Got Lucky Massaging Google.

The word "Giigle" derives from a fantasy search engine dreamed up by a blogger in which a user could type in any word or group of words and get a joke back including them all. Clearly, Ms Brown sees her success as an accident so ridiculously happy it is actually funny.

The money has, of course, had a profound effect on the company ethos. Many former employees have suggested that the idealism of the early years has rubbed off, replaced by a much more pragmatic mindset. And Google itself has come under fire for compromising some of its core values in search of new markets and new profits – never more so than when it agreed to submit to Chinese government censorship last year.