Speakeasy Google exec’s unique take on innovation

Andrew Sheldon//February 29, 2016//

Speakeasy Google exec’s unique take on innovation

Andrew Sheldon//February 29, 2016//

Listen to this article

SpeakEasy is a running feature in NJBIZ in which we recap presentations given by key business leaders around the state at one of New Jersey’s many conferences and events.

How does one land the coveted job of working for Google?

For Jonathan Rochelle, it started with a phone call. One that had nothing to do with a job.

In 2003, Rochelle had a small B2B company called 2Web Technologies that was working to create an app that would enable users to share Excel documents and work on them collaboratively.

“We were hoping people could share (them) with their customers easily, and that was actually quite hard,” he told the audience at the New Jersey Tech Council’s 2016 Innovation Forecast in mid-February. “In an Excel model, you’d share it and you just gave up your intellectual property; all the models that are in it, if they change a week later, you have to distribute another one.”

A year later, he called Google about his product. He was just looking for advice, but he got a lot more.

“The person we ended up calling at Google was not somebody we originally targeted and, when we called him, we were actually calling him for advice and it had nothing to do with Google,” he said. “He ended up falling in love with our vision.”

A year later, Google acquired the company.

Not long after, Rochelle was on a team developing Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets, which were launched in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

He currently serves as director of product development for the Mountain View, California-based Internet giant. His latest project, Google Slides, is Google’s equivalent to PowerPoint.

Rochelle told the audience that all of the products are examples of innovation, which can be as much about perfecting as inventing.

“We took something that was amazing and looked for things that were wrong with it,” he said. “That’s what we found to innovate.

“In other words: We didn’t take a blank space and say, ‘Let’s innovate in this blank space.’ We took something that was, really, quite amazing, found what was frustrating and tried to fix it.”

For Rochelle, Google Docs was a labor of love.

“Spreadsheets were my passion for so many years, and it sounds so ridiculous and I sound like such a loser, but spreadsheets are so incredible and powerful,” he said. “Even as a programmer, I thought spreadsheets could be more powerful than programming sometimes.

“But what was frustrating was sharing them.”

This is what led to the big breakthrough.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could make it more collaborative so people could work together,’ and from that first moment, we realized this is what we were going after and it became the underlying foundation of what we do on Google Docs,” he said. “Now, when someone is in a file, they’re actually in the same file and not creating a copy of it.

“That’s something we’re quite proud of.”

E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj