John Hanke Talks about the Rocky Road for Google Earth

Google Earth Blog  – Frank Taylor writes:

John Hanke, Director of Google Earth and Maps at Google, and the CEO of Keyhole before it was bought by Google, spoke at Berkeley where he got his business degree (video here – Real Player required). This is a fascinating lecture as it tells the story of his several business ventures and the challenging history of Keyhole before it was acquired. Also, at the end he shows some interesting slides about the success of Google Earth. I especially liked the [point] map showing all the placemarks on Earth in their search index on a map. He also shared a photo of the fleet of cars Google is deploying to take Streetview imagery which was taken by a blogger. Well worth watching if you want to know more about the history of Google Earth.

I have a few alternate recollections on the very early days, but I wasn’t as closely involved in the funding situation as John, Brian, and Michael. I recall we had a few leads on bubble-sized funding right before the April 2000 internet meltdown, the VCs then pulled back, and it took us until Jan/Feb of 2001 to close that first, smaller $5.5M in series A from other sources, which is coincidentally about the time I left.

I’m not sure about the first version of the technology John saw, but I thought we already had the software working with compressed imagery over the internet by the time he signed up to be CEO of the spin-off (when I got my formal offer to switch from Intrinsic to Keyhole full-time). The very next thing I remember working on in spring of 2000 was the giant quadtree scene management for data layers, etc.. and the 3D user interface (navigation, compass, placemarks, and the custom content system that preceded KML).

But as I’ve said before, the credit and reward for making Google Earth what it is today belongs to the people who stuck it out through the lean times and didn’t give up. Had I stayed on, I would have been happy to be paid in stock during the cash crunches (hint: unless you’re a founder, always try to maximize stock before salary — startups don’t have enough of an upside if you don’t take that risk). But I honestly don’t know how I would have dealt with In-Q-Tel being the financial savior of the company at that critical time. I was, however, very happy about the decision to merge into Google vs. go it alone and everything that’s happened since.


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