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Malseed ’97 returns to Lehigh to discuss Google

Not too long ago, Mark Malseed ’97 was purchasing books at the Lehigh Bookstore and attending lectures here as an undergraduate.

Less than a decade later, Malseed was signing copies of the new book he co-authored with Washington Post writer David A. Vise, The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media and Technology Success of our Time at the campus bookstore before giving a well-attended lecture about Google and his experiences as a journalist at Sinclair Auditorium.

So how did Malseed, an architecture major at Lehigh, become a best-selling author?

“Very carefully,” Malseed joked, drawing a chuckle from the crowd of 100-plus students and Lehigh staff during his March 15 lecture. “Seriously, the skill-set I acquired here was pretty transferable. I learned about observing, synthesizing and presenting information through my architecture classes.”

Malseed obviously learned his lessons well. The Google book is the fourth major book that Malseed has worked on—and the second with Vise. Malseed’s big break came in spring 2001, when a Washington friend alerted him that Vise was looking for a researcher to help with a book about FBI double agent Robert Hanssen. Vise recognized whatever it is that authors instinctively see in a prospective assistant and invited Malseed to come onboard. By December of that year, the book hit the streets and shot up the bestseller list—and set Malseed on an exciting, new career path.

Since then, Malseed has worked as a researcher on two recent best sellers by legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward: Plan of Attack, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes process by which the Bush administration led the country to war in Iraq, and Bush at War, a book that focuses on Bush’s White House and its day-by-day actions in the three months following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work alongside two extremely talented journalists like David and Bob,” said Malseed. “And to have the chance to work on such interesting topics, especially Google, a company that’s seemingly in the news every single day.”

The Google book has been a major success, vaulting into the top 10 on Business Week’s bestseller list. The book has been published in 17 other languages and has kept its co-authors Vise and Malseed quite busy with interview requests and speaking engagements—like the one on Malseed’s old stomping grounds in mid-March.

After briefly talking about his experiences as a Lehigh student, Malseed quickly turned the bulk of his lecture over to the topic of Google and its founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, two former Ph.D. students from Stanford who dropped out of graduate school to create Google. The mission was to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Mission accomplished as Google is now making $10,000 a minute, according to Malseed. With an estimated 300 million searches being conducted on Google conducted every day, advertisers are standing on their heads to place their products on the popular website.

And Google didn’t have to spend any of its quickly accumulating cash on advertising itself. The reason? Between journalists and satisfied users of Google’s search engine, word of mouth about the company was all positive early on.

“My theory is that Google’s search engine made fact-checking so much faster and easier—making journalists everywhere happy,” said Malseed. “And when journalists are happy with something, they can’t help but right positive stories about it and that was the case with Google.”

In Malseed’s opinion, Google’s unprecendented growth—Google stock is worth more than General Motors’ and Ford’s combined—has continued because the company continues because it hires the best and the brightest people and retains them by giving them the freedom to be creative.

“One day per week, Google has what they call 20-percent rule (one day is 20 percent of the five-day work week) to dream up new ideas either by themselves or in small groups,” said Malseed. “The 20-percent approach gives Google’s software engineers the best of both worlds—the stability of a full-time job plus the freedom to spend one day per week on something that you, not your boss, are passionate about.” The 20-percent time program has already produced Google News, Google Suggest, AdSense for Content, Froogle and Orkut—products which might otherwise have taken an entire start-up to launch.

After speaking about Google and the many projects that it has on the front and back burners, Malseed was asked what his next project would be.

“I have some projects in the works, but Job One right now is planning a wedding,” quipped Malseed, who is recently engaged. “And it’s not as easy as I thought with my fiancée in New York and me in Washington, D.C. In addition to planning the wedding itself, my biggest worry is how I’m going to get all my stuff into a one-bedroom place in Manhattan.”

Our guess is that Malseed, who has been out of college less than a decade but has already written and researched for best-selling books about the most powerful man in the free world (President Bush) and one of the world’s most innovative companies (Google), will figure this one out—sooner rather than later.

--Bill Doherty

Posted on Monday, March 27, 2006

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