To be or not to be

Shakespeare on Google
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 19 July 2023

To be, or not to be, that is the question. For Google co-founder Sergey Brin, it was the answer he was most interested in.

I was pleased to join Sergey and his brother on a Virgin Voyage recently. While we were exploring the the ship, he mentioned how Shakespeare had a role to play in the founding of one of the world’s biggest companies.

Richard Branson onboard Virgin Voyages ship in Barcelona
Virgin Voyages

Pre-Google, Ask Jeeves was the internet’s dominant search engine. Rather than searching for relevant terms, users had to frame their queries as specifically worded questions. Jeeves, an old-fashioned butler, fetched the answers – not always effectively.

Back on Scarlet Lady, Sergey recalled searching for “to be or not to be”. Ask Jeeves struggled to show him what he was looking for. This was part of the inspiration for Sergey and co-founder Larry Page to create Google. They needed to come up with an algorithm that could cover everything. To be was the choice Sergey took – good option!

It reminded me of the time I was onstage with my friend Larry and he mentioned how I had founded more than 400 companies, and he had only founded one. Quick as a flash, I replied: “I’ll swap!"