Google Compare: A Textbook Case of Innovation Gone Right
Roosevelt Mosley

Google Compare: A Textbook Case of Innovation Gone Right

In 2011, Google purchased BeatThatQuote, an auto insurance price comparison site in the UK. This led to the launch of Google Compare in the UK in 2012, and provided auto insurance quotes from participating insurance company partners to internet searchers. In March, 2015, Google announced the launch of a similar insurance aggregator site in the United States called “Google Compare for Auto Insurance.” Today, February 23, 2016, less than one year after launching the site in the US, Google announced that it will be shutting down Google Compare in both the US and the UK.

Upon first reading the report, one may initially conclude that this is a setback for Google. It also seems puzzling given that this is the company that revolutionized internet searches and is leading the charge on self-driving cars. Surely they can figure out how to make an insurance comparison site work. So how, then, can this be seen as a case of “Innovation Gone Right?” It can be viewed from this perspective because the move underscores Google’s commitment to its core values, many of which drive innovation.

In the book How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, there are a number of insights into the philosophies by which Google lives. One of those philosophies is, “Establish a culture of Yes.” When Google announced they were entering the auto insurance comparison-shopping world, there were a number of reasons discussed within the industry as to why it would not work, including the differences between the UK and US markets, the way information flows to quote and write auto insurance and the reluctance of some larger insurers to get involved. Had Google listened to the “market research” and developed a more traditional business case, it would have likely decided not to get involved. But Google follows the advice of former University of Connecticut president Michael Hogan, who is quoted in the book: “…Saying yes begins new things. Saying yes is how new things grow. Saying yes leads to new experiences, and new experiences will lead you to knowledge and wisdom.” Although Google is discontinuing this venture, it has yielded experiences, knowledge and wisdom that might never have been gained had they not said yes. Trying new things, even if they fail, is essential to innovation.

In the end, Google did decide to pull the plug, which underscores another of its philosophies, which is “Fail Well.” Failing well involves:

  • Yielding valuable technical, user and market insights that can help inform the next effort
  • Failing fast
While Google has decided not to continue to dedicate resources to this specific effort, it is committed to failing well. In an email from Google to Compare partners, Google says, “After a lot of careful consideration, we’ve decided that focusing more intently on AdWords and future innovations will enable us to provide fresh, comprehensive answers to Google users, and to provide our financial services partners with the best return on investment.” It is not abandoning the concept of providing financial services information to users of Google, but rather focusing on “future innovations” to do so. This email underscores the point that the learnings from Google Compare will be used going forward as it continues to innovate.

Lastly, this development shows how Google has established a culture of innovation. In Eric Schmidt’s book, Google tells the story of Google Wave, an innovation that was launched in 2009 and failed within a year. The interesting part of that story is that not only were the Googlers who worked on that project not fired, but they were also some of the most heavily-recruited employees within Google, “precisely because they had worked on something that had pushed the boundaries.” For those working on Google Compare, it is being reported by Ginny Marvin of Search Engine Land that, “a Google spokesperson said the company will help Googlers currently working on Compare find new roles within the company.” In many companies, it is common to see the status of a champion of a failed innovation suffer. At Google, however, it is quite the opposite. This practice encourages a culture of innovation, as employees are able to take risks in a secure environment.

Establish a culture of saying yes. Fail well. Create a safe environment for employees to participate in innovation. While these approaches do not guarantee every effort will be successful, they will create an environment where the likelihood of success is exponentially greater.


Roosevelt Mosley is a Principal and Consulting Actuary with Pinnacle and has over 21 years of property and casualty actuarial experience. His skill set includes predictive analytics applications, ratemaking, advanced statistical modeling techniques, claims analytics, developing vehicle classification systems, insurance legislation pricing and analysis, rate filing development, regulatory compliance, litigation support and financial modeling.

«June 2019»