Life after Google, with millions

A horde of nouveau riche have moved on from the company, trading on Google credentials to reach new heights in tech or attempting to save the world.

Editors' note: This is part one of a two-part series. In part two, published Wednesday, a software engineer turned sustainable real estate developer and others explain why leaving Google is never easy.What would you do if you were flush with $10 million or $100 million? Would you retire, go to work every day at the company that made you rich, or chase other dreams?

That's the multimillion-dollar question for hundreds of early Googlers. By some estimates, more than 900 employees became instant millionaires when Google went public in August 2004, and that total has likely ballooned along with the stock price. On Friday the stock closed at $600.25, up more than 600 percent from its opening price of $85.

According to the company's most recent securities filing, Google employees held 11,662,917 outstanding stock options as of September 30, 2007. At the current stock price, those shares would carry a potential value of about $4.48 billion for employees. Google co-founder Larry Page's stock holdings are also worth about $18.85 billion and Sergey Brin's, $18.51 billion, according to analysis from executive compensation firm Equilar.

But as those bank accounts have filled up, many early Googlers have left the company. By some estimates, nearly a third of the first 500 Googlers have departed, and many more of the estimated 2,200 pre-IPO employees are planning an exit as their stock vests. (A Google representative did not respond to a request for comment.)

Some ex-Googlers are chasing summer around the world, raising families, or just sleeping late. Others are teaching art, going to law school, writing books, or stumping for politicians. Still others, having made their fortune, are taking on all those things. Olana Hirsch Khan, for example, who ran Google's international sales professional services team, is now chief operating officer at charitable micro-finance site (which President Bill Clinton promoted in his recent book, Giving). She also does philanthropic work of her own and just had a baby.

Another crop of Xooglers (as one alumni site calls them) are emerging as Silicon Valley's newest entrepreneurs, angel investors, and venture capitalists. They're following a long tradition of technology companies like Netscape and PayPal, which minted millionaires who then started their own companies. This is, after all, how Silicon Valley has always worked, stretching all the way to Fairchild Semiconductor, where Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce worked before founding chip giant Intel in 1968.

The micro-messaging service Twitter, for example, was co-founded by an ex-Googler. It has also raised money from other former employees at the search giant. Former Google sales manager and current venture capitalist Aydin Senkut has invested in municipal Wi-Fi developer Meraki, along with several other former employees.

What's unique about Google is the vastness of the wealth it has created in such a short time and the impact that money could have in coming years. Have the Xooglers had a big hit yet? No. But Google expatriates are likely to play a greater role in the Valley's business and culture than any other group, bringing their company's brainy and shoot-for-the-stars sensibilities to new tech companies, philanthropic causes, and even a wine bar or two.

CNET interviewed several former Googlers, ranging from the masseuse who struck it big to several entrepreneurs who are trying to prove that their wealth was as much about their talent as it was their luck.

"The question for early Googlers now that they have financial independence is not whether they can be smart, but whether they will be profound," said one insider.

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