Merus Capital, as it happens, is itself a new Google product. Or, to be more specific, Merus Capital is the product of a new Google phenomenon. Call it the Google exodus, the Google diaspora, whatever–in almost any given week, blogs and business sections perk up with news that key figures at Google are leaving. It happened last October, the day word leaked about Salman Ullah: ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER KEY GOOGLER DEPARTS, read the headline on VentureBeat. Ullah and Dempsey, who resigned at the same time, ran Google’s corporate-development group. This meant they were in charge of buying and assimilating new companies, spending billions on YouTube and DoubleClick, among others. They also witnessed some of the initial stirrings of restlessness, the trickle of defections and departures that seemed to them a harbinger of the future. Since the late nineties, when they worked together at the top of Microsoft’s corporate-development office, they’d considered becoming venture capitalists. But the timing had never seemed right. By the middle of 2007, about three years after having joined Google, the timing seemed urgent. They became convinced that their departing Google colleagues were going to dream up some truly special projects, and they wanted in. So, along with Peter Hsing, who had previously worked with them at Microsoft and was currently that company’s managing director of corporate strategy, they abandoned some of the best corporate jobs in the world in order to go into business for themselves.
Merus Capital, both a product of the Google diaspora and an exploiter of it, has become an important node in the increasingly complex web ex-Googlers are weaving around Silicon Valley. The firm’s first entrepreneur in residence, and the first beneficiary of Merus funds, was Gokul Rajaram, perhaps the highest profile recent Google departure, a man whom Fortune magazine identified as “one of the godfathers of AdSense” for his role in creating the targeted advertising service that is one of Google’s prime revenue sources. Rajaram’s start-up, Chai Labs, which is still in stealth mode, was incubated at Merus. In just the past couple years, ex-Googlers like Rajaram and Ullah and Dempsey have started about two dozen new companies and invested tens of millions of dollars in other start-ups. As