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Google Turns 10: How Web Giant Confounded Skeptics

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ten years after Google's (GOOG - Get Report) initial public offering, it can be hard to remember that America's third-most valuable company was once a controversial stock. Back then, skeptics argued that Yahoo (YHOO - Get Report)  was more diversified, Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) more financially powerful, and just about every stock less expensive. 

Shares are up 13-fold since, thanks to moves that have propelled Google into new markets and made it bigger and more powerful than the market imagined in the summer of 2004. As it did, the controversy evaporated. 

Moves that made Google more than one-great-trick pony with a massive search engine include:
1. Buying Android
  The 2005 acquisition that gave Google entree to the mobile market -- and for only $50 million. The bang for the buck is massive, and still expanding.
2. Buying DoubleClick
Spending $3 billion in 2007 for a company that helped advertisers place ads on all kind of Web sites, including display ads, provoked Microsoft to spend $6 billion for AQuantive. Microsoft later wrote off most of that money.
3. The Capex Wars
Google's darkest time as a public company came in 2007-2008, as investors wondered whether its billions of dollars of capital spending would amount to much. Shares dipped to about $215 in early 2008, from $360 in mid-2007. Those concerns would prove short-lived once the investments began paying off.
4. Battling Regulators and (Mostly) Winning
The company has fought regulators for years over privacy issues and acquistions that rivals thought posed antitrust issues. Google compromised to win approval of its acquisition of travel-technology company ITA Software, and has paid fines to resolve disputes over everything from its cookie policy to pictures taken by Google's Street View cameras. But critics say those fines should have been much larger.
5. Crossing 50% Market Share in Search, then 60%
With these milestones reached, Google could safely put Yahoo in the rearview mirror.
6. Buying Maps
When Google went public, it still had a relatively narrow base of major advertisers. Google Maps helped them drive into local advertisements for small businesses, which multiplied the number of clients it could serve and how useful Google could be. It also helped set the stage for mobile.
7. Buying YouTube
Crowdsourced stock-research site Trefis estimates that YouTube, purchased in 2006 for $1.65 billion, provides 8% of Google's $392 billion market capitalization. That would be a nearly 19-to-1 return. Not everyone could see it at the time. 
8. Motorola Mobility
Google's biggest acquisition at $12.5 billion, the company sold off pieces it didn't need and emerged with a pile of important patents for the relatively-low estimated price of $1.5 billion. Engineers apparently can learn financial engineering, too.
9. Cars and Glass Unveiling
Neither of these is big yet, but Google's drive to innovate at the expense of quarterly earnings -- a factor that helped drive down its IPO price in 2004 -- is exemplified by its experiments with self-driving cars and wearable computers like Google Glass. With the company's profitability well-established, its willingness to spend money on technologies that could be moonshots down the road bothers investors much less than it once did.
10. Nest Labs.
Google spent $3.2 billion for Nest Labs this January, hoping that the startup's mobile-enabled smart thermostats and smoke alarms make an entree to the so-called Internet of Things, connecting nearly all the machines in people's lives to the Web. 

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