What to do when (everyone thinks) Google's out to get you

Editor's note: Google launched a new local news site today, a move which ostensibly puts it in competition with Topix. We asked CEO Chris Tolles what it's like to find your company up against the Big G. Here are his unfiltered thoughts.

What do you do when everybody thinks Google's competing with you? I woke up this morning with the eye of Sauron upon us. Google had (finally) launched Google Local News, something we're known for here at Topix. So, since I'm the CEO, I get the pleasure of wrangling this potential disaster. (Small favor from Google, launching the day after my birthday. Thanks guys).

So what the hell do you do?

First, I looked over what they said, and what they actually launched. Next I looked over the coverage and what people were saying about this. I was pretty lucky, turns out. Bless Duncan Riley at TechCrunch for actually mentioning us in his headline (even if the point was "Godzilla has now targeted Topix"). So, at least we're getting credit for being a player.

My playbook, anyway, from a bunch of years at Sun (with Microsoft looking to kill us), Netscape (with Microsoft looking to kill us) and AOL (with Microsoft looking to kill us):

  1. Analyze the strategy, not just the product. Chances are whatever they're doing is not core over there, and even if it's aimed square at your heart, are they going to back this thing, really? (Think of Google Base, Blog Search, etc. etc.) Not everything over there turns to gold.
  2. Turn the obituary into an advertisement. Google's validating your space, and a lot of folks looking at what they're doing — press, potential partners — all of whom you now have an excuse to call or pitch. This of course requires you to have a story.
  3. Position yourself outside the bullseye. "These are not the droids you're looking for." Chances are, there's a different way to look at things. In Topix's case, most of our traffic is on our commentary. Since we generate our own content, we're a more natural partner for Google for that (growing and healthy) part of the business.
  4. Act quickly to get your story out there and talk to people. There's almost always a great argument for doing nothing. Don't fall for it. Put out that blog post. Call those reporters. Respond to the Valleywag guy who wants to post your opinon. Talk to your employees, your board and your customers/partners that morning.
  5. Have a sense of humor. At least I'm not at Yahoo.

Chris Tolles is the CEO of Topix. Full disclosure: He and Google dealmaker Megan Smith were once housemates.