Sergey Brin: The Self-Made Billionaire Who Built Google

Sergey Brin is the seventh wealthiest person on the planet, with a personal fortune of $98.1 billion (£78.14 billion), according to Forbes.

He also laid claim as the wealthiest immigrant in the US and was outspoken during Trump’s presidency, criticising immigration bans – as a living case study of the American dream.

Brin’s immense wealth is all down to a chance meeting with another student while studying computer science at university – the friends built Google, which became the most successful internet site ever launched.

Although we’re all more than used to Googling things now, in 1997, it was a hugely innovative concept and became one of the most influential factors in how we advertise, shop and communicate online today.

Who Is Sergey Brin?

Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin was born in Moscow to a mathematics professor father and a mother who later worked as a researcher at the NASA Goddard Space Centre.

He has said that he doesn’t consider himself religious but comes from a Jewish family. His parents moved to the US when Brin was just six.

It was difficult for Jewish students in Russia to advance to higher education or pursue specific career paths due to ongoing persecution, which was likely part of the reasoning.

Brin met Larry Page at Stanford when both were working towards doctorates. They built Google as a university research project, which turned both co-founders into multi-billionaires.

Education and Career

After moving to the US, Brin excelled as an American student:

  • He attended the Paint Branch Montessori School, based in Maryland while studying maths at home with his father.
  • His next stop was the University of Maryland, where Brin studied computer science and maths, achieving a Bachelor of Science.
  • Brin then attended Stanford with a graduate fellowship awarded by the National Science Foundation.

Famously, Brin met Larry Page at Stanford, where the friends came up with the original Google concept.

Page’s interest in the maths behind the internet ignited a shared passion, and they built a web crawler called BackRub – it explored the web (which was somewhat limited at the time) from the Stanford home page.

The pair created an algorithm called PageRank, which worked out to be a better tool than anything currently available.

Sergey Brin’s Business Profile

Google started as an idea in a dorm room, and its first incarnation was before being registered as the domain in 1997.

The name comes from the term googol, a slang word for a large number, a one followed by 100 zeros – based on the idea that the search engine would classify and crawl impossibly vast amounts of data, which turned out to be accurate.

Working from a friend’s garage in California, the company was incorporated in September 1998, with financing from Andy Bechtolsheim, the Sun Microsystems co-founder, of $100,000 (£79,500).

Page took the role of CEO and Brin as President.

The friend who offered their garage happened to be another Stanford alumni, Susan Wojcicki (sister of Brin’s first wife, Anne), who became YouTube CEO further down the line.

A year later, Google had eight employees and moved to an office in Palo Alto – what we now know as the GooglePlex after the firm bought the entire complex.

It raised around $1 million (£796,500) in investment in 1998, and a further $25 million (£19.91 million) in venture capital funding in 1999, appointing Eric Schmidt as CEO in 2001.

In 2000, Brin and Page first had the idea about monetising their search engine and introduced ads based on keywords with text-only content. The demand for ad space skyrocketed, and Google had found a new trajectory.

By 2004, Google managed 200 million searches a day (around 138,000 a second). That year, Google issued its first IPO, which added a cool $3.8 billion (£3.03 billion) to Brin’s bank balance.

Google bought YouTube in 2006 with a $1.65 billion (£1.31 billion) payment, made in stocks, but hit a roadblock with criticism from the Chinese government, which claimed it hadn’t adhered to censorship requirements.

Brin defended Google and said it was obliged to provide some information rather than blocking pages about democracy or the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

He decided to step down as President in 2011, becoming the Director of Special Projects instead.

Alphabet, the parent holding company, was formed in 2015, and although Brin left the post of Alphabet CEO in 2019, he remains a board member and a majority stockholder.

His later years in the post were mainly spent developing the Alphabet moonshot research laboratory, Lab X. That interest led to current reports that Brin is the financier behind a new initiative to develop highly advanced airships.

Sergey Brin’s Philanthropy

Brin has been involved in numerous charities and oversees The Brin Wojcicki Foundation with his ex-wife.

The Foundation supports various causes, awarding $50 million (£39.76 million) a year to organisations such as educational programmes, libraries and human rights groups.

When Brin separated from his wife in 2004, Brin founded the Sergey Brin Family Foundation and has contributed over $1.4 billion (£1.11 billion) in assets – mostly Google stocks. is a separate philanthropic branch of Google and was set up in the same year. It focuses on developing tech to solve worldwide issues such as energy crises, famine and education.

Brin and his first wife, Anna, also donated $53 million (£42.15 million) jointly towards Parkinson’s disease in 2014 after Brin’s mother was diagnosed, he discovered that he also carries the gene.

Awards and Achievements

Along with Larry Page, Brin has been awarded multiple awards and recognitions as a founder of a search engine that transformed the way we use the internet.

The MIT Technology Review TR100 listed the pair as the top 100 innovators globally under 35.

Other accolades include:

  • An honorary MBA degree from the IE Business School.
  • The Marconi Foundation Prize – known as the Highest Award in Engineering.
  • Fellowship of the Marconi Foundation, based at Columbia University.
  • Induction into the National Academy of Engineering.
  • The Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement.
  • The Computer Pioneer Award presented by the IEEE Computer Society.

Forbes ranked Page and Brin together as the fifth most influential people in the world in 2009 – Brin got an individual Forbes ranking in 2018 and is now placed at number 35.

Sergey Brin FAQ

Is Sergey Brin married?

Brin married Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder of DNA testing service 23andMe, back in 2007, and the couple had two children – Benji, born in 2008 and Chloe, born in 2011. Anne is the sister of Susan Wojcicki, who loaned her garage space in Google’s early days, and later became the CEO of YouTube.

He had an affair with Amanda Rosenberg, the marketing manager for Google Glass, which caused untold anguish, and the spouses separated in 2013 and divorced in 2015. The multi-billionaire remarried three years later to Nicole Shanahan, and they share a daughter born in 2018 – the couple married privately but were dating during Brin’s divorce, according to Insider.

How is Alphabet linked to Google?

Brin and Larry Page set up Alphabet Inc. as a holding company in 2015, with Google as a subsidiary business. The founders named Brin as President, Page as CEO and Eric Schmidt as Executive Chairman. Both Page and Brin announced their retirements from official executive positions at Alphabet in 2017 and named Sundar Pichai the replacement, taking over as CEO of Google and Alphabet. Today, the co-founders remain part of the board of directors, hold controlling interests in Google, and are the largest stockholders in Alphabet.

What did Sergey Brin do in college?

Suppose you’re interested in emulating Brin’s success. In that case, you’ll need an undergraduate degree from Stanford in mathematics and computer science – Brin focused on mining techniques and ways to evaluate large data sets to establish patterns and identify meaningful correlations. Brin created the early search-ranking programme PageRank while a student, and the algorithm remains the backbone underpinning Google. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree, awarded with honours, and continues to participate in the PhD programme, where he achieved his Master’s degree.

Does Sergey Brin own Google shares?

Yes, Brin and Page, the co-founders, are still majority stakeholders and board members. Together they own 51 per cent of the shares, held in a special voting class.

Is Sergey Brin still involved in Google?

Although Brin stepped down as Alphabet President in 2019, at the same time Page resigned as CEO, both remain involved in the overall management with (controversial) voting rights that mean they have a major influence on the future of Google. His interests in space tourism are Brin’s current passion project – he invested $4.5 million (£3.58 million) in the Virginia-based Space Adventures in 2008 and made a $5 million (£3.98 million) deposit to book a seat on a trip to the International Space Station.