MENLO PARK, Calif. – Software engineer Lars Rasmussen could be a poster child for the slogan pasted on the walls of Facebook’s headquarters here: Fail Harder.
After getting laid off from his first startup, the Berkeley PhD in computer science teamed up with his brother to make digital maps a platform, hoping to leapfrog Mapquest. In the wake of the dotcom bust, funding was hard to find, but Google liked the idea, and bought the startup. Code Rasmussen developed became the basis for Google Maps.
Rasmussen’s next big idea for Google was Wave, pitched as the follow on to email. It landed hard as a belly flop.
For the last two years he has been at Facebook, where he has been put in charge of search. The social networking giant has long hoped it could find a more personal road into Web data that could accelerate it past archrival Google.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg seeded staff with ideas he liked. Rasmussen presided over several prototypes, one of which he showed to Zuckerberg more than a year ago, as a barely working proof of concept of a natural language querying capability.
“Mark said, ‘You will never get that to work, but if you could it would be awesome,’” recalled Rasmussen, who was motivated by the implicit challenge.
The project started weekly meetings, many of the attended by Zuckerberg. But it was really at the end when the founder got more involved in the project.
“I started getting messages from Mark at 2 a.m., asking us to change this or that,” said Rasmussen. “We use Facebook messages here, not e-mail,” he said.