$5 Billion* Men

updated 08/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Wonder Boys:
Growing up in East Lansing, Mich., Larry Page, now 31, already had the word "googol" dancing in his brain. In grade school, says former classmate Steve Archer, 30, "I actually learned from Larry that a googol is [a] one with 100 zeros after it." By then Page—whose parents, Carl (who died in 1996) and Gloria, 60, were both computer scientists—was already outsmarting his elders, says Archer. One teacher "used to have this expression, 'You can't get toothpaste back into a tube,' and Larry would explain to her how you could actually do that."

Meanwhile, over in College Park, Md.:
Sergey Brin, 31, was making his mark—surprise!—as the star of the chess club and math team and as a joker. At a math meet at Penn State, Brin whipped out a Super Soaker-type squirt gun right before the competition. "He likes plain old fun," says his former calculus teacher Linda Agreen. Brin, who moved from his native Moscow at age 6, also had a genetic advantage: Dad Michael, 56, is a math professor at the University of Maryland, and mom Eugenia, 56, is a NASA analyst. No surprise, then, that in his junior year, his high school yearbook compared him to Einstein. He isn't in the senior yearbook; by then he was taking classes at the University of Maryland.

Gentlemen, start your (search) engines:
When the two met at Stanford's computer science Ph.D. program, they wrote software for a search engine they dubbed BackRub. Their staff adviser Terry Winograd was impressed, though he says he asked Page, "'Yes, but how are you going to make money?' And I remember Larry getting this little smile on his face and saying, 'We'll figure that out.'"

Figuring that out:
The pair dropped out of Stanford in 1998 without completing their Ph.D.s and set up their new company nearby in Palo Alto. "They were your brilliant mad scientists," says early employee Scott Epstein. "The company was filled with these giant exercise balls. One was 6 ft. in diameter. Sergey would take a running leap and jump on it." Google didn't invent search engines, but it developed a formula by which the most popular Web pages would be ranked the highest. The company's motto: "Don't be evil." "We have tried to define precisely what it means to be a force for good," Brin told Playboy.

Geeks just wanna have fun:
Google's current HQ, in Mountain View, Calif., is known as a playground of a workplace. Page and Brin, who drive fuel-efficient Toyota Priuses, sometimes in-line skate to the office. "For a while Larry was commuting several miles each way on a Segway scooter," says Winograd. The Google building features a roller rink, and employees are required to spend one day a week working on whatever outside projects they choose. Cereal and snacks are free. "You walk into their office," says Winograd, "and there's always some sort of gadget or gizmo that makes you say, 'Cool, how does that work?' They had a clock that made it look like the numbers were written in air, and an orb that changed color with the weather."

So why the stock offering?
Many of Google's investors were starting to get antsy to cash out. And it had to make its books public anyway, because companies with more than $10 million in assets whose securities are held by more than 500 owners are legally required to disclose financial information.

And is it a good deal?
Proceed with caution, experts say. "They set a stratospheric target price of $108 to $135," says Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group research company. "But there is also the argument that Google will continue to have very strong growth, and three years from now, you will realize the IPO was cheap," says Tom Delnoce of the money management group B.G. Associates.

Either way, the guys cash in:
If the IPO sells out at the price Brin and Page envisage, each will earn between $4.6 and $5.7 billion from the sale. But don't expect them to suddenly get flashy. Page, who reportedly dates a Google employee, and Brin, who reportedly dates the sister of an employee, rent modest apartments in the Palo Alto area, and that's not likely to change. Says Winograd: "I don't see them going off and buying a yacht or an island."

Kyle Smith. Angie Isidro Bresnahan in College Park, Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles, Noah Isackson in Chicago and Andrea Orr in San Francisco

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