Get your business online

As the grandson of Wisconsin small business owners, my earliest and most formative memories of work are about the resourcefulness and responsibility of people who made their own living, no matter what that took.

My grandfathers made with their own pride and hands and nearly endless hard work the kinds small businesses that made not only services, and products, and jobs, but part of the core of a community that created opportunity for others to do the same.

My father spent his career at a very large company, and I work at Google today, but there is a sign on a small business in Hartford that still bears my grandfather’s (and my) name, and seeing it has always evoked in me a special pride and sense of responsibility that is truly unique.

Perhaps every little boy idolizes his grandfathers and what they do, but by building businesses with their own hands and courage, they gave me something deeply worth idolizing.

Over the last decade, the Internet has changed the way Americans interact with all kinds of businesses, from how to start them, buy from them, find them, expand them, collaborate with them, everything – in Wisconsin just as much as anywhere else.

But while 97 percent of Americans look online for local products and services, 48 percent of Wisconsin small businesses do not have a website. That means that almost half of the small businesses in Wisconsin are likely invisible to the people who want to find them, buy from them, do business with them. No matter what business you’re in, that’s not good.

I see the importance of getting businesses online every day in my role running a small group at Google called the Creative Lab. Part of my job is to connect all kinds of people, like people who run small businesses, to typically free Google products and technology that can help them. I have to admit that as I was typing that line I thought that if my grandfathers were here today they would say “Well, you’re not doing a very good job!!”

Until all small businesses understand how Google products can help them, I’m afraid they’re right. I miss their candor.

At Google, we understand the impact that the Internet can have on small businesses. Larry and Sergey, our two founders, started the company in a garage in 1998, where they made tables out of old doors and sawhorses (my grandfathers would admire) and printers and servers out of a box of Legos (my grandfathers would be suspicious), and though we’ve grown quite a bit since then, our dedication to helping people use technology to amplify and expand their own abilities, passions, skills and hard work is as strong as ever.

An effective presence on the web not only levels the playing field for small businesses, but can help them reach new customers, better market their products or services and help them grow in ways previously not possible.

In 2010, Google’s ability to connect customers to businesses provided $64 billion of economic activity to thousands of businesses, website publishers and nonprofits, including more than $640 million in Wisconsin. But for many businesses who aren’t yet online, there’s no substitute for some simple old-fashioned help, so we’re here in the state to help make it fast, easy, and free for Wisconsin’s small businesses to get online.

We worked with several national and local partners to host Wisconsin Get Your Business Online last week and got a chance to meet some amazing Wisconsin businesses and get them online.  Hundreds of  businesses attended our kickoff event in Milwaukee at the historic PritzLaff building, most of whom left with free websites, free web hosting for a year and the resources they need to increase their visibility online. I was lucky enough to see some old friends and make a lot of new ones.

But this is just the beginning. In the weeks ahead we’ll be working with our partners to host additional events throughout the state. Small businesses that aren’t online can still take advantage by visiting to quickly create a free, professional website provided by our partners and good friends Intuit.

It’s been quite a long time since I was a proud little apprentice at my grandfather’s businesses in Hartford. And since I was a regular in so many of the local businesses in Whitefish Bay. But the pride that I always felt there by the owners of small businesses has never left me and was there in full force last weekend. If the web is the place where more and more business takes place, I’m sure that Wisconsin resourcefulness and grit will be there.

If we at Google can help out, and that help can spread neighbor to neighbor in a big way, I think there’s a chance that this Wisconsin grandson could have in a small way lived up to the expectations of two proud Wisconsin grandfathers.


Born in Whitefish Bay, Andy Berndt is the vice president of Google’s Creative Lab. Wisconsin Get Your Business Online is made possible by Google in partnership with Intuit, Meetup, American Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Restaurant Association, Wisconsin Small Business Development Centers, WisBusiness, Wisconsin Black Chamber Inc, and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. To learn more, visit

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