"Note And Vote": How Google Ventures Avoids Groupthink In Meetings

By Jake Knapp
You know when a meeting turns into a complete waste of time? Maybe you’re trying to come up with ideas, or make a decision. Before anyone realizes it, the meeting starts to suck.

Meetings want to suck. Two of their favorite suckiness tactics are group brainstorming and group negotiation. Give them half a chance, and they’ll waste your time, sap your energy, and leave you with poor ideas and a watered-down decision. But meetings don't have to be that way.

On the Google Ventures design team, we dislike sucky meetings as much as anyone. We use a process hack that short-circuits the worst parts of groupthink while getting the most out of different perspectives. For lack of a better name, we call it the “note-and-vote.”

The next time you need to make a decision or come up with a new idea in a group, call timeout and give the note-and-vote a try.

HOW IT WORKS

1. Note

Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for five minutes to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can. Individually. Quietly. This list won’t be shared with the group, so nobody has to worry about writing down dumb ideas.

2. Self-edit

Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites. Individually. Quietly.

3. Share and capture

One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on. As you go, one person writes everybody’s ideas on the whiteboard.

4. Vote

Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard. Individually. Quietly. You must commit your vote to paper.

5. Share and capture

One at a time, each person says their vote. A short sales pitch may be permissible, but no changing your vote! Say what you wrote. Write the votes on the whiteboard. Dots work well.

6. Decide

Who is the decider? She should make the final call--not the group. She can choose to respect the votes or not. This is less awkward than it sounds: instead of dancing around people’s opinions and feelings, you’ve made the mechanics plain. Everyone’s voice was heard.

7. Rejoice. That only took 15 minutes!

The note-and-vote isn’t perfect (remember, I said “pretty good decisions”). But it is fast. And it’s quite likely better than what you’d get with two hours of the old way.

You might want to adapt the specifics to suit the problem and your team. Sometimes multiple votes per person are helpful. Sometimes sales pitches give crucial insight. We often jump right to voting when there's a finite list of options. So long as you do most of the thinking individually, you’ll see a big efficiency boost.

WHY IT WORKS

Quiet time to think

Meetings rarely offer individuals time to focus and think. Group brainstorms--where everyone shouts out ideas and builds off one another--can be fun, but in my experience, the strongest ideas always come from individuals.

GROUP BRAINSTORMS CAN BE FUN, BUT THE STRONGEST IDEAS COME FROM INDIVIDUALS.

Parallel is better than serial

Normal meetings are serial. In other words, one person is talking at a time, and someone is always talking. That means there’s one thread of thought for the length of the meeting. Parallel work increases your bandwidth. More solutions are considered and evaluated.

Voting commitment

Writing down your vote ensures that you won’t be swayed when someone else you respect votes for something else. This is a social hack--we naturally want to make other people feel good and form consensus in meetings. Conflict is useful.

The Majority Of Today’s App Businesses Are Not Sustainable

By Sarah Perez

Though the app stores continue to fill up with ever more mobile applications, the reality is that most of these are not sustainable businesses. According to a new report out this morning, half (50%) of iOS developers and even more (64%) Android developers are operating below the “app poverty line” of $500 per app per month.

This detail was one of many released in VisionMobile’s latest Developer Economics report(for Q3 2014), which was based on a large-scale online developer survey and one-to-one interviews with mobile app developers. This report included the responses from over 10,000 developers from 137 countries worldwide, taking place over 5 weeks in April and May.

That mobile app developers are challenged in getting their apps discovered, downloaded and then actually used, is a well-known fact. But seeing the figures associated with exactly how tough it is out there is rather revealing. It seems the “1%” is not only a term applicable to the economy as a whole – it’s also taking place within the app store economy, too.

The report’s authors detail the specifics around the trend where a tiny fraction of developers – actually, it’s 1.6% to be exact – generate most of the app store revenue. Slyly referencing the “disappearing middle class of app developers,” the report’s analysis groups the estimated 2.9 million mobile app developers worldwide into a handful of different categories for easy reference: the “have-nothings,” the “poverty-stricken,” the “strugglers,” and the “haves.” And, as you can tell, most of these categories don’t sound too great.

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Have Nothings

Accounting for 47% of app developers, the “have nothings” include the 24% of app developers – who are interested in making money, it should be noted - who make nothing at all.

Meanwhile, 23% make something, but it’s under $100 per month. These developers are sometimes unable to cover the basic costs of development PCs, test devices, and an account to publish apps, the report states. However, in case you’re wondering why so many developers still go iOS first, it’s because those who prioritize iOS app development are less likely to find themselves in this group, with 35% earning $0-$100 per month, versus the 49% of Android developers.

There’s also a portion of the app developer population (35%), some of whom aren’t interested in making money. The report refers to these part-timers as “hobbyists” or “explorers,” who may be just testing the waters, or working on apps that have yet to launch. Still, more than half of this crowd is interested in making some money from their applications, while less than half make $0 per month.

Poverty Stricken & Strugglers

Meanwhile, 22% are “poverty stricken” developers whose apps make $100 to $1,000 per app per month. At this rate, the companies behind the apps couldn’t afford standard app developer salaries. 15% of developers make between $100-$500 per app per month and 7% make between $500-$1,000 per app per month.

When combined with the above “have nots,” that means 62% of developers are below the “app poverty line” of $500 per app per month, and some 69% can’t sustain full-time development.

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The “strugglers” are a bit more fortunate. 19% of developers earn $1,000 to $10,000 per app per month, which could either be a supplement to full-time work or even a something of a good living, if in the high-end of that band. But these apps also tend to be more complex, requiring more development effort, and possibly ongoing server costs which can cut into the developer’s bottom line.

Winner Takes All: The “Haves”

Finally, there are the “haves.” The top 12% make more than $10,000 per app per month. 17% of iOS-first developers are in this group versus 9% of Android-first developers. To give you a sense of this group’s members: a rank-100 grossing game on iOS in the U.S. would expect to make $10,000 per day.

However, states the report, only the top 1.6% of developers make more than $500,000 per app per month, but of those who do, some are earning tens of millions per month. The next 2% – those who make between $100,000 and $500,000 per month – are making more than 96.4% of the rest of the app developers out there.

“More than 50% of app businesses are not sustainable at current revenue levels, even if we exclude the part-time developers that don’t need to make any money to continue,” states the report. “A massive 60-70% may not be sustainable long-term, since developers with in-demand skills will move on to more promising opportunities.”

As Apps Disappear, Will They Be Seen As Disposable?

The interesting thing about these numbers, besides just indicating how hard it is to have an app really hit big, is that the market economics are actually encouraging developers and users alike to see most apps as disposable things, not businesses you remain committed to long-term.

These days, many mobile app startups look more like resumés for developers who will soon abandon their work following acqui-hire M&A deals. And the continuous exits and new launches – where some startups are even being scooped up pre-launch – are creating an app consumer user base which thinks of apps as things that will quickly disappear (if you’re not Facebook, I suppose).

That makes it harder for many users today to buy into claims that an app wants to be your go-to home for important, lasting communications – like messaging clients aimed at businesses or the apps that want to store all your precious photo memories. And of course, most games have limited life-spans, too.

But on the flip side, today’s younger consumers are wired differently from their Gen X or Y (and older) counterparts. They’re fine with impermanent messages, deleting their social media accounts at will, data loss be damned. This group of consumers is an ideal audience for the increasingly disposable nature of mobile apps – at least while the current consumer app gold rush continues.

NEA busiest VC firm in hottest market since 2001; Here's the rest of Top 20

Cromwell Schubar

Senior Technology Reporter-Silicon Valley Business Journal

New Enterprise Associates averaged a U.S. funding deal every three days in the first half of this year, the hottest six months for the industry since the end of the dotcom boom in 2001.

Not far behind NEA's 64 first half deals were Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (54), Andreessen Horowitz (52) and Google Ventures (50), according to a report from investment database research firm CB Insights.

An interesting fact from the report is that NEA wasn't involved in any of the huge deals that went down in the most recent quarter, nearly all of which happened here in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco area. That includes Uber ($1.2 billion), AirBnB ($500 million), Lyft ($250 million), Pure Storage ($225 million) Intarcia Therapeutics ($200 million) and Pinterest ($200 million).

CB Insights only tracks deals that include venture firms, so it doesn't factor in any of the big late-stage fundings that came entirely from hedge fund and private equity investors.

The firm said that investors poured 39 percent more capital — nearly $24 billion — into 11 percent more deals than had been recorded in the first three months of the year, the hottest quarter since the second quarter of 2001.

After Q1’14 saw venture capital investment hit its highest quarterly mark since Q2’01, investors deployed 39 percent more capital across 11 percent more deals. In aggregate, H1’14 saw U.S. VC funding leap to $23.87B, a 71 percent increase versus H1’13.

Overall, there were more than 300 funding deals and more than $4 billion invested in each month in Q2.

Among Kleiner Perkins' 54 deals in the second quarter was the $40 million funding of Palo Alto-based Big Data company RelateIQ, which was acquired Friday by Salesforce.com for $350 million.

Here is CB Insights' full list of the most active venture investors in the first six months:

— 1. New Enterprise Associates: 64.

— 2. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers: 54.

— 3. Andreessen Horowitz: 52.

— 4. Google Ventures: 50.

— 5. 500 Startups: 47.

— 6. Khosla Ventures: 40.

— 7. SV Angel: 35.

— 7. Accel Partners: 35.

— 9. Sequoia Capital: 33.

— 10. First Round Capital: 32.

— 11. Greylock Partners: 30.

— 12. Lerer Hippeau Ventures: 28.

— 12. Foundry Group: 28.

— 14. True Ventures: 25.

— 15. General Catalyst Partners: 25.

— 16. Battery Ventures: 24.

— 16. Atlas Venture: 24.

— 18. RRE Ventures: 23.

— 19. Lightspeed Venture Partners: 22.

— 19. Intel Capital: 22.

— 19. InterWest Partners: 22.

— 19. Bessemer Venture Partners: 22.

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Melissa Welch

Director of Client Development

Growthink

melissa.welch@growthink.com

(310) 846-5015


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Beware the ‘Edifice Complex’ — and 9 Other Ways to Damage a High-Growth Startup

BY MARC ANDREESSEN

Here are 10 ways to damage your fast-growing tech startup – and hurt the perception of Silicon Valley in the process. None of these are specific to any one company; they’re general patterns we’ve observed across multiple cycles of tech startups.

#1 Only hiring — or training/motivating/incenting your managers to hire — without focusing on firing. Or on performance management and efficiency optimization.

#2 Selling too much of your own personal stock too quickly, which alienates employees and leads people to question your long-term commitment as a founder. On a related note, letting private stock sales by employees get out of hand creates a “hit-and-run culture” — and forces your company to take on the burdens of being public before actually going public.

#3 Diluting the crap out of the cap table by being sloppy and undisciplined with stock grants to early employees. This also plants hidden “morale landmines” for later employees.

#4 Maximizing absolute valuation of each growth round, which not only makes later rounds harder and harder to achieve but can trigger a disastrous down round.

#5 Letting investors (including, occasionally, private equity firms and hedge funds) suck you into terrible structural terms on growth rounds. You’re guaranteed massive trauma if anything goes even slightly wrong there.

#6 Going public too soon! Going public before you’re a fortress, before you can withstand all assaults leads to a stock-price death spiral and ends up in a train wreck for everyone.

#7 Pouring huge money into overly glorious new headquarters — “The Edifice Complex” — then repeating two years later. There’s also a danger in signaling to employees “we’ve made it, we’re amazing” (and while everyone hates the cramped but collaborative space when they’re in it, they miss it terribly after the move).

#8 Assuming more cash is always available at higher and higher valuations, forever. This one will actually kill your company outright.

#9 Confusing the conference circuit — and especially the party scene — with actual work. This also creates a toxic culture on multiple fronts by encouraging alcohol/drugs and valuing so-called “ballers” over other important, less “loud” contributors.

#10 Refusing to take HR seriously! This issue isn’t specific to just tech-heavy environments; it’s prevalent in any highly creative, highly skilled workplace. At a certain company size, you need both the ability to manage people and an effective HR person. (Even though it is absolutely worth training company leadership in good HR practices, most managers are dangerously amateur at doing actual HR). Without smart, effective HR, terrible internal managerial and employee behavior leads to a toxic culture that can catalyze into a catastrophic ethical — and legal — crisis.

This quarter had the most venture capital invested since Q1 2000

Venture's Q2 surge: Dollars, deals and dominant players

Cromwell Schubarth Senior Technology Reporter-Silicon Valley Business Journal

Valuations on venture-backed companies jumped again in the second quarter as the number of IPOs and the amount VCs invested in startups both hit post-dot-com highs, a new report from PitchBook Data shows.

The total amount invested has climbed steadily each quarter in the past year, jumping from $12.8 billion in Q2 of 2013 to $21.5 billion in the same period this year. The $13.9 billion raised in 76 new venture funds is also a recent high.

Sequoia Capital invested in the most companies in the quarter — participating in 35 deals — and tied with New Enterprise Associates for the most exits with eight.

The big deal for the Menlo Park firm was Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, which was announced in the first quarter but closed in the second quarter.

That deal also skewed the total amount of capital exited, which jumped from between $16 billion and $19.2 billion in the previous three quarters to $37.9 billion in the second quarter.

The biggest deals Sequoia participated in were the $100 million round for South Korean e-commerce company Coupang, a $100 million round for Chinese content distributor Toutiao and a $75 million round for San Francisco identity management company Okta.

After Sequoia's 35 deals, Andreessen Horowitz was the second most active with 31 deals, followed by Accel Partners (29) and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (27).

Pre-money valuations were also up compared to last year's second quarter, ranging from a 34 percent jump to $6.2 million at the seed/angel stage to a 122.2 percent jump in Series D and later rounds.

The length of time between when a startup was founded and when it paid off in an acquisition (the vast majority of exits) was about 6.4 years. PitchBook reported 193 of those deals in the quarter.

The average time to exit for the 47 IPOs in the quarter was 10.8 years. That number has been hovering between about 10 and 11 years since 2009. That's up markedly from prior years when it was typically between seven and eight years between launch and going public.

The average time to exit for the 15 private equity buyouts in the quarter was 11.3 years.

Software companies had by far the most exits, with 107 of the 255 exits reported in the second quarter. That is double the 28 exits each reported in the two sectors that were next — commercial services and biotech/pharmaceuticals.

The software sector also had by far the most fundings in the quarter, accounting for 641 of the 1,590 deals reported.

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Melissa Welch

Director of Client Development

Growthink

melissa.welch@growthink.com

(310) 846-5015


Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MelissaAWelch

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