Meet Marlo, your company’s digital chief meeting officerBy Marissa Sumathipala
Marlo was founded in 2018 with a mission of merging psychology and technology to improve efficiency in company meetings. The Marlo technology delivers a personalized pulse survey based on current psychological research to quantitatively benchmark effectiveness and offer suggestions for improvement. After a successful pilot at Harvard Business School, Marlo is being implemented at several Boston startups, with more on the waitlist. I sat down with founders John Keck and Ankith Harathi to learn more about their journey to creating Marlo.
Countless companies face unproductive meetings
Founders Ankith Harathi and John Keck decided to found Marlo in 2018, after meeting as students in the Harvard MS/MBA Program, where they are completing both an MBA and a Masters in Computer Science. But their inspiration to create Marlo, a digital tool to facilitate meetings in the workplace, came long before. Before coming to Harvard, Keck and Harathi had both worked at large engineering companies as well as at smaller, early stage startups. They thought moving to a smaller company would mean more productive meetings, but quickly realized that unproductive meetings were a widespread issue that “resonates with almost everyone, regardless of company size or industry.”
Keck recalls during his time at the startup DoorDash he attended a weekly meeting characterized by unproductive time and many people who didn’t actually need to be in the meetings every week. So, when working on DoorDash’s training and development program, Keck trained new hires on how to more effectively run meetings, hoping to “break the cycle of 75% of people who never get trained in how to run a meeting.” But he quickly realized the issue with his approach is that the onus of collecting feedback after the meeting and incorporating it into future meetings still lay with people. Moreover, they had no product to help them with the process.
“There was no feedback loop for how to improve the actual meeting.”
– Co-Founder John Keck
Keck and Ankith are not the first to realize the burden ineffective meetings creates. According to surveys conducted by Harvard Business Review, over $37 billion per year is spent on unproductive meetings. This is unsurprising considering executives consider 71% of meetings a failure. Yet, managers in a company typically spend anywhere from 35-50% of their time in meetings.
Statistics such as these have contributed what founder Ankith Harathi calls a “paradigm shift” towards talking openly about the importance of changing the culture around meetings. Thought leaders and CEOs alike are calling for people to share how they run meetings and the best ways they’ve found to run meetings. This creates a gap in the market between a desire for improvement in meetings and the absence of a product that can help facilitate improvements.
“It’s one thing to read an article about unproductive meetings and another to initiate a cultural change in your company. That’s where Marlo comes in. Marlo helps facilitate the best meetings you’ve ever had.”
-Co-Founder Ankith Harathi
A digital chief meeting officer
Marlo works by gathering meeting feedback and synthesizing it into a standardized Net Meeting Score, allowing Marlo to pinpoint areas for improvement and offer recommendations to improve the meeting. A key feature of Marlo is its user-friendliness: Marlo integrates seamlessly into software already being used by companies, such as GSuite, Outlook, and Slack. After the meeting ends, Marlo sends a message to all people in the meeting with a pulse survey. Founder Ankith Harathi says they worked with behavioral psychologists “to expertly craft and tune the pulse surveys”, to know what kinds of questions to ask to assess effectiveness, but also to keep the survey precise and brief.
Each survey is customized based on the meeting type, which is determined using information such as the roles of people in the meeting and the meeting name. Then, Marlo calculates a Net Meeting Score™ by combining metadata from the calendar and the survey feedback. A distinguishing feature of Marlo, the Net Meeting Score is standardized across meetings, enabling comparison between different meetings within a single company, but also across companies.
“We can benchmark across companies too. We can tell a company, for example, ‘Your product meeting has a 20% lower Net Meeting Score than other product meetings in the industry, here’s what they’re doing differently.’”
– Co-Founder Ankith Harathi
Competitors in the space include Polly, a platform for users to create their own surveys and manually analyze the results in Slack. Another competitor is Officevibe, who has created a bot named Leo that sends a set survey in Slack to gage employee satisfaction and predict hiring needs. There are also all-in-one platforms such as Lattice and Culture Amp that aim to replace a company’s Human Resources system, and are primarily focused on functions such as performance reviews and hiring updates. What differentiates Marlo from their competitors is its ability to seamlessly integrate into existing software and that they worked with leading experts in psychology to create a product backed by the most up to date research in the field.
Currently, the process of collecting survey feedback and calculating a Net Meeting Score is fully automated. But the recommendation giving step is a hybrid between manually examining the collected data and using the Net Meeting Score to pinpoint the best way to improve a meeting. As Marlo continues to roll out the platform to more companies and amass more data, their vision is a fully automated recommendation system using technology such as natural language processing. One crucial metric that Marlo’s value proposition hinges on is sustained engagement with the pulse survey, to ensure they are consistently getting meaningful responses. To address this, the founders are looking into tactics such as gamification to make the survey more habitual.
Keck and Ankith began conducting customer interviews and building early prototypes in November 2018 and this January they launched their MVP. Marlo was initially launched in half of the sections of Harvard Business School (HBS), where it received positive responses and has piqued the interest of HBS administration. This initial launch enabled them to refine the survey with user feedback and work out technical bugs. Marlo is now being used at several early to mid stage startups in the Boston area. Marlo currently has a waitlist of companies who want to begin using the platform. To scale Marlo to serve even more companies, the founders are presently seeking several full-time software engineers.