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An end to boring meetings

Student startup helps make the workplace more productive and collaborative

Marlo team members

Marlo team members (from left) Rossi Meacham, Ankith Harathi, John Keck, and Rachel Manzelli (Photo courtesy of Marlo)

It’s no secret that many people despise workplace meetings. A recent report by Doodle found that 37 percent of workers think unproductive meetings are the biggest cost to their organizations. And a study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review found that the average executive spends 23 hours a week stuck in meetings, up 10 hours from the 1960s.

But what makes a meeting “good” (outside of coffee and pastries, of course)?

“Once you start getting into the meeting space, it is a black box,” said John Keck, a student in the Harvard MS/MBA program, jointly offered by the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Harvard Business School. “People go into a room, collaborate, and they leave. There is no way of knowing, outside of a gut feeling, if it was a good use of time.”

So he and classmate Ankith Harathi launched a startup, Marlo, that gathers feedback from attendees and provides organizers with a quantifiable way to understand a meeting’s effectiveness.

Marlo screenshot with emojis

Marlo enables each meeting attendee to anonymously express how they feel about the meeting using one of five different emojis. (Image courtesy of Marlo)

Integrated with Slack, Marlo sends a message to each attendee after a meeting concludes, asking them to anonymously express how they feel about the meeting using one of five different emojis. The tool algorithmically calculates a “net meeting score” based on factors like: level of participation, positive and negative feelings, people speaking over one another, attendees who don’t get a chance to speak, etc.

“We realized that tech companies measure pretty much everything when it comes to customers and their own internal operations, except meetings,” Harathi said. “Let’s give them a metric that is a meaningful way to measure how they are performing as a team.”

In addition to providing a score, on a scale of 1 to 100, Marlo offers tips to improve meeting performance, drawing on research from psychologists and behavioral scientists.

The cofounders, entrepreneurial minded engineers who met at Harvard, initially tested a stripped-down version of Marlo with their MS/MBA peers last spring. They hammered out a few user experience details and launched a closed beta in July. Since then, more than 50 companies have joined the platform.

Marlo net meeting score screenshot

Marlo provides a "net meeting score" that gives meeting organizers a meaningful way to measure how they are performing as a team. (Image courtesy of Marlo)

The biggest challenges they face involve managing their time and resources as they expand the platform. They’ve been surprised by how quickly Marlo has taken off, Harathi said, and it has been a struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of growth, especially as full-time students.

“Unproductive meetings are a very unique pain that is felt by many people. So Marlo’s value proposition resonates with a lot of different customers,” Keck said. “We don’t have just one specific niche people can use our product for. It can be used by tons of different types of people at tons of different companies.”

And even as they work to refine their meeting measurement tool, Harathi and Keck have their sights set on the startup’s future.

They hope to expand Marlo into a workplace management platform, integrating tools like email and project management software into one data-driven platform that helps people work better.

“There is a ton of data that is generated when you use these tech solutions to facilitate workplace communication,” Harathi said. “If we can create a product that people are highly engaged with in a sustained manner, and that creates data, we’ve taken a stab at the heart of the puzzle. We can tell you, across all these different tools, how you are collaborating, determine what the most effective tools are, and nudge people to use those tools.”

For Keck and Harathi, both engineers at heart, the ability to iterate on their initial hypothesis so quickly, and then continually change their product with the flow of customer desires, has been frenzied and fun.

They’ve recently hired a four-person team. Collaborating to turn their vision into reality is rewarding, Keck said.

“The opportunity is just so huge in this area,” he said. “Solving the problem of unproductive meetings is an exciting goal. But what is even more exciting is helping people collaborate and have the ability to master their workplace on a larger scale.”

Topics: Academics, Entrepreneurship, Industry / Technology

Press Contact

Adam Zewe | 617-496-5878 | azewe@seas.harvard.edu