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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Different Approach at Google Ventures

Google Ventures is 10 miles and a world away from Sand Hill Road, the home of start-up investing.

As I wrote in an article published Monday, Google relies on cold hard data in a field dominated by intuition and connections. And all of its money comes from Google instead of outside investors, though many other companies also have venture arms, including Microsoft, which on Tuesday announced the formation of Microsoft Ventures.

But the differences at Google Ventures run deeper than that.

To start, there is the way it divides carried interest, the profits from successful investments. Known as carry, it is how venture capitalists get super rich. And at the vast majority of firms, it is only available to partners.

p>At Google Ventures, all 60 employees, from partners to assistants, get a share of the carry.

Bill Maris, Google Ventures’s managing partner, said other venture capitalists hoard carry because they were greedy.

“But I’m greedy, too,” Mr. Maris said. “The only way to be successful is to give everyone a stake, so if you work at Google Ventures, you have some financial interest.”

Then, there are the weekly meetings. At almost all firms, these happen on Monday mornings and include only partners. At Google, they are on Tuesdays and anyone, not just partners, is invited.

The Tuesday timing is to account for long weekends and to be available to entrepreneurs for pitch meetings when other venture capitalists are busy, Mr. Maris said, and because no one likes to have a meeting first thing Monday morning.

Inviting all staff members is part strategy, part culture, he said. Strategically, it helps to get more perspective on a potential deal. A researcher may have gone ! to school with an entrepreneur, or an assistant may have used a start-up’s app, for instance. The investors also want to know if the design team wants to work with a certain rock star designer, or if the marketing team has enough time or interest to help a start-up in dire need of marketing advice.

Culturally, Mr. Maris said that Google valued openness over hierarchy in general, and that he believed people were more likely to do a good job at work if they had a say in what they do.

“What makes people happy at work is to get paid enough that you don’t feel exploited and to pick what you work on,” Mr. Maris said. “No one wants to be told, ‘We decided to do this, now go do it.’ ”

And when investing partners propose new start-ups to finance, only Mr. Maris has veto power. So far, he has never used it.