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TECHSHOW keynoter from Google Ventures urges audience to use data and think big

TECHSHOW keynoter from Google Ventures urges audience to use data and think big

By John Glynn

Attendees at the American Bar Association’s TECHSHOW 2014 Conference and Expo on March 28 in Chicago took a break from sessions on cloud computing, Mac versus PC and other tech topics for lawyers to hear keynote speaker Rick Klau, a lawyer-turned-partner with Google Ventures, a venture capital company associated with the Internet giant of the same name.

Between working for Google and lending technology advice to President Barack Obama’s political campaigns over the years, Klau has learned a few business lessons that he shared with the several hundred lawyers in the audience.

Klau observed that the legal industry hasn’t been the best fit for his fellow venture capitalists. He pointed to a post on the TechCrunch blog, titled “Lawyer, Disrupt Thyself,” which notes that law is the sector with the least venture capital investment. The writer observes that the legal field has “precious little innovation” that would attract investors and points to changes in the United Kingdom that promise to help a wider base of clients, including moderate-income individuals.

Klau devoted a chunk of his remarks to relating a story about the 2008 Obama campaign and its takeaway lesson: In the business world, data is always more valuable than opinion.

Early in the famously Internet-savvy campaign, Klau recounted, a friend was hired to boost the number of website visitors who provided their email addresses. For any business, eyes on a website means little if visitors don’t buy something or sign up for more information by leaving their contact information.

Klau’s friend developed several options for wording and graphics on the campaign’s landing page. Klau showed the options to the TECHSHOW audience, asking for a show of hands for its preference. A large majority favored a video with interviews of supporters. Few voted for options with still photos.

Klau then congratulated the audience for matching the preferences of a half-dozen campaign staffers whom his friend gathered to help decide which way to go.

But then Klau dropped the hammer: As it turns out, an analytics tool showed that more website visitors submitted their email addresses and donated to the campaign when the landing page featured a still photo of Obama and his family than when it contained the video preferred by the campaign staffers and TECHSHOW audience.

“We are wrong — always,” Klau said of the instances when decision-makers rely on the opinions of a few over data gleaned from many Web visitors. Had the Obama campaign proceeded solely with the opinion of staffers, he concluded, it would have missed out on millions of visitors and raised tens of millions of dollars less than what it ultimately achieved with the analytics-confirmed imagery.

Klau told the audience, many of whom were solo-practice lawyers, that they, too, can use data rather than trust their gut on Web marketing. He pointed to Internet tools such as Optimizely and Google AdWords Keyword Planner that can help even the smallest law firm improve its marketing.

Klau also told the audience that lawyers and entrepreneurs should not be afraid of failure because failure is information that can lead to successful innovation. He also urged the audience to focus on big ideas rather than incremental improvements.

“You should not be limited by what others in your shoes have done before,” Klau said.

TECHSHOW is produced by the ABA Law Practice Division.

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