In their 2004 IPO letter, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced Google’s now-legendary 20-percent rule:
“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20 percent of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google.”
Upon this announcement the world was amazed.
The very thought of giving an employee the equivalent of a paid day off to work on side projects was provocative and would make any business owner shudder.
However, once Google explained their reasoning it became more apparent that they were on to something.
By allocating time and space for employees to seemingly do nothing, what Google calls “driving innovation,” they came up with some of the world’s most widely used applications — like Gmail and AdSense — cementing the company as an innovative hub of advanced, forward-thinking technology; a place where the best and brightest could have fulfilling careers.
As a digital product development shop that works with everyone from pre-launch startups to very well-known organizations, it is critical for innovation to be a fundamental part of our DNA, so we created our own 20-percent rule.
At LaunchPad, everyone has time to experiment with side projects (we house those projects in our venture arm, SPACE). And while Google’s 20-percent rule has come under fire from critics, with some questioning its validity, the very tangible results displayed on SPACE is proof of the value of LaunchPad’s 20-percent rule.
Unlike Google, we don’t have a cash-spigot in the office (though we do have spigots for beer and iced coffee), so while we knew this would be a challenge, we also understood that the benefits would far outweigh the disadvantages.
1. The 20 percent challenges our minds.
By working with new or not yet used technology, our team — an innately curious bunch — stimulates their minds in new ways. We help them unlock their potential and explore the unknown, allowing LaunchPad to discover new ways to challenge our skill sets and approach our clients’ business challenges with a new, fresh perspective. Through our 20 percent time, we have explored the latest technologies, including ReactJS, Phoenix, IoT, and Virtual Reality.
2. The 20 percent is big on reward and small on risk.
Our practice gives us the freedom to fail and fail again until we get it right, because when it comes to these projects we only answer to ourselves. We take our insights and apply them to client projects without ever having to risk a client’s time or money.
3. The 20 percent attracts top talent.
The average person spends about 50 percent of their daily waking hours in an office environment, so it’s no wonder that there is an increased emphasis on company culture – but for the best talent it’s not enough to have a ping pong table and an office happy hour (though we do have a table, and there are those beer and coffee taps I mentioned earlier…).
In short, top tier talent is eager to learn and grow as technologists, and the 20-percent rule accomplishes that. We have seen a big increase in the quantity and quality of job applicants over the past 6 months.
4. The 20 percent is what we need to do to be the top digital product developers in Chicago.
We’re not just goofing around, although a lot of our work is fun. At SPACE you’ll see tangible evidence of what our rule has led to, with eight products that are, or have the potential to be, stand-alone businesses:
- PayValet – a simple way to accept check and credit card payments from customers.
- RocketPaddle – a fun mix of hardware and software to score ping pong games.
- Recipeasy – a place to design and create recipe e-books for food bloggers.
- WarRoom – an easy way for lawyers to manage deposition transcripts.
- Decanter – a Rails gem that makes it easy to transform incoming data before it hits the model.
- SlackMailer – a Slack integration that generates a MailChimp newsletter.
- eCarCrash – a way to settle your car accident claim without a lawyer.
- What To Do – a tool to make the best, most relevant decisions that are right for you.
The 20-percent rule constantly inspires us to experiment with new technology, create amazing new things and develop new products, putting us on the leading edges of technology.
So while there might be times that people at LaunchPad Lab may look like they’re not doing anything, they are, in fact, doing a whole lot of something.
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