Loomio made by group to make group decisions – Alanna Krause

These days, there are a lot of startups that are all about the wisdom of the crowd. And with good reason. When people collaborate effectively, more people go away happier because more people have contributed to the common goal. It’s like a potluck where everyone brings cake and ice-cream. You just can’t beat that.

Loomio is a tool that was designed to make collaborating on decisions within a group easy and effective. It happens online, so groups can be distributed and asynchronous. The clean and modern design of the service is correlative to its powerful functionality

And how do you make a group decision tool? With a group. It took the collective input of six co-founders to turn the idea into a world-class product.

“Loomio began with a very diverse group, including an electrical engineer/dishwasher, a cafe owner/programmer, a musician/programmer, a neuroscientist/punk band drummer, a people manager/yoga teacher, and a nonprofit CEO/social entrepreneur,” said Alanna Krause, one of the co-founders of the Wellington-based startup who spoke to us.

“What we all had in common, is being activists for positive social change and being nerds about group dynamics and collaboration. Obviously, technical and business skills are essential, and we have that in our founding team. But it’s the underlying shared vision that guides and keeps us together. Loomio is grounded in the philosophy that by effectively bringing more diverse voices into the conversation, you will end up with better outcomes. This goes for the platform we’ve built, and for us as a team.”

Partnerships have the ability make or break a start-up. The right combination of two people who complement each other can create a dynamic environment, whereas two egotistic individuals would find it difficult to work toward the collective goal.

Having strong backgrounds in business, the Loomio crew knew the calamities that interpersonal friction could cause, and always stressed the importance of building and maintaining a proactive and positive company culture. “For example, at the beginning of meetings we do a round of checking in as human beings, and make a point to get to know and support each other as people. We’ve gone away on company retreats where we spend several days in a beautiful spot and bond on a deeper level. We have now grown to 12 members, and we don’t put the founders on a pedestal or give them special powers. We are actually a group of some very strong individual personalities and of course we don’t always see eye to eye, but we’re committed to using our differences as opportunities to learn and grow.”

It doesn’t hurt that we’re a group of facilitators and community builders — if we weren’t passionate about people getting along, we wouldn’t be making Loomio.

Loomio is very usable because the consumer picks the price of the service. That model will only work in a handful of situations, but Alanna and the other co-founders have found that it is the perfect pricing strategy for them. “It has always been essential to us that we provide value to paying users so we can thrive financially, without money becoming a barrier to groups using Loomio to do great things in their communities. And so we’ve come to the sliding scale pricing model — we trust our users to set the scale fairly. We also offer premium services that work alongside Loomio, such as consulting and facilitation, and our enterprise clients have validated the high value of these services. As a social enterprise, we’ve been on a learning journey to both create a thriving business and achieve our social mission. We believe that if we design our organisation right, succeeding at each of those will positively impact the other.”

There are over 7000 people benefiting from Loomio, which has resulted in the service being translated into a dozen languages. According to Alanna, the main users of the product are people who want to work well together and execute collective action, and are frustrated by the limitations of big messy email threads or trying to get everyone to a meeting at the same time. They are truly a diverse user group, from huge political and social movements in Europe and Latin America to a primary school student who wanted to start a discussion at his school about allowing students to ride scooters at recess.

“We’ve had successful experiences working with government doing public consultation, and supported businesses and NGOs to make transformative change to more participatory ways of collaborating.”

You can have a look at some public Loomio groups, and check out specific case studies on their blog.

Do you think 2013 is a good year to be an entrepreneur in New Zealand?

It’s an amazing time to be an entrepreneur in New Zealand! Especially for social enterprise. As part of the Enspiral network, Loomio works alongside many inspiring social entrepreneurs and ventures, and there’s a fantastic sense of community and mutual support. It’s not an accident that so many skilled professionals are committed to throwing themselves at solving important social issues here — it’s something about the culture and the place. I’m originally from San Francisco, which is supposedly the startup Mecca of the world, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be working than Wellington. New Zealand has been limited by being small and far away in the past, but with much of society moving online those things aren’t so important anymore. We can change the world from right here.

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