Business

Mary Meeker’s mind-blowing Internet statistics contain at least one unsubstantiated ‘fact’

Sequoia Capital überinvestor Mike Moritz is fond of saying that “Powerpoint is the language of Silicon Valley.”

It’s a shame, considering that founders of early-stage startups inflate numbers in their decks, often taking creative license with the size of the addressable market. Fortunately, most presentations don’t see the light of day beyond a small group of potential investors, many of whom have a highly tuned radar for BS.

In contrast, investment partner Mary Meeker’s mind-boggling State of the Internet report, published last month, is read by thousands and accepted as gospel. Meeker presented the slides at AllThingsD’s conference D11, and the report spread like wildfire on social media and in the press.

Today, Meeker was accused of perpetuating misinformation in the report.

In a section about wearable technology, Meeker claimed that the average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day. This led to a flurry of news headlines; most reporters failed to double-check the statistic, assuming that it had been verified by Meeker’s team at Kleiner Perkins.

[VentureBeat was as excited as anyone about this report, because it consolidates literally hundreds of useful data points and provides a rare perspective on the macro trends affecting our industry. But, like most press outlets, we failed to check Meeker's sources. --Ed.]

But the San Francisco Chronicle engaged in a bit of digging, and it found no solid data to support this “fact.” The numbers Meeker cited at the D11 are picked up from a blog and are probably a fabrication. The Chronicle reports that since being questioned, Meeker’s team has altered the report, specifically the headline and sourcing.

“I love data. I think it’s very important to get it right, and I think it’s good to question it,” Meeker told The Chronicle. “We want to start a conversation. We do not see our role as being the sole authority.”

In response to the news, Kleiner Perkins issued the following statement and blog post: “We remain comfortable with the assertion in the deck that smartphone users may use their mobile devices an estimated 150 times per day”

It may seem like one small blip in an otherwise impressive exercise, but the Chronicle is correct to point out that Meeker has developed a reputation as one of the most influential people in tech. And in this particular case, misinformation certainly does have influence.

Read the full report here.

Does this finding represent one of the many reasons we need more old-school journalists engaged in fact-checking? Or is it asking too much to assume that every claim in over 100 pages of research should be grounded in data? Leave your opinion in the comments section below. 


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