Recently, I had the pleasure to interview the CEO and co-founder of Quip, Bret Taylor. Quip is located in San Francisco in the Warfield Theater building in the bustling and transforming Mid-Market neighborhood anchored by the likes of Twitter. Please enjoy the latest installment in my CEO Interview series.
Taylor describes Quip as a shared whiteboard useable by a group. All the stuff that would be on an office whiteboard can be input and shared in Quip instead. It is a “blank canvas” that can contain spreadsheets, text, images, and more, laid out anyway you want.
He then compared all of the other productivity software and collaboration tools companies have purchased over the past decade to a gym membership that everyone buys on New Years and uses for a few weeks, then forgets about.
Their goal is to make Quip free form enough so that you can adapt it to your current workflow.
Version 3.0 of the app, released in October 2014, brings the addition of spreadsheets. Multiple people can work these spreadsheets on at the same time. To keep everyone on the same page, this can all be done inside of a single app versus needing many separate apps for collaboration, email, text, and spreadsheets.
1. How did Quip come to be?
Taylor and co-founder Kevin Gibbs left their jobs in August 2012 and were not exactly sure what they wanted to do next. Gibbs was at Google as the head of Google App Engine and Taylor was CTO of Facebook. They knew that they wanted to work in mobile. Everything has been transformed by mobile, but the software hasn’t really evolved. Some software has been merely ported to mobile, but not rethought in any meaningful way. Products like Instagram and Snapchat are good examples of apps in the consumer space that were created for mobility.
They thought about what they would design as a core productivity suite in the era of smartphones and tablets. Much like what Microsoft had done in the PC era with the Office suite. With Quip both messaging and collaboration are built in so you don’t have to repeated go to an external app like email to get things done.
2. Where do you see Quip in 5 years?
An ambitious goal is to do for smartphones and tablets what Microsoft Office did during the PC era. They want to make Quip the first app they install on their device and the first thing they open up in the morning, as a centerpiece of productivity.
The challenge over the next five years is to add to the customers who have embraced their product already, including companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Quora, Path, and Taser to name a few.
3. What are the unique benefits of Quip?
Enabling people to be more productive when they are away from their desk. The integrated experience of Quip messaging, Quip spreadsheets and Quip docs all in a single app. And finally, simplicity. Without the restraints of legacy code and old design metaphors to support, they were able to create a product that does not need an instruction manual. The app at its core essence allows you to get up and running quickly so that you can be productive on your smartphone or tablet device.
4. What are some of the challenges you see businesses and individuals having?
The main challenge is collaboration. In todays workplace most people have laptop or a desktop and phone or tablet. They are also trying to do work wherever they may be. And email is broken as a collaboration tool and needs to be fixed. The problem that they are trying to solve is to reduce email and meetings, while allowing people to get their work done wherever they may be.
5. How exactly does Quip address these challenges?
Quip puts communication at the core of the productivity suite. Other tools are built for a single user, where this app is built for multiple people to collaborate from the start. A Quip document has a message thread attached to it to allow people to work together in real-time. It is also more like a whiteboard than a static page, where more than one person can be working at the same time.
6. What solutions does Quip provide?
Messaging, spreadsheets and documents are the core pieces of the app.
Quip provides solutions for collaborative writing where multiple authors need to work on a doc at the same time. And project or meeting management, for example managing a product launch or a even a building move for an office.
It also provides internal documentation and knowledge management for a company. Items that need to be kept up to date inside of a company, from product plans to HR documents.
7. What is your strategy for mobile?
Mobile is our strategy. All features are launched on all mobile platforms simultaneously with each release. Customers want a high quality experience on mobile and that is one of Quip’s strengths.
8. I see that Quip is available for iOS and Android devices. Any other platforms?
No plans at the moment. If a platform such as Windows Phone shows a market share increase in the future a version may be considered.
The app is available for download on the iTunes Store, Google Play and Quip.com on the desktop.
9. Is this app free?
The app is free for personal use and subscription-based for businesses. And no feature limits at the free level either. Quip makes its money through customers like Facebook, New Relic or Taser that pay a fee to deploy it broadly at their companies.
Published pricing is currently $12 per user, per month. Small businesses pay at this rate. Enterprise customers have a site license with a contract specific to their company.
10. Who do you see as your primary competitors?
Quip believes that their two primary competitors are Microsoft Office and Google Apps.
11. How was Quip funded?
Quip raised about $15 million dollars back in July 2013 in their only fundraising round so far. Funding came mostly from Benchmark Capital, but also included other investors. Peter Fenton, general partner at Benchmark and early investor in Twitter as well, invested in Quip as well as Taylor’s previous startup venture, FriendFeed. Fenton is the only outside member of Quip’s board which also includes both Gibbs and Taylor. Marc Benioff, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Yuri Milner, Founder or Digital Sky Technologies, and Greylock Partners round out the investors in round 1.
12. Do you plan on an IPO?
If we have the good fortune of building a business that justifies it, then absolutely.
13. Will Quip be looking to the developer community to extend and enhance software functionality?
Yes. There is an API available at http://quip.com/api Most of their larger customers use it extensively. It is mostly used for automation. One customer even uses it to make Quip the authoring tool for their company intranet. Another customer uses it to automate import and export from and to Box cloud storage.
14. How would your peers describe you?
Quip is viewed as the “mobile research and development lab” for productivity suites. They are viewed as thought leaders in mobile productivity.
15. What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
Quip runs as a company on its own product. They live and breathe it. It is fun to get out of bed and work on the app because the results of the work can be seen immediately through customers and coworkers alike.
16. How will Quip increase its brand awareness?
Happy customers plus traditional marketing and word of mouth help. An example would be how Facebook uses Quip widely and their vendors become customers when they tell them how much they like it and they themselves try it out.
17. What are your goals for Quip?
To create a large, independent company that produces a piece of software that most other companies in the World use to get their work done.
18. Who do you look up to and why?
Taylor looks up to his two previous bosses at both Google and Facebook. At Google, he worked for Marissa Mayer, now CEO of Yahoo, the whole time. And at Facebook as CTO, he reported almost exclusively to founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Mayer and Zuckerberg have a big influence on how he thinks about technology and product design. They are described as “the two most influential mentors” in Taylor’s career professionally.
He also has a great deal of respect for both Microsoft and Google. Both companies have defined what productivity means in the workplace up until now.
Check out the previous installment in my CEO Interview series, “CEO Interview: Matthew Holden explains how MavSocial software is a worthy part of your workflow.“