UPDATE: Quip was acquired by Salesforce for $582 million in stock, according to a Salesforce Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday.
Bret Taylor has had a career any Silicon Valley engineer would be envious of. He co-created Google Maps. He then started a social network and sold it to Facebook for $50 million. He followed that by stepping up as Facebook's chief technology officer and leading the company through its transition to mobile. It's quite the resume, but Taylor is far from finished.
Over the past three years, Taylor has been working on yet another startup. Quip, as his company is called, is aiming to revolutionize productivity software and is taking on tech giants like Microsoft and Google. As if that wasn't enough, Taylor moonlights as a director on Twitter's board.
Taylor recently hosted Inc. at his company's San Francisco headquarters to chat about all things tech, ranging from the future of the enterprise market to the industry's recent diversity movement.
Inc.: What inspired you to create Quip?
Bret Taylor: The productivity suite really hasn't changed that much since it was invented in the '80s. We felt there was an opportunity to say 'If we were to design the productivity suite today, what would it look like?' The key insight we had was that communication is more important than anything else. You write a document, but all the action happens in email. It turns out that it's more important to have someone be able to click "reply" then it is to have 12,000 different font options.
We designed Quip around communication. Every document in Quip has a chat thread and you communicate in and around a document. The promise of Quip is that when a team adopts it they move away from email as much as they move away from the traditional productivity suite.
Who are your customers?
Our two biggest industries are tech and media mostly because those industries love new tools. We have most of the largest tech companies, and on the media side, we have CNN, Forbes, Al Jazeera and others. We always say that our product is perfect for the project manager. There's someone whose job it is to get everyone on the same page and make a decision, and that's when Quip is great.
To put a stat on it and illustrate how people use our product differently, at Instacart over 60 percent of the documents they created a year ago are still actively being used today. Thinking of it as a document doesn't capture it. People don't write it, send it out and then they're done. They're actually living inside of these things. It's the team checklist. It's the documentation for onboarding that every new employee goes to. We create this experience within teams that's almost like the hub where they make decisions.
Microsoft's monopoly on the productivity suite is over, but with Google, Apple and Dropbox, this has become a crowded space. Where does Quip fit?
The age of Office being the only standard is over. Teams are seeking out new tools en masse and companies are producing new tools en masse. When a technology trend first happens, you'll see massive experimentation. Eventually one or two of those user experiences will clearly be the best, and then you'll see a lot of consolidation. Right now we're still in a period of exploration. The word processor as we knew it is not as relevant as it once was, but what's next? I think it's Quip but we're a startup. It's our job to prove that by gaining adoption and lots of customers. Some of the best companies in the world use our product, and I'm proud to have customers like Facebook embrace it.
Quip's strategy reminds me a lot of Slack. What is the relationship with the two companies?
Slack and Quip are allies in changing the way people work, and we actually just launched version two of our big integration with them. They've had great success in communication, and we're trying to do that with documents and collaboration. We think that teams that use Slack and Quip are a lot more productive than the teams using email and attachments. For right now, the bigger picture for us is 'Hey, why don't you move away from the old suite and move to some modern tools?' It turns out that teams that use Slack are way more receptive to new ways of being productive.
How did you get the idea for Quip?
One of the things I was responsible for at Facebook was mobile, which was really disruptive to us as a company. We had to make this really uncomfortable transition to this brand new platform, and what's great about Mark Zuckerberg was his willingness to reimagine the product in this new platform, which is why I think Facebook has been so successful there. In that process I saw the impact mobile was having on the software.
When my co-founder Kevin Gibbs and I talked about starting a company together, we said, "If consumer communications is being this impacted by mobile, what's going to happen at work?" Mobile was the thing that broke people out of old tools. Your phone was as important to you as your laptop, so you wanted a tool that really felt native to that experience.
We realized when we built the prototype that almost all of our interactions were in real time as opposed to asynchronous email. The only reason that can happen is because of push notifications. We thought, this is what modern tools look like. You don't see a Facebook photo and send someone an email about it. You post it right there and they respond really quickly. We're designing around the premise that the mobile phone, push notifications and social media have fundamentally changed people's expectations about the way software should work.
Aside from Quip, you also recently joined Twitter's board. What drove that decision?
I had a social network called Friendfeed. It was actually pretty similar to Twitter. One could say Twitter beat us. It was based on followers, so it was really oriented around certain discussions instead of just getting your friends' updates. I always really loved Twitter. It really represented the product that I built, albeit much more elegant and much more successful.
When Twitter Executive Chairman Omid Kordestani and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey approached me about the opportunity, I was really worried about the time commitment. I'm running a startup and I have three children, but the opportunity to be able to positively influence a product that I love so much was just too much to turn down. My only goal is to help that product be successful. It's had some struggles in the past, but I believe in it.
Let me ask you an awkward question. Since Dorsey's return, there have been reports that said Dorsey would fill the board with diverse individuals...
I'm not exactly representative of that.
Exactly. Is that something you've thought about at all?
It's a very important dialogue in the tech industry, and it's right to hold people accountable to that. I welcome the discussion. I can't really help my race or gender, but in this case because I literally have started a social network with similar properties to Twitter, my guess--and you'd have to ask Jack and Omid for their opinions--is that my qualifications were such that they felt that I was the best candidate. But since I wasn't on the board when they chose me, I don't actually know the discussions that happened.
Do you have any plans for approaching diversity at Twitter? How do you already approach it at Quip?
I'm going to explicitly answer about Quip just because I haven't even gone to a Twitter board meeting yet. But at Quip I really do believe it's an important part of our culture. You have to work harder to source qualified candidates from underrepresented groups, and that's what we hold ourselves accountable to here. From my perspective, I think tech companies need to try harder to not just take the resumes that flow in their door but to actually seek out these underrepresented groups.
For us, when we talk about it internally, we'd like it to be an asset for us. By having a more diverse team, we will become a more appealing team to the candidates from underrepresented groups, and we can turn that into a competitive advantage. That's our philosophy on it. It's a meaningful topic of discussion in all of our hiring meetings. We focused a lot early on on gender, and I'm proud of where we're at, though we're not quite where we need to be.
[The diversity of Quip's 43-person workforce currently stands at 29 percent female while 29 percent of the company are non-white employees.]
Back to productivity, how has that market changed in the past few years?
The thing that has changed in enterprise software and productivity is that teams are leading the choice of tools in their companies rather than IT departments. It used to be that the IT department would say 'We're going to buy a license for X for everyone at the company.' Now a lot of our companies look for adoption by teams before they decide to centralize it. That's why companies like Quip and Slack, which have a friendlier, consumer vibe, exist in enterprise. 'Enterprise software' used to be a bad word, and now it's really great.
Sounds like you think there's still a lot of opportunity there?