Building new things comes naturally for Bret Taylor, CEO and co-founder of Quip, the mobile-friendly collaborative word processor.
Taylor was responsible for the creation of Google Maps in his first job at Google. He also built the ‘Like’ button at Friendfeed, the social network he built after leaving Google in 2007. Friendfeed was later acquired by Facebook for roughly $US50 million in 2009.
After the acquisition, Taylor became Facebook’s CTO, and, among many other things, oversaw the growth of its mobile platform, including its deep integration with Apple’s iOS ecosystem.
(Fun fact: Taylor’s had only two bosses in his career: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Yahoo CEO/former Google exec Marissa Mayer.)
So, it’s not entirely surprising that the tech world was buzzing when Taylor announced his plans to leave Facebook to start his own company in 2012. He didn’t say what his startup was going to be until a year later, when he revealed Quip.
Quip, co-founded by Taylor and another ex-Googler Kevin Gibbs, is a mobile-friendly word processor with collaborative messaging and editing features. It has a very simple user interface, where you can use bullet points and checklists in your document, while editing and adding comments on the side. You can also create group chat rooms within the app.
“It’s like a shared whiteboard with a bunch of desks around it,” Taylor told Business Insider. “But there’s enough scaffolding to write and organise things. It’s like an evolution of messaging, documents, and email.”
Quip comes in three versions: a free personal product and subscription-based business and enterprise products.
Taylor said the business enterprise market is his main focus now, as he’s been able to get more than 5,000 companies to use his product so far, including Facebook, Instagram, and New Relic.
We caught up with Taylor to hear more about Quip and how’s it’s been doing in its first year of launch. Here is our lightly edited conversation.
(You can also see our walkthrough of Quip here!)
Business Insider: Your first product release was in July 2013. Tell us how you’ve done over the past year.
Bret Taylor: We’re very competent at cross-platform development now. That means we’re releasing on desktop, iOS, and Android simultaneously, at least once a month. We have a small team, but we’re able to keep a pretty good cadence of product releases.
On the business side, we are very widely deployed at a handful of public companies now. I didn’t expect to have as big of deployment at such large companies yet. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’ve gotten to a point where our growth is sustainable and self-generating.
BI: No one’s been able to replace Microsoft Word yet. What makes you guys different? Who are your main competitors?
BT: I would say actually Google is the most formidable competitor for us. They’re not quite as polished as Microsoft’s products, but they are very collaborative and have been the market leader in this space. Microsoft’s products are exceptionally high-quality, but they’re still fundamentally single-user products.
Even though we are a “word processor,” we don’t think we’re necessarily a ‘mobile version of something.’ It’s a really expansive product, and works like a clean blank state that’s not prescriptive about the way you work. That sets us apart from others in the productivity space, which tend to have a very precise view of the way work should be done – and we’re kind of the opposite of that.
BI: What advantage do you have as a startup going up against these big companies?
BT: Quip is our exclusive focus, so we’re iterating much faster than our competitors, and if we are able to succeed, it will be for that clarity of focus.
And that’s the reason why I think startups succeed despite the formidable competition.
For example, we don’t have files in this. You just edit everything in real-time, and it updates magically. I think it’s a general trend with the cloud that you’re moving a little away from files and towards services with data, just like in the music industry.
It would be very challenging for Microsoft to give up the concept of a file altogether because all of their legacy customers depend on it and file attachments. For Google, this isn’t the core focus of their company, probably not even in the top five.
So if you look at the odds, the odds are that we’ll fail. But we live and breathe this product, and I think we all really believe in this.
BI: iPad and tablet sales have been in decline lately. Did that change your mobile-centric approach in any way?
BT: Our users are now almost even between phones, tablets, and desktops, which is extremely surprising to us. But we’ve always been about multi-platform because our vision was that you could go from your desktop to your phone and tablet, and everything should work the same.
We have not seen changes in the usage of tablets, meaning it’s been growing at a healthy clip. Tablets reached a bit of a saturation and sales have slowed down, but I don’t think usage has necessarily slowed down as much as people say. I think sales and actual usage are loosely correlated.
BI: Do you ever miss Facebook? Why did you leave such a successful company for a small startup?
BT: I can’t understate how hard it was (to leave Facebook). I think it was more emotional for me than any other job that I’ve left before because of the depth of the relationships I developed there.
But I don’t want to go back, because I really love what we’re building here and I want to work on this for the rest of my career. I just like to build things. I’m sort of a computer programmer and builder first, and everything else second, and making things for people every day is where I derive my satisfaction. I don’t know if I would necessarily be happy as an investor. I’m having more fun making things now and that is more to me.
BI: So what’s next for Quip?
BT: We’re launching spreadsheets in a month or two. There are a few companies using the pilot now. That’s pretty exciting for us because then we’ll have messaging, documents, and spreadsheets, which will give us a relatively complete product offering as a productivity suite. We’re working on integrating with other products too, like bug tracking softwares or even Twitter mentions.
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