One month after Facebook went public in 2012, it lost its CTO Bret Taylor.
Taylor replaced Facebook’s first CTO, Adam D’Angelo, in 2009 when his startup, FriendFeed, was acquired by Facebook.
Then the deal was valued at $US50 million. But by the time Facebook went public, the stock Taylor’s team had been given may have worth $US330 million. Prior to launching FriendFeed, Taylor worked for Google where he launched Google Maps.
Taylor left Facebook to found a startup with former Googler, Kevin Gibbs. Quip is a collaborative word-processing company for mobile devices, although it also works on desktops. It allows multiple users to write, edit and chat about all sorts of documents in real-time, whether they’re blog posts, grocery lists or essays.
Quip has raised $US15 million from Benchmark Capital and has 12 employees.
We interviewed Taylor about what it was like leaving Facebook, how he came up with an idea that could out-innovate Microsoft, and how we’ll all become more productive on tablets despite not having physical keyboards.
Here’s the lightly edited Q&A.
BUSINESS INSIDER: Congratulations on the launch! Quip seems to be well received in the press.
BRET TAYLOR: Thanks. We always hoped people would appreciate the simplicity of the app and they seem to.
BI: Quip is simplistically designed, but it actually has a ton of features. It’s pretty robust for a launch product.
BT: We had five or six companies using it in beta, including our own company. Based on their feedback and how they used Quip we added deeper features than we might have otherwise.
BI: Was Quip the reason you left Facebook last year?
BT: I left because my co-founder Kevin Gibbs and I felt it was the right time in our lives to do this. A point of personal integrity: I was working full-time at Facebook, then I started thinking about the next step. I didn’t want to have one foot out the door. I didn’t have the idea for Quip there. After I left, we started talking about areas [Kevin and I] were interested in.
BI: How did you decide on a word processing app?
BT: We talked about what the big opportunities were and how to make a big impact. The opportunity for tablets was big. If you look at the number of tablet sales versus PCs, you can see how they’re cannibalising PCs.
BI: So is Microsoft toast?
BT: It’s not like companies that defined the PC are going to go away, but it seems like there’s an opportunity for new companies to define the status quo. Despite huge growth in the consumer app space, not many [entrepreneurs] have spent time on core applications we spend all day at work using. For the past 30 years, those core apps have been defined by one company.
But with the growth of tablets and phones, working productively on those devices is more important than the past 30 years of legacy products. I think being just a little bit ahead of the curve is ideal [for a startup].
BI:Andreessen Horowitz Partner Chris Dixon wrote a good post about
how there’s an opportunity for startups to become the Adobes and Microsofts for tablets. One startup that’s disrupting this space and becoming a new-age Adobe is Paper by FiftyThree.
BT: I love Paper. It’s totally native to the touch screen. The things our product is good at are almost not related to features of earlier products [like Microsoft Word]. We put check lists in our product and mobile push notifications, for example. Users get one the first time someone else has left a note on their document. The user touches the push notification and the other person can walk them through the changes or comments. It’s like sitting with a piece of paper in front of you and going over it with someone else in the room.
We talked a lot about Paper even though the product is innovating in a different space.
BI: Did you think about Microsoft Word a lot while developing Quip? Or did you try to completely re-imagine the documentation creation experience for tablets?
BT: We definitely thought about Microsoft Word because it’s what most people use today. We also talked about what, with existing products, didn’t work well. For example, all of those products you type on a virtual 8.5 by 11 piece of paper. These days that’s almost comical. Not as many documents are printed anymore [so they don’t need to be restricted]. Quip documents don’t flow to a traditional piece of paper. They fit all screens whether small or large.
BI: As someone who’s really terrible still at typing on her iPhone, what do you think the future of keyboards is? In other words, how will we all be typing documents on tablets in the future without them?
BT: I often joke that I’m the worst person to develop this product because I’m so bad at typing on my phone. A lot of what we think about is [accessing and creating documents across different devices]. For example, a document you share on Quip might have been authored on your laptop. But then on your phone, you can get notifications about your document and at that point, your phone is the communication method for it.
We’re not going to pretend that PCs don’t exist. But if you look around airports, now most people have iPads out. On vacations I don’t bring a laptop, I bring my iPad. Writing on tablets will get especially easier as we get great external keyboards and nice covers that are also keyboards. They’ll be a pretty nice balance to give us the convenience of tablets.
BI: From your days at Facebook and selling FriendFeed, I assume you would have been able to bootstrap Quip. But instead you and Kevin raised $US15 million from Benchmark. Why did you raise money?
BT: A big part of why we raised is we wanted to build a company that could last a long time. We wanted to raise enough that we could grow this and see it through. Quip is a product that’s a creative tool. And it’s a creative tool in a space where people are very used to something else.
Also, I worked with Peter [Fenton] at Benchmark on my former company, Friend Feed. So it was really a no-brainer for us.
BI: Was it tough to leave Facebook and pursue a startup all over again?
BT: It was tough. I have a lot of friends there and got along with people at Facebook really well. The benefits of being at a company with that kind of impact are just different than the thrill of being at a startup again, in a David and Goliath situation.
But seeing the impact Facebook had, I wouldn’t change it for the world.