Bret Taylor must have one of the most impressive CVs in Silicon Valley. The 36-year-old was promoted to CTO at Facebook just three months after joining the company, where he claims to be the one that came up with the idea for something that has been clicked billions of times: the “Like” button.
Prior to Facebook, Taylor worked at Google, where he co-created some of Google's most successful products, including Google Maps, Google Local, and the Google Maps API. He also established Google's developer product team and the company’s first developer conference, Google I/O.
After working in these high-pressure roles for several years, the Stanford University graduate is now building his own startup: Quip.
The productivity suite, which is free to consumers but $12 per user per month for businesses that want additional features, enables people to work across desktop and mobile devices on documents and spreadsheets, while also providing them with an instant messaging platform that they can chat over.
Since it’s launch in 2013, Quip has attracted hundreds of thousands of users, including 10,000 business customers.
“We started Quip because we were very interested in changing the software we use at work as dramatically as all the software we use in our personal lives has been changed,” Taylor told Techworld.
“I ran the mobile group at Facebook and almost every piece of consumer software I used had been born in the mobile era, whether it was Whatsapp or Snapchat or Pinterest. They really felt like native mobile experiences. The same just wasn’t true for the software I used at work. If it even worked on my phone at all it was a superficial port of the experiences of the desktop application to a mobile device.”
While many people will find the idea of writing documents and analysing spreadsheets on their phone a baffling concept, Taylor claims attitudes are changing.
Microsoft has launched its own mobile productivity suite in the form of Microsoft Office for Mobile but it's seen limited uptake.
“People already use their phones for email and that’s happening with the rest of the productivity suite as well,” he said, adding that Quip has been built in a way that encourages people to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do in Word or Excel.
“The norm with Quip is that there’s multiple people working at the same time on the same document,” he said. “As a consequence it becomes less of a document that you author and send to someone else and more of a shared whiteboard that lots of people are working on.”
The most common document on Quip is a shared checklist and people are increasingly using it for project management, according to Taylor.
Quip is a productivity suite that can be used across desktop and mobile ©Quip
One of the main challenges that Quip has is security as businesses are increasingly concerned about where their data sits and who can access it.
Taylor explained that businesses using Quip will have their data stored in two of Amazon’s data centres across the US – an option that many cloud based startups go for as it's cheaper than building a data centre of their own.
Taylor said that as Quip's European user base grows, it will contemplate opening a data centre in Europe in order to reduce latency for users in countries like the UK and Germany, while addressing any possible European legal and regulatory issues at the same time.
Next section: facebook at work
Facebook at Work
Taylor’s former employee is also looking to tap into the enterprise market with the Facebook at Work platform, which is currently being trialled by a number of exclusive partners in the US.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook at Work provides another way for employees to communicate and collaborate beyond email and other intranet systems.
Quip also allows people to communicate and collaborate but Taylor insists that he won’t be going into direct competition with his old boss.
“Facebook’s work product is very different than Quip in the sense it’s much more of an internal social network whereas our product is really about people creating documents together, which is a very different experience,” he said.
Silicon Valley’s dark side
Taylor attributes a lot of Quip’s success to date is down to setting a slightly less intense work culture to the Silicon Valley giants he previously worked at.
“Many software engineers work all hours of the day leading up to launches and continue that cycle in an unsustainable way, leading to long term productivity and happiness issues,” he said. “It manifests itself in the form of poor moral, personal issues, and poor employee retention.”
Quip employs a high proportion of people with families and as a result Taylor said he's done his best to promote a healthy balance between work and home life.
“We have much more reasonable working hours than most Silicon Valley startups,” he said, before adding that staff are still expected to work from 9:00am until 5:30pm.
“The practical issues for people with families aren't related to hours necessarily, but the culture of many tech companies: late-scheduled meetings, all night hackathons etc leads to complex choices where some employees — particularly those with young children — have to choose between being viewed as a “team player” at work and spending important moments with family. I think I was influenced by observing a lot of my Silicon Valley colleagues become burnt out by working too hard too quickly and then losing steam and their ability to continue the marathon that is building a company."
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