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April 14, 2014

Q&A: Ex-Facebook CTO Bret Taylor tells us why people will ‘like’ Quip

The inventor of the like button tells CBR about his new collaboration app.

By Joe Curtis

You left Facebook in 2012 to set up Quip, a collaboration tool designed for smartphones and tablets. What attracted you to enterprise software?

One of the observations we had on enterprise software is that a lot of it was very bad. No-one was very excited about using their expense software or their HR software. It’s because enterprise software was traditionally driven by a sales team, meaning a sales person would have dinner with an IT person in the company, convince them to buy the product and the employees would find out about it via an email saying ‘oh by the way here’s the new way you do expense reports’.

They didn’t have much of a say in that process. We wanted our product to feel like a consumer product. We wanted it to feel like you didn’t need an instruction manual. It’s simple, it’s beautiful; I like using it.

So now you’ve released a raft of new features for it, including the ‘like’ button you invented at FriendFeed and oversaw at Facebook. Let’s talk about that.

We want the products you use to get work done to be as fun to use as the products you use outside of work. In the context of a team using this, the like button really captures a lot of that. As an example, one of the most popular ways of using Quip is the shared checklist. If you have a deadline coming up, a project manager or team leader will make a checklist of all the things that need to be done.

Every time someone checks off an item in that list the whole team will like the fact you finished what you were supposed to do. Just like on Facebook that really awesome feeling you get when everyone likes a photo you share it creates this really nice team camaraderie, it’s really lightweight, really social. It feels fun even though you’re getting work done in it. That’s something that’s missing from almost all enterprise productivity software.

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How do you think the Quip app weighs up against Office for iPad?

It would be naïve of us to discount Microsoft because it’s such a formidable company and Office is such an important product in people’s work lives. We’ve tried to focus on features that aren’t head to head competitive with Word. If I were to share a document with you, the first time you open it I get a push notification letting me know. I can click on that and walk you through the document.

That’s by far the most popular feature. It’s like I walked over to your desk and handed you the document. You can send a document to a colleague [saved on Office] but it’s lost in an email thread. Our features wouldn’t make sense on a product that’s really designed to lay out words on a document for printing.

Even though we’re small, as people start using their tablets and phones more they will want features like this more than they want Word. We think that with the platform transition to mobile devices, products like Quip that re-think what these products should do will end up winning.

What kind of reaction have you had from IT departments you speak to?

I was worried that IT would push back against a product like Quip but it’s actually been the opposite. IT departments have just transitioned from BlackBerrys to Android and iPhones and there’s a lot of pressure from the business to bring more productivity tools to the devices people are spending time on.

Tablets and smartphones are growing so quickly that they’re actually outpacing a lot of the software vendors in this space. Even though we’re small there’s a lot of pressure to make these devices more productive so we’ve had a lot of traction so far.

Even though we make our money selling it to companies, it’s free for personal use. Every single customer we have today discovered it in the app store and downloaded it.

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