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Quip Founder Explains Why His Product Is Better Than Google Docs

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/03/2016 Quora
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These questions originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.Answers by Bret Taylor, CEO of Quip. Ex-CTO of Facebook, co-founder FriendFeed, co-creator Google Maps, on Quora.Q: What did you find missing in other products that compelled you to start Quip?

A:When my co-founder Kevin Gibbs and I were brainstorming what we wanted to work on together, we were immediately drawn to productivity software. Our primary observation / insight was that communication is the most important feature of productivity software.

No one opens Microsoft Word to write a memo anymore. They just write an email. Why give up the 30 years of features and formatting in Word to thumb-type a message on your phone? Because it is more important that your colleague read your update and can respond to it easily than it is formatted correctly.

Everything in the workplace naturally moves towards the most frictionless form of communication available. This dynamic is the reason everyone is drowning in email at work. And we've lost so much in the process -- all the knowledge in a company is literally trapped in other people's email inboxes.

The problem we were trying to solve with Quip is this: if we designed a productivity suite not around personal publishing, but instead designed the productivity suite around communication, could we make a viable replacement to the horrible email-centric modern work culture?

That's why Quip has an inbox, notifications, @-mentions, a like button, and other social features you wouldn't find in a "word processor." If you have to go to email to work on a Quip document, we've failed in our mission to change the way teams work together.


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Q: Why is Quip better than Google Docs?

A:Be productive without email

In short, Quip is better than Google Docs because its unique combination of communication and writing enables your team to be productive without email. Quip is as much about communication as it is about documents, and that is a fundamentally different (and more important) value proposition than Google Docs.

The most popular types of documents in Quip aren't "documents" at all: they're team task lists, applicant tracking systems in spreadsheets, or brainstorming whiteboards for design teams. They're long-lived, inclusive, communication-centric, and they don't revolve around email -- people are communicating directly inside of and around the document instead of sending email.

In contrast, the workflow of Google Docs still fundamentally revolves around Gmail. How do you talk about a Google Doc? Send an email. How do you find your old Google Doc? Search Gmail for the link. Where does that Google Doc "live"? In that Gmail thread. Google modernized the Office experience by hosting it in the cloud and supporting simultaneous editing, but the product does not actually change the core workflow of Office. In essence, Google Apps has replaced the file attachment with a hyperlink, but your team is still going to be drowning in email.

To put some concrete stats behind how different the two products are in practice: at Instacart, one of Quip's earliest customers, over 60% of the Quip documents created a year ago are still actively being used today (hear about it in their own words). These aren't documents at all. They aren't written by one person and shared with another. They are never "published" and never "done." They are new experience and a more productive workflow for teams. That's why we call them living documents.

It works better

Teams keep using Quip because it's represents a meaningful, new way of getting work done. But a lot of people start using Quip instead of Google Docs because it just works better. Among other things:

  • Native Desktop Apps-- Quip has beautiful native apps for Windows and Mac. All your documents work offline or online. You don't need to "mark for offline," install plugins, or bang your head against the seat in front of you waiting for the in flight wifi to download 2 bits per second. It just works -- instantly with no loading indicators.
  • (Way) Better Mobile Experience -- Every Quip feature works on Apple and Android phones and tablets, from the most mundane editing feature to spreadsheet formulas. Quip's mobile experience is an order of magnitude more polished and more complete than Google Docs.
  • Better Organization -- The culture of Quip is revolves around shared folders. Quip documents have a clear "home" in your team's folders and are always easy to find and get back to. Most Google customers say this is their favorite part of Quip because their Google Docs all existed only in the ether of "the cloud" and they had to rely on search to find anything.

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Q: What's it like to work for Mark Zuckerberg as a product person?

A: Honestly, it was one of the most rewarding opportunities I've had in my career.

Mark's most admirable quality as a leader and manager is that he is so open to ideas. When we disagreed, instead of becoming defensive or trying to "convince" me of his perspective like many product leaders I've worked with, he always wanted to deeply understand my point of view. His default response when we had complex product discussions was to ask a lot of questions -- kind of a Socratic product review. I and many of the folks who worked for Mark would take long walks around the Facebook campus debating product and strategy for hours at a time.

The interactions were always extremely intellectually rewarding. We were able to work through deep disagreements without the discussion being confrontational, and I always felt that he deeply respected my perspective.

The process was also exhausting. Mark has endless energy and was willing to discuss a product issue until we reached the "right" answer even if it meant hours, days, or even weeks of walking around talking about it. I can honestly say a few of these discussions ended in my "agreeing" via losing a mental war of attrition.

It has been interesting for me to contrast my experience at Facebook relative to my experience in the early(ish) years of Google. From 2004 - 2006, Google embraced a "let a 1000 flowers bloom" approach to product development, letting teams around the company design products with very little oversight. I enjoyed a huge amount of independence developing products like Google Local and Google Maps. So, in some ways, I felt a lot more freedom as a product designer during that time in my career.

However, Google's flower-blooming independence had its practical limits: at some point the company needed to allocate resources and decide what products it actually wanted to support. Teams around Google would have their engineering resources cut, launches canceled, and integrations forced upon them seemingly randomly (or at least randomly from their perspective). The "independence" produced a widespread sense of entitlement and false expectations that came crashing down at different points in a product's lifecycle, leading to deep unhappiness from a lot of my colleagues.

Consequently, in looking back on both experiences, I was often happier at Facebook. Mark was deeply involved, but also in a meaningful and transparent way. I exchanged some independence for stability, transparency, and inclusiveness, and it was a very rewarding experience.

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