Confessions of a Product Manager: Bret Taylor of Quip

Videos, Product Management, PM Confessions

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In case you missed it, Fortune Magazine earlier this week published a detailed profile of Bret Taylor and his new company, Quip. You can read the full article here: A former Facebook CTO takes on Microsoft Office.

As luck would have it, we stopped by Quip's San Francisco HQ a few weeks back to speak with Taylor about what it takes to build great products. Check out Part One of our exclusive interview above. Wizeline's Director of Product, Matt, and Bret talk about:

  • Productivity tools for product managers
  • How Quip streamlines collaboration, communication and analysis
  • Whether Microsoft Office will exist in 10 years
  • How adding a single product feature drastically increased mass adoption of Google Maps

And don't forget to follow @thewizeline and @quip for more great tips on product management.

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Matt Pasienski: I'm here with Bret Taylor, CEO of Quip, to talk about what makes a great product. First off, I wanted to ask you about productivity tools for the PM. You guys make the online version, I don't want to use your competitor, but the online version, the mobile version of Google Docs. It's all of your notifications, all of your ... How does that influence how a product manager is going to use it particularly and how does that influence how a company changes to develop products to have tools like that available?

Bret Taylor: That's actually a good question because we're very motivated by what I would describe as the grave yard of productivity tools at most companies. Most companies have a really big problem with email overload. The first thing they do is go buy some piece of software, project management software, task management software, everything from SharePoint Microsoft project, and they purchase it and then they end up not using it and everything sort of reverts back to email. I think one of the reasons is is that email not a great tool for any job, but it's a perfectly decent tool for almost every job. I think that when you're thinking about interacting with coworkers at a company and product management in particular, it's a very cross functional thing.

One of the mistakes a lot of product managers do is try to get every functional group that they work with to conform to their way of doing things, which I think is an inappropriate thing for a product manager to do. The way that spoke to Quip is like a design falsify is that we try to make it feel like a white board in an open office floor plan. It's really just a blank sheet of paper. You can put in check lists, spread sheets, just all on this blank canvas. It sort of feels a lot more like that free form experience than most, I guess what you describe is like competing productivity tools, which should have a prescriptive way of getting work done. We try to be prescriptive, we just try to make a tool that's better in this environment.

Matt Pasienski: That's a trick balance though, because if you are coming in and you're replacing something that is general purpose, you have to be differentiated and that generally means you have a different way of doing things.

Bret Taylor: Yeah.

Matt Pasienski: How do you build in flexibility while at the same time differentiating yourself from different tools?

Bret Taylor: For us, the flexibility has been our differentiation. One of the main things that our customers like about Quip is that it's not a bundle of like four or five separate apps. It is not ... Just as a very practical example, even with something like Google Docs, you still have to go to email to talk to each other.

Matt Pasienski: Yeah.

Bret Taylor: You have this split between your conversation about a decision and then the write up of the decision. With Quip, we've sort of integrated messaging and documents and spreadsheets all into a single experience. Everything is in one place. As a good example, if you're working with a growth analyst as a product manager, their annalist with the spreadsheet of the data and the recommendation and the screen shots of the experiment are all on one page and you're back and forth with them about the why's and all sort of the, the lead up. Those decisions are all there, all together in one space.

Matt Pasienski: Do you feel like your decision to go and obviously attack mobile based single mindedly first allows you to actually bring things together into a common experience, where as if you have a web app, you could have multiple different things and it kind of spreads out, buy mobile makes you kind of focus and concentrate and bring it all into one consistent view?

Bret Taylor: I think that's fair. A lot of it though, I believe is ... Some of it is marketing, and some of it is product, to be perfectly honest. I think that right now we're entering, we have a product we're entering a very entrenched market. Microsoft office has 99% of the market share. Products like Google Apps are slowly chipping away at the edges. Surprisingly we love décor. Very popular in schools and smaller businesses, but not as popular in the core of the market. Our thesis was, the reason people would even give us a chance was that their work habits were changing because of mobile devices. They realize that they've moved from email to text messaging with their family and friends and they get the sense like, "Why is work still like that?" They know that they get annoyed when they get a word document as an attachment on email on their phone, because they have to pin, zoom and do the typewriter finger thing to actually read it.

We really wanted to position ourselves as aligned with that platform shift because we really believe that's where things are broken today. In reality, we think about it much more broader. We think about changing the way people get worked on. I think with the product it's ... The best analogy in my career in the past was Google Maps. We launched Google Maps in February 2005. It was popular. It got, I think at the time, like ten million or so searches per day and people were using it, which at the time was good. As the Google product windows, it was one of the more successful launches. We put in Satellite imagery a few months later and it went up to like 90 million per day overnight. Internally, the perception of satellite imagery had been that it was a little bit gimmicky because you only look at your house once and you're like, "I've seen the roof of my house, it still looks the same."

Matt Pasienski: Maybe 20, 30 [crosstalk 00:05:28].

Bret Taylor: Yeah, 20 or 30 times. Practically speaking, the substance of the product was driving directions, local search, and what was interesting though is that the satellite imagery took this really advanced ajax technology that people could feel but not really understand and they made it ... Sort of took this like ... It was the most amazing marketing vehicle for that. It made you understand why is Google Maps different? I'm flying around. This is totally not like MapQuest, which started to get this antiquated utilitarian feel to it. For us I think it's like ... I do feel part of a product design is sort of aligning what is different about your product with something a little bit aspirational that people can really wrap their heads around, even if your vision is much broader.

Peter Moore Posted by Peter Moore on Thursday, December 11, 2014.

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Dec 12, 2017

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