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Quip founder Brett Taylor talks ‘horrible’ enterprise software, BYOD & the key to tablet collaboration

by Doug Drinkwater

November 21 2013

Former Facebook chief technical officer and Google developer Brett Taylor is on a mission to improve tablet software. He talks to TabTimes about everything from ‘horrible’ enterprise software and Bring Your Own Device to surprising demand for his latest venture.

Taylor is behind a new start-up called Quip which formed in July with the premise of shaking up mobile word processing. In fact, the company boldly proclaimed that its first app – on Apple’s iPad -- was “our perspective on how modern mobile documents should work”.

Quip’s introduction comes at a time where tablet productivity has really moved into the spotlight; Apple has significantly updated iWork and is bundling the suite on new iOS purchases while Google has made numerous tweaks to its Google apps and made its Quickoffice suite free.

But Quip remains something of a rarity. When I reviewed the iPad app back in September I was impressed with what remains a multi-faceted application that encourages business collaboration, communication as well as real-time or offline editing.

Furthermore, the app lets users work on shared folders and its most recent update (version 1.5) lets workers import documents from Microsoft Word, Dropbox, Google Drive or even Evernote. They can even activate ‘Focus Mode’ to swat aside conversations or tweak notifications so that they are only notified on changes made on relevant documents and folders.

With the company potentially changing the game as far as tablet applications – both for consumers and businesses – are concerned, TabTimes sat down with Taylor to see where the firm is heading next.

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‘All software is going to change’

Taylor sees software development fundamentally shifting in light of the success of the smartphone and tablet.

“We’ve been very interested in the trend from the PC to smartphones and tablets,” said Taylor, explaining his decision to form Quip with co-founder Kevin Gibbs, who formerly worked on the Google Apps engine.

“It’s a very significant technology shift and we felt like the way we use software is going to change dramatically. All software is going to change.”

“We felt like there were a lot of social products on mobile, but not a lot focusing on productivity -- no equivalent of [Microsoft] Office. Maybe that was because [developers thought] there was no business there, but we felt that there was no clear leader.”

(Worth reading: Quip is an innovative tablet word processor that is great for enterprise collaboration & Former Facebook CTO launches Quip for iPad)

So, what sets Quip apart from the rest? The answer for Taylor is simple; collaboration.

“Collaboration is not integral in a lot of products. We found that people use documents less and that the main purpose was for sending them to others. Collaboration really resonates with business and it’s our central feature.”

Not that Taylor and the rest of his crew are resting on their laurels, however. The former Facebook exec candidly admits that the app can be improved when it comes to formatting and collaboration, and says too that while it’s a great product for 12-man teams it isn’t yet comprehensive enough to support 600+-strong enterprises.

However, the company is working to achieve those goals and has no less than 10 product engineers (out of a total team of 13) busy on improvements and the next rev. 

BYOD user aim was ‘very intentional’

When I first looked at the Quip application (free, iTunes) – and the accompanying website from where you can also access shared documents -- I admit that I wasn’t sure if this was a straight-laced business product or a consumer product that just happened to fall into the working world.

Taylor helps clarify the issue, noting the company was intentionally aiming for BYOD users.

“It was very conscious on our part”, he says. “Our hope when selling to companies is that they’ve used the product before, maybe at home.”

Like some other market observers, Taylor suggests that the BYOD era has turned the tables not only on the design of enterprise apps but also how they’re distributed.

“The criticism of enterprise software is that most of it is horrible. In the past, the way of selling enterprise software was to the company and it was deployed to the employee.”

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Quip on Android yes. Windows? Maybe

While Quip at present is iPad-only (with opportunities though to send files to colleagues on phones and desktops), the company intends to branch out. Taylor even said that the “spirit of the company is to be on every device”.

Not that the company is hedging its bets just yet. The CEO says that there will be an Android app by the end of the year (going iPad first was a “practical engineering decision”) and adds that they’ll “wait to see what happens” on Windows 8.

There are other things on Quip’s agenda – namely monetization (the company charges $12 per month, per user for a business account, and may tap into in-app subscriptions in time), but the business model is also intriguing with many clients coming from non-US markets.

“We believe in localized products and actually under half of our customers at the moment are from the U.S.”

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.
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