Salesforce’s $750 Million Bet to Reimagine Productivity in the Modern Workforce

Five years ago, it started off as something many people equated to being a Word processing app. Quip, started by former Facebook Chief Technology Officer Bret Taylor and ex-Googler Kevin Gibbs, initially yet another standalone service that created documents in the cloud, joining a crowded marketplace filled with the likes of iA Writer, Google Docs, and Evernote. Beautifully designed and engineered for the mobile generation, this productivity and collaboration app still had much to do in order to stand out.

Fast-forward to today, Quip is owned by Salesforce and has become an important part of the enterprise cloud computing provider’s capabilities. What started off handling Word processing is now a legitimate threat to Microsoft Office 365’s market dominance.

“We’re essentially trying to create the next-generation productivity tool. Essentially sort of the successor to Microsoft Office,” Taylor explained to Recode in 2016. “The core thing that we try to do differently is build communication deeply into the product experience. So you don’t need to go into email or go into chat to actually talk about what you’re working on. So every document has an embedded chat thread and you can chat in and around the document. And our customers essentially use it to sort of move away from email and collaborate.”

Not a single solution app

Facebook coined the phrase “Move Fast and Break Things”, but Quip took a slightly antithetical route. It focused most of its efforts on collaboration features that would appeal to the modern workforce, such as working across the web, desktop, and especially on mobile. Quip also added team chat features and an integration with Slack. In 2014, a year after launching, the company eventually debuted its next offering: spreadsheets. Until then, much of the work was on perfecting features around productivity. It would take a few more years before the company would further encroach on Microsoft’s territory with the launch of Slides.

When Salesforce acquired Quip in 2016, things then moved quickly, enabling the once-known Word processing app to move quickly up the ranks and rival Google and its suite of workplace productivity tools. Quip opened up an app marketplace that enabled users to get more out of its collaboration software which was similar to what Google did earlier on. This decision was perhaps spurred by Taylor and Gibbs’ experience at Facebook and Google, respectively, two companies which have a storied history with developer marketplaces. Just like Salesforce’s AppExchange has seen success, and likely could through the MuleSoft acquisition, Quip’s marketplace may also repeat results — we are nearly a year after Quip debuted its developer platform so we might expect some numbers at this year’s Dreamforce conference.

But the appeal of Quip rests with its Salesforce backing, creating a single business platform that should give Microsoft pause. Months after Salesforce’s $750 million deal for Quip took place, Quip announced a slate of integrations including support for single sign-on and live data integrations.

While easy to pass off these integrations as mere formalities (why wouldn’t you have some tie-in with the company that now owns you?), Quip’s actions foreshadowed a bigger move Salesforce was undertaking to reshape workplace productivity and collaboration. As I explained at the time, the first updates were about sharing data between the two applications:

The first involves leveraging Quip’s Lightning component, meaning that any linking, accessing, and editing of documents, spreadsheets, and task lists can be made directly within Salesforce records…

With the second feature, Quip now supports live data within documents and spreadsheets. Traditionally, users would have to copy and paste data, but now variables can be added to files that will dynamically pull in the corresponding data, so if anything changes within Salesforce, it’ll automatically be reflected within the document.

Salesforce has a reputation for big moves in the enterprise space, starting from its very conception — moving software into the cloud. From being a major player in marketing and ad technology to customer service and support and even to continuing education, Salesforce sees itself adapting to the ways its customers are using technology, and likely wants to capitalize on not only helping people collaborate with team members, but get the most out of their Salesforce data without having to jump needlessly between different applications (e.g. Salesforce to Google Docs or even Office 365).

Your moment of zen

“Very few people write a memo in Microsoft Word and email it to someone. They just write an email,” Taylor once remarked in a Recode interview. “Because I think the value of communication is more important than the features of a personal productivity tool. Like you’d rather give up fonts and footnotes to have the recipient be able to click reply and respond to what you wrote. So our premise was that rather than design around the authoring experience, design around communication exclusively.”

Ownership of Quip allows Salesforce to create its version of Microsoft Office, perhaps dreaming of the day when customers will appreciate not only having beautifully designed apps for the mobile generation, but also without the overwhelming buttons and features that many ignore in Office, and from which, the freedom to easily and quickly integrate their Salesforce data. IDC estimates in a company-commissioned study, that 3.3 million jobs will be created by 2022, all because of Salesforce. This creates an opportunity that the company isn’t likely to ignore and that’s to grab people’s attention before they get enamored by Microsoft Office.

Although it’s early days for Quip, we’re already seeing the prominence it’s playing in shaping Salesforce’s future — Taylor has risen up the ranks and become the organization’s chief product officer, while Gibbs has assumed the mantle of Quip chief executive. The former’s talent has even been highlighted by CNBC as having played a major role in the massive MuleSoft acquisition.

The new Office of our time?

As Salesforce continues to strengthen its suite of tools, it’s feasible we’ll see Quip’s influence. Whether it’s system-wide support for Quip’s documents, spreadsheets, and slides, or collaboration schema incorporated into Salesforce’s Lightning components, or branching into the AppExchange. And the roles could be reversed, with Salesforce bringing its breadth of technology into Quip, namely its Einstein AI offering. It’s within the realm of possibility that Einstein could help users locate a Quip document without needing to search, identify Salesforce data to incorporate, what team members should be included, and more.

“We would love to create applications that people love to use at work, whether it’s spreadsheets, presentations, etc.,” Taylor once told me in an interview. “Anything that [we] do is going to have a unique take on it with mobile and tablet in mind.”

Just as Microsoft Office has held dominance over the document space for decades, we’re now seeing an era where standout platforms are moving to put their respective stakes in the ground. Salesforce has placed its faith in Quip to steer it in the direction of consumerizing its services while also adapting to the behaviors of those in the workplace, an important task as more sales, customer support, and data flows into the massive enterprise cloud computing platform.

As Taylor explained to me once, Quip is “really focused on team as the atomic unit of productivity.”