Quip is a new app for word processing in iOS.

It’s designed to be collaborative, bringing in instantaneous tracking and conversations with others.

It provides some extra editing shortcuts.

And the ability to make lists with friends.

Your edits appear in a chat message timeline, as scraps of paper.

And there are folders.

And you can tag people in lists and stuff.

If you think this experience is worth a $15 million investment, then we’ll agree to disagree.

Co.Design

You Tell Me If This Word Processing App Is Worth $15 Million

The Valley is trapped in a bubble. And just because it hasn’t popped doesn’t make it any more removed from reality.

It has a clever four-letter name—Quip. It was co-founded by Bret Taylor, the ex-CTO of Facebook (who is also the co-creator of Google Maps and the architect of FriendFeed). And it has $15 million in series A funding from Benchmark Capital.

It’s a word-processing app.

Now you may think to yourself, Haven’t we had word processing figured out for like 30 years now? Well, we did, but into the era of touch screens, the simple, essential act of typing really has become quite difficult.

So Quip solves the typing problem? you think next, heart racing in your chest, imagining some phantom keyboard exuding from your iPad with the smell of strawberries.

No. Quip makes writing collaborative.

Like Google Docs?

Well, sort of. It also adds a chat window on the side of a document if you want—

Like Google Docs or iMessage or—

Right. But! BUT! Are you EVEN listening? It also adds little shreds of paper into the feed if you or a friend quotes something. And there are these yellow folders that organize all of your documents, just like they do in a real office filled with paper.

You’re just messing with me now.

I’m not. This is the feature list. You can also auto-tweet updates and make lists.

Should I really bring up Windows 3.0, the original Macintosh, or, heaven forbid, skeuomorphism?

Maybe not.

Well at least the tech press has called them out.

Actually, the tech press loves it.

Well, at least the founders are pretty cool about it all, realizing that the last thing you should do when building incrementally innovative enterprise software is gloat about it.

I guess this is the part of the conversation that gets a bit awkward. Taylor actually told AllThingsD—you know, the tech arm of The Wall Street Journal—that “There’s been so much effort around social and messaging (on mobile). I don’t mean this in a negative way, but those are time-wasting applications.”

Oh dear. So what’s he think is important? We shouldn’t be talking to one another?

No no, I think he feels that we SHOULD be talking to one another, but only while writing documents for $12 a month, tearing out excerpts on little digital scraps of paper—which isn’t silly and skeuomorphic as you probably assumed, but actually a post-modern commentary on the nature of communication itself in the tablet era.

Ahh! This is finally making sense. This app is deep. It should go in the MoMA.

I think so. Because the alternative—and it’s a pretty dark one, I warn you—is that the Valley is filled with so many absurdly rich people who are living in such a removed caste of society that they’ve forgotten what real problems look like. So they sink a lot of money and effort into designing task-management apps and productivity software. But I use the term “design” very loosely in this case, because design is about making solutions for real people to solve real problems, not making apps that just glue a few other apps together for an enterprise-level microcosm built on gluing apps together just to look good to investors and bigger companies who might buy out the idea.

And this whole microcosm has grown so large that investors are now handing out $15 million to a build a white box that you type in. Because as much as anyone in this whole faux-innovation chain could afford to retire tomorrow, building these white boxes as an alternative to someone else’s white boxes is actually how they get their kicks. These are the mighty challenges that drive today’s digital entrepreneurs, that wake them up at 3 a.m. in a sweat, that keep them in the office too late, that they pursue when they could do anything else in the whole entire universe.

Now that’s just crazy talk.

Oh, totally. And we should probably finish this conversation over on Quip.

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16 Comments

  • Jonathan Kumar

    It occurred to me that this article could be less about "$15M" and if the app is worth it, but rather about the way that these uber-talented people are using their finite time.  We all can only take on so many opportunities in life – these proven, driven founders and funders have decided to spend those limited "4am-10pm workdays" on the aforementioned word processor.  What would our world look like if even just this small group of 5-6 people were channeled towards a "real problem" as the author suggests?  That's why I'm excited about the increase in for-profit, social-good business models we're starting to see.

    At least the app is making money, which is more than I can say for my app.

  • Michael

    Rebecca has a point (dunno why I can't Respond): The market is over-saturated. But that's the nature of innovation. Less than 5% of innovations are economically sustainable--but we, society, investors, have to trudge through the 95% of losers to find those winners.

    I love Mark's soundbite about forgetting what real problems are, too, but there are two implicit assumptions in it that are indefensible. 1) We know what "real problems" and thus "real" solutions are at the onset of a project. Henry Ford's faster horse comes to mind. 2) We can find those solutions in a somewhat straightforward manner. (I hesitate to say "easily.") Innovation and design involve innumerable rounds of trial and error and iteration. We need those "absurdly rich people" to make the necessary mistakes in their "removed caste" so we can figure what's truly valuable to the market. 

    And let's not forget how difficult adoption is. Those "white boxes" make their ideas familiar so we can learn how to use them. Sure, the reductionist view is easy--and so is cynicism. But neither of those tacks will lead to the innovation or solutions to those "mighty challenges that drive today's digital entrepreneurs."

  • John Baptiste-Kelly

    Honestly $15m doesn't seem that much to me (especially in the era of $1B buyouts.) And this app actually has a business plan ! If the article is actually about the 'audacious amount of funding from investors'--there are plenty of better examples.

  • John Baptiste-Kelly

    Seem to be over-reacting a little, Mark.

    I've used Quip and like it. It's not a some huge revolution, but it's a well considered, well designed tool that I, and I'm sure a good few other people will, find very useful. 
    Can't see what 's caused the HUGE OFFENCE here..

  • Rebecca

     The argument isn't revolving around the product, it's revolving around the audacious amount of funding from investors. The market is over-saturated with social and productivity tools, and yet they're still being grandly funded, because they're something easy and light and expandable that everyone can loosely associate with.

  • byseeing

    Devil's advocate here. Quip wants to disrupt the word processing industry, which is a hefty market. It's starting with tablets, because no one's there and they can dominate. Once they scale, they'll ride that popularity into browser based, cloud solutions for all devices and make a dent in MS Office's marketshare. That sounds like money to me.

    So they pitched VC's on their big vision, and we're only seeing the first step.

  • Jim

    this article is so brutally honest, it brought a tear to my eye. let's be friends.

  • Sara Clayton

    I love this line: "...The Valley is filled with so many absurdly rich people who are
    living in such a removed caste of society that they’ve forgotten what
    real problems look like." Well done.

  • Michael Overell

    ah, if they have $15M investment, then technically it's 'worth' more like $30-50M