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Coda’s Shishir Mehrotra on rethinking docs from scratch

VP of Commercial Product Strategy, Intercom

Matt Hodges

@mattnhodges

How do you put a box around a product that defies categorization? How do you name an all-in-one solution for a plethora of problems, which – until now – have required individual tools?

It’s a nearly impossible task, but Shishir Mehrotra and his team at Coda have set out reimagine documents, spreadsheets, and apps in a way that undoes 40 years of blind fealty to Microsoft Office and its predecessors. Coda’s purpose: prove that docs can be as powerful as apps – and provide an elegant solution to the problems of 2020, not 1980.

If there’s one person who can pull off such a reinvention of the wheel, it’s Mehrotra. He’s an MIT graduate and a veteran of Microsoft, Google, and YouTube. He joined me for a conversation that ranged from how to identify your simplest thesis to why a long stealth mode was important to Coda.

Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:

  1. Identifying your simple thesis is paramount. At Intercom, it’s that businesses should be able to talk to their users as humans. Gmail’s is that you should never have to delete email. It might be hard to distill, but it’s essential and you have to be willing to be misunderstood until you can prove it to the world.
  2. Coda is run on two observations: the world runs on docs, not apps, and those docs haven’t changed in 40 years. So what if they started from scratch and created a new set of building blocks that ignore the past?
  3. Three major changes in the past decade have changed the tech landscape: the evolution and maturity of the web browser, the use of SaaS tools in the workplace, and the opening up of APIs to the broader public.
  4. Instead of just buying solutions, people now expect to be able to make them on their own. This is part of what Shishir calls the maker generation, and Coda is trying to give them the building blocks to do so.
  5. Timing has been everything from Coda. Instead of going through the hypergrowth Shishir experienced during his time at YouTube, Coda stayed in stealth mode for three years to make sure they could truly deliver a mobile experience that truly offered docs that were as powerful as apps.

If you enjoy our conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.


Matt: Our guest for today’s show is Shishir Mehrotra, the CEO of Coda, a new type of doc. For the sake of our listeners, could you give us a rundown of your career to date?

Shishir: Let’s see. I went to MIT, out in Massachusetts, a long time ago. I started my first company, which was called Centrata. And then I spent six years at Microsoft. I worked on Office, then Windows, then SQL Server. Then I moved back to the Bay Area and joined Google. I spent about six years there – mostly running YouTube products. Then I left Google in 2014 to start Coda.

Matt: Incredibly impressive. How has that transition been for you, going from the giant company that is Google back to the early-stage startup that is Coda?

Shishir: There are parts that are incredibly different and parts that are very similar. I love some of the lessons you learn at some of these bigger places. Your ability to carry them forward and re-implement them in your own environment and take the best parts of each one is always fun. If I had to pick what’s most different, it was the returning to being a maker. I went from most of my day being watching other people do things, being in meetings and reviews and so on, to all of a sudden writing specs, doing designs and trying to figure out what the product was. It’s this creative outlet that is infectious once you start doing it again.

“We’re really building on our original promise that you can build a doc as powerful as an app”

Matt: It’s always fun, being able to roll up your sleeves and do that type of work again. Coda’s been in beta for about a year now, and – exciting news – you just released Coda 1.0. Congrats.

Shishir: Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a big leap for us. It came out of beta launch, and now it’s generally available and anyone can try it. The most important piece of launch is a brand-new mobile experience, which is pretty awesome. But really for me, the milestone for Coda 1.0 is that for the first time, we’re really building on our original promise that you can build a doc as powerful as an app, and we’re really excited about that.

Identifying your simple thesis

Matt: Yeah, it’s fantastic. We’re big, big fans and users of Coda here at Intercom, so I’m keen to hear more about what you guys are shipping and what’s coming next. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about how Coda came to be. You joined YouTube back in 2008, and you helped guide the company through hypergrowth after its acquisition by Google. During that time, what were some of the biggest lessons that you learned scaling the product organization?

Shishir: If I had to pick one to latch onto, it’s this idea that I think most great businesses have a really, really simple thesis, and that that thesis can seem pretty crazy at first. There are lots of examples in the industry. Amazon has this really clear perspective that the world needs a universal online retailer. The way I think about Intercom’s thesis is that businesses should be able to talk to their users as humans. The Gmail one was pretty sharp: Basically, you should never have to delete email.

But some of these are sometimes hard to see. When I got to YouTube in 2008, we had amazing growth in lots of different ways. But it took us a little while for us to be able to articulate our unique thesis clearly. The YouTube thesis is that online video is going to do to cable what cable did to broadcast and that we’re going to go from 3 channels to 300 channels to 3 million channels.

“Identifying your thesis is hard, but you have to deliver it, you have to execute it, and you have to be completely willing for it to be misunderstood for a long period of time until”

Interestingly, the first time I made that statement (“Online video’s going to do to cable what cable did to broadcast”), I had talked at this conference in New York in 2009, and I almost got laughed out of the room. Just to put it in context, at the time, YouTube’s competitors, so to speak, were a company called Flickr and another company called MySpace. The audience looked at it and said: “This just sounds ridiculous. The guy’s up there talking about YouTube in the context of cable, but what does YouTube have to do with ESPN and Disney and all these cable channels?”

It’s something we strongly believed and really needed, too, and it probably took four years before people started repeating that line. Nowadays when I say it, people just nod their head like it’s obvious. Online video’s going to do to cable what cable did to broadcast. But if I had to pick a lesson out of that period, it’s that identifying your thesis is hard, but you have to deliver it, you have to execute it, and you have to be completely willing for it to be misunderstood for a long period of time until you can really prove it to the world. So I think that was probably my main YouTube lesson.

Matt: To prove your point, I heard a fascinating story recently from a good friend of mine who spent Christmas with his family in Australia. None of his young nephews and nieces watch TV. They watch YouTube. And they only watch YouTube artists, which I found fascinating. It’s incredible to see how that landscape is changing. It’s hard to appreciate now with hindsight, but the press thought Google had made a mistake when they acquired YouTube back all those years ago. YouTube, of course, looks very different 10 years on. Were you always convinced that it would be the success that it is today?

Shishir: Always convinced. I think that’s strong. I had pretty high hopes, but it took a while before I had real confidence. First off, your recollection of that period is definitely accurate. When I showed up in 2008, YouTube was basically seen as a big mistake. It was losing tons of money. It had these grainy videos; it had these big lawsuits. My mom would forward me that said YouTube was Google’s first big mistake and asking me what I was thinking. We had confidence in our thesis, and we could see how it was working, but I find that usually your confidence in business doesn’t come out of some framework. It comes out of some experience.

My confidence in YouTube was pretty formed around a pretty formative story. I had this experience with this guy Sal Khan. Sal now runs a thing called Khan Academy. But at the time, he was at a hedge fund, and he and I had gone to college together. We have very similar paths – we both married our college sweethearts, and both our wives are physicians – so we stayed in touch. He was over for dinner. This was 2008. He’s over for dinner, and I tell him I had just joined YouTube. “Oh, I’m on YouTube,” he tells me. And I say, “That’s wonderful, do you have any feedback?” And he says: “No, I don’t think you understand. I create on YouTube. I publish on YouTube.” And he tells me the story. For listeners who may not know, his quick version of the story is that he had a cousin in Louisiana who needed help with her math homework, but they could never find the time to be on Skype at the same time. So he told her: “Just send me your problems. I’ll solve them, record myself, and send them back to you.” At the time, the most efficient way to send video over the internet was YouTube. So we were an email attachment service for him, and it turned out that he left the public setting on, so people were watching the videos.

As he was telling the story, I didn’t really think much of it, but I went to work the next day and looked at his stats and compared them to the stats of all the education channels. Remember, Stanford and MIT had both committed at the time to put all their lectures online, so YouTube was full of great lectures. I immediately emailed Sal and told him: “I don’t think you know this, but your viewership is more than Stanford and MIT combined. You have to join the YouTube partner program.”

At the time, you had to get invited to be part of the partner program and make money on YouTube. So he joins, and fast forward a few months, and we have him over for dinner again. I ask him how it’s going, and he says, “It’s going great, thanks for getting me in the partner program.” Then he pulls me aside a bit and tells me he’s been looking at these checks coming in from YouTube every month. And he’s a mathematician, so he’s been extrapolating a little bit. He says: “I can see when this is going to pay for rent. And I can see a little bit further down the road it’s going to surpass my hedge fund salary.” Then he looks at me and he asks the question: “What do you think? Should I quit my job and do this full-time?”

His wife is giving me this dead stare to answer correctly, but I ignored her and said, “Look, I can’t promise anything, but I’m betting my career on it, and I think we have a real good shot at it.” I told him what our thesis was, and that if he made the choice, I’d support him. I’m sure he asked the same question to a thousand different people, so my advice is probably just a small piece of it. But think about the thesis that online video is going to do to cable what cable did to broadcast – and picture Sal, even five years earlier, pitching a show to PBS.

They might have asked, “What’s your education background, and what do you teach?”
Sal: “No, I don’t teach. I’m a hedge fund guy.”
PBS: “So what’s your media background? Have you ever done anything in content?”
Sal: “No, I’ve never done anything.”
PBS: “Okay. What’s your idea?”
Sal: “Well, I’m going to start with the first problem in the algebra book, and I’m going to solve it. Then I’ll solve the second problem and the third problem and work my way up all the way up to the end of the algebra book. Then I’ll do the next book. And by the way, I’m never going to show my face in the video. There are no characters. There’s no music, no theme song.”

Matt: It already sounds crazy.

Shishir: That’s it, right? He would’ve gotten laughed out of the room. And instead, because he didn’t have to ask anybody, he got this ability to show off his talents. So when I go back and think about moments where this thesis went from being a theory that you could see in a paper to being real, it’s because I watched this guy who clearly in the previous world had no shot. That was probably the first big moment for me.

Matt: That’s a fascinating story. Isn’t it funny how some of the most successful outcomes start off as mistakes? By leaving his video…

Shishir: Yeah, leaving it public. Right, exactly.

How Coda eliminates pain points

Matt: Let’s shift gears a little bit. When you were working at YouTube during that period of hypergrowth, were there any specific ways of collaborating or working as a team that created the pain points that inspired you to found Coda?

Shishir: Yeah, definitely. The way we used YouTube internally was one of the big inspirations for Coda, and it reflected an observation I had for a long time. As context, YouTube was brought into Google, but it was really a pretty separate company. We had a separate office, we had a separate brand, and so we had some freedom to try our own techniques. We obviously borrowed the best of what we could from Google, but we also adjusted when we wanted to and did things a little bit differently.

When I talk about the history of Coda, I generally talk about two observations that drive Coda. The first one is that we think the world runs on docs, not apps. This was something that was very true at YouTube. There are a bunch of examples. Google uses a system for goal-setting called OKRs. It’s pretty popular, and it’s used by a lot of other companies now. But there’s a particular way of doing it and a tool set for doing it that didn’t really work for YouTube. We were shipping this mobile app that had to go on a certain cycle, so we needed to set goals a little bit differently. We did our process. What did we build it in? We built it in Google Sheets, because it was the most obvious thing to use.

“We think the world runs on docs, not apps”

Another example was the performance-review process at Google had a particular set of values. I had this crazy theory around doing level-independent performance management, so we did that in a completely different way with a big network of spreadsheets.

One of my favorite examples is if you hit flag on a YouTube video back in 2008 or 2009, it would create a row in a spreadsheet on an ops person’s desk. Some people saw this as crazy. I saw this as our strategic strength. Because it was our system, we could be nimble in how we planned. We could adjust our performance system, adjust how we thought about our different workflows, and do it the way we wanted. All of it was done in Docs and Sheets.

So when we were thinking about starting Coda, this observation was pretty core. When I looked around, I saw the same pattern everywhere. We’d ask a team, “What tools do you use at work?” And they would name a bunch of software, but they’d use Docs and Sheets to do just about everything. And that really was crucial to this observation: the world runs on docs, not apps.

“Docs haven’t changed in 40 years”

Matt: It’s interesting that everyone wants to adopt these standards or these frameworks and these ways of working, OKRs being a prime example. But you need to be able to adjust and tinker and tweak it a little bit to make it work just for you.

We’ve talked a lot about docs and spreadsheets. I bet you probably already know this, but 2019 is actually the 30-year anniversary of Microsoft Office. And it’s in the DNA of just about every productivity app and suite, including Google’s own G Suite. Given the approach that you guys have taken at Coda and everything that you’ve learned along the way, what limitations do you see with that office model?

Shishir: That’s an interesting frame for it, the DNA frame. I’d say the core metaphors actually go back even further, because the set of tools before Office itself also shared a lot of those same similarities. We have this joke we use at work, which is that if Austin Powers were to pop out of his freezing chamber, he wouldn’t know what clothes to wear or what music to listen to, but he would absolutely know how to work a document and spreadsheet in a presentation, because they haven’t changed since the ’70s. What does it mean to be a document, and how do pages get structured, and what do slides look like? If you think about spreadsheets – even concepts like A1, B2, C3 (we call that Battleship) – they’ve lasted 40 years.

“What if we started from scratch and started with a new set of building blocks and ignored the past?”

It’s a little bit nuts that in that period of time, every other piece of software is completely different. You think about operating systems. We went from DOS to Android. You think about things like databases or search engines or social networks or messaging tools. Everything is completely different, and yet there’s this thing we use all day long. We use it to run our teams, our families, our businesses, and that thing is stuck in the Austin Powers past. And it’s really pretty critical to the Coda view of the world. If the first observation is that the world runs on docs, not apps, the second one is that those docs haven’t changed in 40 years. So, what if we started from scratch and started with a new set of building blocks and ignored the past? What would we build? It’s probably worth mentioning that it’s super risky to do this. I get asked all the time: “It’s been that way for 40 years. Doesn’t that mean it’s really good? Why bother changing it?”

Matt: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Shishir: Yeah, exactly. It’s been there for 40 years and people are very used to it, so we have to be really careful. And if you try to change something like that, you can easily overshoot. So we try really hard to be familiar when appropriate – and adjust when appropriate. But we felt pretty strongly that the time was right to build a new type of doc and reimagine from the ground up.

Breaking through behaviors

“There’s an expectation now that users can design their own experiences”

Matt: Yeah, and I think to your point, one of the hardest challenges about changing someone’s use of something that’s been around for such a long time is that people don’t like change. And making that change and shift in behavior is incredibly hard. But I think you guys are doing a tremendous job. You’ve observed that these documentation and spreadsheet tools haven’t changed for the last 40 years, but on the flip side, we’re seeing more and more workers bringing their own favorite apps to the workplace. Even with that happening, we still see people reverting back to docs and spreadsheets. Why is that the case?

Shishir: There’s a phrase I use for this phenomenon. I call it “the maker generation,” and I actually think you could go back for a moment to where we started this discussion with YouTube, and I think this maker generation thing is happening across industries. If you think about YouTube, we spent a long time explaining and evangelizing that anyone in the world was capable of being a video creator: that you didn’t have to move to LA and pass some Hollywood test in order to be the next Sal Khan. That happened in video, but it actually happened in many industries. If you look at what Etsy did for people who can build crafts and products – or if you look at the gaming industry and what people are doing these days in Minecraft and Fortnite – there’s this expectation now that users can design their own experiences.

An idea every industry is embracing slowly, is that their communities aren’t just users of their products, they are actually makers and contributors to that product. So in some ways, what we’re seeing in software is just the next phase of that. The way I look at software is that it has gone through its own generations. At first, software was built by hobbyists. If you go back, there were the days of the Homebrew Computing Club with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates and so on – and everybody just took their tools and built what they needed. Then there was this big right turn, and we had this phase of these large mega-application companies and the SAPs of the world. You would get one big thing deployed for a whole company, and it would solve all problems, and you were forced to use it, as you described it.

Then there’s this phase that started, I think in the early 2000s, with an explosion of apps. In the business world, that was mostly enabled by SaaS, by these software as a service companies, and the user behavior changed. Now all of a sudden if you had a problem and you’re some manager of a team, you had a problem, you could take your credit card and you could go buy a solution to your problem. You didn’t necessarily have to ask IT, and you had thousands of things to pick from, and you could buy what you needed. In the consumer world, the same thing happened with all the app stores. There are now tons of different things to go buy.

But in this next phase, I think we’re entering software’s version of the maker generation, and I think people don’t expect just to buy things anymore. They expect to be able to make them themselves. Obviously, Coda’s betting super heavily on this, much like YouTube bet on the same movement in the video space. I think there will be similar levels of people who think it’s a little bit crazy, which is fine with us. But I think it’s really inspiring, because when you hand people the ability to solve their own problems, they do a much better job. And I think we’re going to see – similar to what YouTube saw in video –this explosion of creativity as people take these tools and solve problems in ways that nobody really expected. I think that’s really exciting.

The maker generation in action in Coda

Matt: Speaking of Coda, we’ve recently started using it very heavily here at Intercom. It started in our R&D team using it for roadmap planning and goal tracking. What’s particularly interesting is how quickly it spread into other parts of the business. Just yesterday, someone in the product marketing team shared a Coda doc with me that’s acting as the entire project plan and content repository for another whole of our marketing site we’re working on. I absolutely love it. I love seeing people find new and interesting ways to use Coda, because it’s such a great tool. Is our experience that we’ve had at Intercom common? Do you see that at other customers too?

Shishir: Yeah, it’s super common. And it probably varies at different company sizes. At larger companies, – folks like you guys or Uber or Spotify – we’ll see this pattern where one team starts with Coda and they build something great. They see this new set of building blocks, but all the teams are really interconnected. So in that same group, there’s a marketer, there’s a salesperson, there’s an HR person – and they realize they can use the same set of building blocks to solve a totally different set of problems. So they take it back to their team and start something new.

It can happen in unexpected ways. I was just talking to a user at a large newspaper, and they’ve been using Coda for a lot of different things. One of the people on the team mentioned that the thing they were most excited about was they were using Coda to plan their holiday dinner. So there’s lots of different ways that that happens.

Smaller companies are a little bit different. I was helping out this customer the other day – on Intercom, of course – and they run a set of beer festivals in Europe. Interestingly, the doc was in Danish, so I had to have Google Translate up to try to help him. He’s describing what he’s trying to do in this doc, and in that case, it was almost the opposite. That doc did everything for this business. In any other situation, you would be in 10 different apps. Yet it was his CRM tool to track his vendors, and it was his calendar, and it was his inventory, and he’s building this thing out to do all these different things.

There’s a company in Virginia called Hudson Henry Granola, and they run their entire business out of Coda. They built this really cool time card system and time-tracking system. We see this pattern all the time, especially in smaller businesses. They’ll take all the building blocks and build up this one big thing, but with a larger business we’ll see that they’ll learn one pattern and break apart different solutions in different places. But it’s the same idea. Once you learn this new set of building blocks, there’s literally no end of the places you can use it.

Connecting Coda to the rest of the world

Matt: You recently launched these things called Packs, which connect your Coda docs to the apps that you use every day – the ones your teams might already use to communicate, code, and design in. The appeal to me is obvious. With Packs, you can sync data across all those different tools and automate workflows and processes and avoid redundancy, and Coda sits at the center of it all. Tell me, though, what’s the underlying product strategy at play here? Do you see Coda becoming a platform for the entire workplace?

Shishir: Maybe first I should explain what Packs are. We shipped our beta about a year ago and got lots and lots of feedback. A thousand different people gave us different instructions on what they thought we should do, and by far, the most common was, “Can you connect Coda to the rest of the world?” So that’s basically what a Pack does. Every Coda Pack connects Coda to another service in the way that’s appropriate for that service.

For example, there’s a weather Pack, where you can continuously pull local weather data into your doc. You can also pull from tools like your calendar or from GitHub. But you can also do it the other way; you can interact with the world. We have a concept called Buttons, which allow you to initiate actions. You can send emails from Coda, you can send text messages, you can initiate conversations on Intercom, and it’s super interesting to see what people have built with this.

Coda Packs in action.

I think Intercom is a particularly good example for this. When we were building the Intercom Pack, I came by here and showed it to Des, and he gave me a bunch of advice and great ways to think about it. We’re a big Intercom customer, and for us, it performs two big functions: It’s this communication channel so we can talk to everybody, but it’s also a store of record for our user data. And when you make that accessible to a doc, all sorts of things can happen. The most obvious example for us is routing feedback. One of the benefits of Intercom is we get this really personal, human experience for our users. But one of the implications is that you generate a lot of feedback. Some people think that’s a downside, which I think is shortsighted.

For a lot of organizations, we see that feedback gets kept in Intercom so that a bunch of support people know it, but it doesn’t flow through the whole organization. So what we did is we used that Intercom Pack, and now all of that flows into a Coda doc and gets synthesized, prioritized and categorized by the product team. But the best part is what happens next, because we can take that group of users and we can communicate back with them. So if there’s a group of people that complained about a bug, when we fix it and mark that in one system, then the Coda doc triggers an automation, and all that automatically goes and reopens all those conversations on Intercom with a little message that says: “Hey, this thing you reported two weeks ago or two months ago has now been fixed. Please give us feedback.”

That loop is really hard to create, and it makes our users feel like we have superpowers because we listen all the time, and it makes us feel good about working on the right different things. But that’s the idea: Packs allow everyone to orchestrate the world in the way that they know, and you no longer have to be a developer in order to do that.

Matt: Yeah, I think the important point there is regardless of the set of tools you’re using, you want to be able to create these closed-loop workflows. Prior to coding them, it wasn’t really accessible to the broad set of users, and Packs make that accessible. They’ve been available for a few months now. What are some of the more popular Packs that are used amongst your customer base?

Shishir: We’re seeing a lot of interesting Packs usage. A lot of it is on services you’d expect that everybody uses: Gmail, Calendar, Slack and so on. But some of the most interesting ones are services that people might not naturally use or think to use. As an example, we had a real estate agent write in the other day, asking if she could send text messages from a doc. And we said absolutely, and she ended up using the Twilio Pack, which is probably a service that she would never really think of, because it’s really built for developers. So that’s one of the really interesting things about Packs: allowing a new set of services to address an audience that they may not have talked to before.

A packed field

Matt: Now, I’ve gotta ask: Coda, Airtable, Notion. It really feels like we’re seeing this new wave of documentation and collaboration tools hitting the market, all trying to reinvent and improve our workday. And it was only a couple years ago that Salesforce acquired Quip for an insane multiple. Airtable raised a huge round recently and achieved unicorn status. How do you see this market evolving in the next few years?

Shishir: It’s interesting. You’ve been around this industry a long time, so I’m curious what you think.

Matt: I’ll take a stab. Well, I worked for Atlassian for six years prior to joining Intercom, and I was responsible way back in the day for selling and eventually marketing Confluence. And if I think about what’s changed from 10 years ago to today, I’d put it in three buckets. The first would be just the evolution and maturity of the web browser. What you can do in the web browser today, and what companies like Coda are allowing their users to do, is just so vastly different to what was possible 10 years ago. When I used to give demos of Confluence 10 years ago using WebEx, I used to have to structure my demo to a T so I didn’t expose bugs in the product. And this was at a time when using a web browser to edit a web page with something that looked like Microsoft Word was a revelation. So I think that would be the first thing. Browser technology has just made so many more things possible, and that user experience not only more powerful, but enjoyable.

Shishir: True.

Matt: I think the second one for me would be, as you mentioned earlier in our conversation, this shift towards the accepted use of software as a service tools in the workplace. That just has really lowered the barrier to adoption to all of these types of tools, and resulted in people bringing their own tools to work. And if they’re successful (and they often are), they’re adopted by more teams and then spread organically throughout the company. And even if you are supposed to ask IT before you pull your credit card out, you often don’t.

Shishir: Right.

Matt: So I think SaaS has been a big one. And then lastly, as we just touched on, as we were talking about Packs and how Packs have made things that were only possible by APIs accessible to the broader user base. I think there’s also this increased accessibility to really powerful functions or applications of things like relational databases and functions that you would only know if you asked someone who knew how to use Excel really, really well, and be able to use things like pivot tables. All of those things are now so much more accessible and easier to use, thanks to tools like Coda, Notion, and Airtable. How’d I do? Do you see things differently?

Shishir: Yeah. I think those are really astute observations, and lead to a lot of what we’re seeing here. I get asked a lot why YouTube happened in 2006 instead of in 2000 or 10 years earlier. And really, it wasn’t any one thing. Lots of things happened together to make products like that, and that emergence of a new market happened. And I think a similar thing is going on here. As you said, it’s a mix of things, like browser technologies and SaaS and so on all come together.

Our view of the world is that all of that is on a backdrop of this thing that I refer to as a maker generation, where everybody’s expecting to be able to make their own tools. So our approach is to try to give people a new set of building blocks and a set of primitives that they can then assemble together into whatever makes sense for them. We like to say docs as powerful as apps. That’s our approach, and I think it’s really exciting to see lots of people in the space building all sorts of new things.

Beyond beta

Matt: Okay. To wrap things up, let’s talk a little bit about what’s next for Coda. You’ve just released Coda 1.0. What does that look like, and where are things headed next?

Shishir: Yeah, so it’s super exciting right now, and I can maybe give a little bit of context on the launch and Coda 1.0. We built Coda a little bit non-traditionally in that we spent the first three years in stealth, and we didn’t talk about it publicly. We iterated a lot with our user feedback groups, but we tried to do it out of the public eye. Then that group started to grow, and we decided that to get to the next level of feedback, we needed to be able to talk publicly about the product. So in late 2017, we launched the beta. And that was great. A ton of people signed up, and we let them in in batches to be sure that we could get discrete feedback as the product got better and better and better, and we got tons of feedback. But many of them asked, why haven’t you launched Coda 1.0. already? But I felt pretty strongly that we weren’t ready yet.

To be clear, the product we shipped was really useful to people. But I wanted to ship Coda 1.0 when we could really describe and deliver on our core message – what I view as our core promise, our thesis – back to the start of this conversation. And our belief at Coda is that anyone can make a doc that’s as powerful as an app. And probably the most notable feature coming in 1.0 is a pretty significant rethink of our mobile experience. When we shipped our beta, we shipped a pretty spartan mobile experience, and our users definitely told us that. But it was intentional. We had an ordering in mind, that we wanted to get the right building blocks in place, and that would allow the mobile experience to work the way we really wanted.

Example of how a doc automatically re-adjusts to fit desktop and mobile.

As people try the new mobile experience, they’re going to find that it’s crafted around that thesis: You can build docs as powerful as apps. If you go look at the Coda template gallery today, you’ll see what I mean. One of my favorite examples is from this guy Ben in Atlanta, who works at an outdoor retailer. He teaches kayaking and mountain biking classes, and he built this doc in Coda to manage the bike inventory for the office. They lease these bikes out or lend these bikes out to people, and it’s a really cool doc. It’s pretty simple. You’ve got a table, a bunch of views, and some buttons in it.

But when we were building mobile, we showed it to him, and loaded it on his phone, and he was just shocked. I think his expectations were that he was going to see a spreadsheet squinty view of his beautiful document, and instead, he saw a thing that really felt like an app. Every interaction felt like it was built for mobile, and the tabs at the bottom made sense. The actions he had set up on the desktop with all these buttons, it turned into swipes on rows. And he had spent an afternoon building what that he thought was a really cool doc. But when he opened it on his phone with no additional work, it really felt like an app and something that he could hand to the rest of his team and know that they’ll be able to directly use it.

Between the mobile experience and what we discussed with Packs, I feel pretty good about making this crazy statement that we’re delivering on this promise that anyone can make a doc as powerful as an app. The mobile experience makes docs really feel like apps. And what we’ve done with Packs makes docs really feel like apps. Coda 1.0 is out now. I’m super excited that anyone can sign up directly, use the product without waiting in line, which is awesome by itself. But more importantly, I’m really excited everyone can start making docs as powerful as apps.

Matt: That’s awesome. I love the approach you guys took to getting to this point, and I’ve had the privilege to see and play with some of the things that you’ve just released. I can’t recommend your product enough. All our listeners out there should go check it out and have a play.

Shishir: Yeah, we’re at coda.io.

Matt: Awesome. Shishir, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you on the show.

Shishir: Thank you, Matt.

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