Spoiler: It’s time. So how do we maximize productivity in a knowledge-based economy?
Two weeks into Tim Campos’ job as the CIO at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s executive assistant asked him to join the CEO for an important meeting at 8 a.m. the next morning. But when he arrived, his boss was nowhere to be found. In reality, a group of the top brass’s EAs wanted to talk about how their calendar app was destroying their productivity and credibility in the form of double-bookings and missed meetings. If he didn’t fix it, he’d be fired.
Fix it he did. The experience became the inspiration for his next act after Facebook: an intelligent calendar called Woven that can cut scheduling time in half. Tim has spent his entire professional career focusing on productivity, from Sybase to TLA-Tencor to Facebook where, over his six-year tenure (2010 – 2016), the amount of revenue per employee doubled to $1.8 million apiece.
Tim joined me for a chat that ranged from how to balance human-computer interaction to how to define productivity in a knowledge-based economy. Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:
- Balancing human-computer interaction has been the difference between technologies that break out and are very successful and technologies that are considered to be ahead of their time or just not the right product-market fit.
- Tim noticed a problem with calendars, which is that they usually function like email. Information is more powerful when you connect it, which is why Woven enriches your calendar with as much information as possible so people can spend time on the things that matter most.
- The next generation of workforce will want and expect the next generation of technology. Outdated and misapplied technologies are ill-suited to the tasks at hand, which creates trouble for the humans using it.
- When a company is moving from the startup to the scale-up phase, there is the potential for productivity practices to be lost along the wayside. By retiring technologies proactively, you can remain focused on consistently moving the needle.
- While Tim has been able to utilize some management lessons from his time at behemoths like Facebook, having fewer resources at his startup has forced him to do one major thing: become ruthless about prioritization.
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.
Dee Reddy: Tim, we’re delighted to have you as a guest here on Inside Intercom. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Tim Campos: Well, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here. I am the CEO of a company called Woven, which is an intelligent calendar for busy professionals, and I have spent my entire career focused on the productivity of others. Most recently, before starting Woven, I was CIO of a company called Facebook. My job there was the productivity of the workforce.
“Take the work out of work, that’s my motto in life”
Prior to that, I was the CIO of another large Fortune 500 company called KLA-Tencor, and the rest of my life has been in software engineering: building tools to help people get things done without having to do all the work. Take the work out of work, that’s my motto in life.
Balancing human-computer interaction
Dee: And you’ve worked in the industry for more than 22 years, so you have an incredible insight into the expansion of cloud networks, enterprise and data center technologies. What are the enduring themes that you’ve noticed?
Tim: The enduring theme that is most interesting that we don’t really talk about is the importance of human technology interaction. Technology, for a long time, has been incredibly capable. You can do amazing things. Technology helped us put a man on the moon, but the interface between the human and technology can have huge impact on whether or not we can take advantage of that, particularly at scale. You take, for example, the iPhone. The iPhone was an amazing step forward, not because it brought forth a faster CPU or a better digital network. No, the amazing innovation of the iPhone was simply to bring a new generation of user interface to market with the touchscreen – and to really enable a different interaction that people have with the computing devices. The other the iPhone did is that it allowed us to bring a lot of power with us from the desktop to wherever we are. So it’s a poignant example of the importance of human computer interaction.
In any of the roles I have had – going back to my first job at Sybase in the 1990s – this area of focus has been the difference between technologies that break out and are very successful and technologies that are considered to be ahead of their time or just not the right product-market fit. It’s whether or not you can get the right human-computer interaction. And in today’s day and age, with artificial intelligence and natural language processing and image processing, our technology can do show much more now than it ever has been able to before. This issue of how it relates to how human beings want to interact with things is still just as important as it’s ever been, and where it’s worked well with things like Alexa, Amazon Echo, you get a breakout product. In other cases, with bots and virtual assistants, when we haven’t really gotten that human-computer interface down just right, then those products don’t tend to work very well.
“AI is fancy statistics. It is no better than the data that you feed into it, and it has no soul”
Dee: That’s interesting to me, because I know you’ve spoken quite a bit before about the fact that AI isn’t going to replace, say, the white-collar workforce. Has there been a sea change in how people feel about the rise of AI and that type of technology? Is there a higher comfort level with it because we use products like Alexa and the iPhone in our everyday lives now?
Tim: There’s always a fear of change. Whenever a new technology comes to bear – particularly when you haven’t had a chance to experience it directly yourself – it’s very easy for people to speculate about the nefarious aspects of technology. But the other issue you run into is that the futurists – the people who are very optimistic about technology – sort of get ahead of themselves on what the technology’s going to do. Even people like Elon Musk have gone on record to say that we’re close to the singularity, and if we don’t put regulation in place to control the coming singularity, the machines are going to take over the universe and kill us all, and it’s the greatest threat to the human species. I don’t believe any of that, in large part because I have to develop software for this stuff.
I wish it were that good. It would dramatically reduce the amount of software engineering activity we need to do. But the reality is that all AI is fancy statistics. It is no better than the data that you feed into it, and it has no soul. It has no ability to create something out of nothing, or at least that makes any sense, and so there really isn’t that much intelligence with AI.
“There hasn’t actually been a dramatic increase or improvement in the quality of the algorithms over the last 20 years”
Dee: Do you think, then, that a lot of companies that claim to have AI tools or apps – really all they have is data?
Tim: I do think that that’s a big thing. Take something like Facebook: Facebook has a ton of data from which to train algorithms to do things to our benefit, like optimize from a choice of thousands of different pieces of content to put in front of us the ones we’re going to be most interested in, and that’s not hard when you have a lot of data from which to train that algorithm. But when you don’t have a lot of data, that puts a lot more emphasis on the heuristics or on the intelligence of the algorithms. Anybody who’s familiar with machine learning and artificial intelligence will tell you that there hasn’t actually been a dramatic increase or improvement in the quality of the algorithms over the last 20 years. All there has been is a dramatic drop in the cost of computing power and in the cost of storage of data, which allows us to feed those algorithms.
So when you get into some of the best uses of AI, they are very much fueled by a data source. A company like Tesla is able to collect information about road conditions from hundreds of thousands of cars that are able to feed that data into the car, have that pre-processed and then sent back over the cellular networks. That gives Tesla the ability to fine-tune their algorithms for self-driving. If you’re trying to build that technology without that data, the complexity of that goes up dramatically, so yes, I do think that data is a key aspect of this.
Dee: That’s a really interesting insight, and you mentioned Facebook there at the start of it. Can we jump back a bit and ask you a little bit more about your role at Facebook?
Tim: I was hired in 2010, when Facebook was what I like to call a “teenage company”. There were about 1,400 people, just under a billion dollars in revenue, and I was hired as the CIO of the company with the mission of driving the productivity of the workforce. That was actually a pretty tall order at the time. Facebook was a very productive company. It had about $900,000 in revenue per employee at the time, which was well over twice what the Silicon Valley average is, and Silicon Valley companies tend to be more productive than the economy overall. But over the almost seven years I was at Facebook, we were able to double the productivity of the workforce in large part by rethinking a lot of enterprise software. We built a bunch of next-generation technology for everything, from how we recruited employees into the company to how we managed the relationship with customers to how we let people in the front door. The combination of those technologies were a big part of what fueled the productivity growth of the company while I was there.
Calendars are broken
Dee: And how did you end up worrying about people’s calendar app?
Tim: In some respects, it started with how I was hired. My second week into Facebook, I got a call from Mark Zuckerberg’s EA, and she said: “We have a really important thing to talk with you about. Can you please show up at Mark’s desk first thing tomorrow morning at 8 a.m.?”
Dee: So you’re probably going to turn up for that.
“I started to see the tremendous opportunity to think differently about how the calendar works”
Tim: Yeah, I was really excited about this. I was two weeks into the company, and Zuck’s getting strategic about IT already. But when I showed up, he wasn’t there. Dirty little secret: Mark Zuckerberg generally doesn’t show up until 10 o’clock in the morning.
Dee: Good for him.
Tim: His executive assistants and Sheryl’s executive assistants cornered me. They threw me in a conference room and then proceeded to read me the riot act about how the calendar was just destroying their productivity and their credibility. They were having problems with meetings and conference rooms being double-booked, meetings falling off the calendar, and it was creating no end of embarrassment for not only them but for some of the executives at Facebook. I had a week to fix this, and if I didn’t, I was fired, so I took this quite seriously. It took a lot longer than a week to fix it, but what it did is it got me into the details of how calendars are built. While I learned the source of the problems that Facebook was running into, I also started to see the tremendous opportunity to think differently about how the calendar works. Most people don’t realize this, but the calendar is built on top of email, so it behaves like email, and that sounds normal and okay. Should we expect anything different, when you get into the details of things? Absolutely, we should, and in fact it doesn’t make any sense for it to behave like email.
“There’s no difference between the 24 hours I have and the 24 hours Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates has”
When I write an email, and I send it to somebody, it’s gone. I can’t change it. If I had a typo or if I needed to include somebody else in that email thread, I have to send yet another email. The same thing is true with calendar events distributed over email. They’re specially formatted emails. They can’t change, and so as a result of this, calendars can’t be connected to things, so they don’t know how we’re spending our time. They don’t know about the information that is going to be discussed in an event. They’re not connected to the information systems that are related to an event, and this really is a very old-school way of thinking about information. In today’s day and age, information is more powerful when you mash it up with other things – when you connect it.
And so that’s really all we’ve done with Woven. We’ve made it possible for calendar data to be enriched with other information so people can spend time on the things that matter most to them. We use this to do simple things like help people schedule meetings, but as time goes on, we’re building a lot more power into the calendar, because if we know the difference between an interview and a board meeting, we can help make sure those meetings are more effectively prepared for and followed up on. Because time is the most valuable asset we have, we think this is a really meaningful thing to do, particularly for knowledge workers.
Tim: It’s to help people spend time on what matters most. It’s a simple concept but hard to do. There are only 24 hours in a day, and there’s no difference between the 24 hours I have and the 24 hours Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates has. The difference between us is how we choose to spend our time, so a very powerful way for people to affect their lives is to get control of their time.
Defining productivity in a knowledge-based economy
Dee: It seems there is a bit of a renaissance in these type of productivity tools at the moment. What’s your take on that? How can it really, really help businesses outside of just, say, managing a calendar?
Tim: If we just look at productivity in general, the economy of the United States and most developed countries is moving from a manufacturing- and even a service-based economy toward a knowledge-based economy. That means the value of corporations is very much determined by the thoughts and ideas and the creativity of their workforces. Your company is like this, certainly Woven is like this, companies like Amazon are like this, and the companies of the future need to be thinking much more strategically about the productivity of their workforce. Now what is productivity? It’s simply how much one can get done based on the amount of effort they put into something. If we can maximize the amount of time people spend on things that are of value (the maker time, the creative time) and we can minimize the things that take value away from us (the administrative time, the burdensome activities), we can optimize productivity.
“As the technology evolves, the workforce of the future is expecting tools that are much more powerful than the rest of us have grown up with”
Whether we’re talking about how to help people get through email more effectively with a product like Superhuman or how to help people manage notes and information about how they’re spending their time, like Notion does, or if we’re just talking about how their time is connected with other things, which is what Woven is about – these are really powerful concepts. As the technology evolves, the workforce of the future is expecting tools that are much more powerful than the rest of us have grown up with. In fact, the productivity suites that we know and love – like Microsoft Office and Google Suite – really are no different today than they were 20 years ago. If I open up Microsoft Office, what do I have? I have an email client. I have a calendar client. They behave exactly as they did 20 years ago. Maybe there was a couple of little nifty UI tricks here and there, but fundamentally the product isn’t much different, and that’s what companies like Woven and Superhuman and others are really taking advantage of. Microsoft and Google are just not the right organizations to think about the future of work.
Dee: That’s interesting, because a lot of those would have based their suite of products on the traditional office that came before the type of technology we use today. How do you feel about emerging and growing technologies that are being applied in this arena, like AI and mobile work and collaboration?
“I think the somewhat ridiculous valuation that companies like Zoom, Slack, Airtable, Superhuman and Notion have been getting are justified”
Tim: There’s an amazing technical renaissance with technologies like Slack and Zoom. What they provide is a framework for more intelligent systems to plug in. One of the things that makes Slack a really powerful tool is the ecosystem around it. A Slack bot can do everything from help you with customer service to connect with your customers. Soon, with a Woven Slack interface, you’ll be able schedule and manage your time. And what’s amazing about Slack is it provides a better framework for one to plug in an AI bot than email. To associate an email bot with our systems would really only further burden the knowledge worker with more emails to manage. Emails are written to be read. The goal for any email application is to get you through every single email you have received.
Increasing the volume of communication is only going to create work for the knowledge worker, and that’s why those of us who use email hate it. It’s a lot of work, and it only seems to be getting worse every year. Slack is a different beast. If I miss something in a Slack message, it’s kind of not a big deal. It’ll come back to me later, and that tool does a much better job of connecting me to the things I need to see and react and deal with right now, just by nature of the way that it works. It is a much better technology and framework for communication and collaboration and also for taking advantage of AI. When we look at other aspects of the productivity suite – tasks and how people keep track of their to-do list and how that is integrated with other things – there’s a lot of opportunity here for further intelligence.
“It has always been the case that when technology is misapplied it creates a problem for the human”
So I’m really bullish on this space. I think the somewhat ridiculous valuation that companies like Zoom, Slack, Airtable, Superhuman and Notion have been getting are justified, because these technologies are going to have a huge impact on the workforce in the future. As my kids get to the workplace – I have teenagers now – they are going to demand these technologies. They will not find acceptable the collaboration suite of the past. They don’t understand files and documents and memoranda and cellophane slides. These things don’t make any sense to them. They want the next generation technologies. They want messaging. They want ephemeral communication systems. They want things they can use on their phone quite easily. And all of these technologies are really optimized and designed for that
Dee: Is there a risk, though, that as we keep adding to the productivity suite as you call it, we’re going to end up at a tipping point where we start to add to people’s workloads rather than facilitating them? Because if there are all these different apps that you need to use, does it become a case of, “It was easier back in a day when I just had email, and I just had my calendar”?
Tim: There are a lot of interesting things to discuss on this, but to summarize, it has always been the case that the technology misapplied creates a problem for the human. This goes back to my initial point that human-computer interaction is essential here. For example, email has just become way overused for its purpose, and therefore it has overwhelmed the human, and there needs to be alternative system to facilitate communication and collaboration, which we are now starting to see with text messaging and Slack and Microsoft Teams and others. The same is true for your question: Yes, of course, at some point it’s easy to overload an individual or a workforce with too much technology, and in the case of the individual, we tend to self-correct.
“The role of the CIO or the CTO for a corporation really needs to ensure that the toolset the workforce has is optimal for them”
If, in my personal life, I just have too many things heading my way with Facebook Messenger and TikTok and LinkedIn and all this other stuff, I’ll turn off the things that don’t matter to me anymore. Sorry, Facebook, but I just don’t use it as much. It’s not a valuable a part of my day. At the enterprise level within companies, this is why you’re always going to need technology leadership. The role of the CIO or the CTO for a corporation really needs to ensure that the toolset the workforce has is optimal for them, because groups like a finance department or a recruiting department can’t independently choose the tools. The finance department has to choose a financial system, and the recruiting department needs to choose an applicant tracking system. A technology leader really needs to be involved to help make sure that, as that decision is made, it’s made holistically.
You look at the overall impact to the workforce and don’t create the problem you’re talking about. This issue isn’t new, and you can have a perfectly productive workforce in today’s day and age with a plethora of technologies just by having someone filter through the important ones. And you can have a completely ineffective workforce 10 years ago just with Microsoft Office, because the way the company had those technologies set up was suboptimal for the team. So it’s not really a function of the availability of technology, it’s just how they’re chosen to be applied.
Embrace creative destruction
Dee: If a company is moving from the startup to the scale-up phase, there is the potential for productivity practices to be lost along the wayside. Or maybe you adopt the wrong ones for that ecosystem we’ve talked about. Based on your career and your time at Facebook, what is your advice to companies in that particular position?
Tim: This is where embracing creative destruction can be really, really powerful. What I mean by that is being willing to give up on how things have been done up to this point in order to make space for how things should be done moving forward. Let’s go back to the technology we’ve been talking about so far: Slack. For a small company, the way Slack is going to be set up will be different than the way Slack should be set up for a large organization. It’s okay – in fact, it’s good – if a company periodically takes a step back and says: “You know what? It’s time for us to throw away how this thing is set up and start fresh with a new implementation in order to better optimize it for our current scale.” A company that is less than a hundred people in size doesn’t have a lot of middle management. They don’t have a lot of need to coordinate.
“When you get into the business of retiring technologies proactively, it really helps to keep the company focused on its productivity today”
But a company that is 10,000 people in size is dominated by those issues, so your communication technology really needs to be optimized for that. Creative destruction makes this possible, and one of the things that is sometimes hard for organizations is they get attached to their setup, to their tools, and they think that the way that things were in the past is how they should be moving forward, because that’s all they’ve experienced. But when you get into the business of retiring technologies proactively, it really helps to keep the company focused on its productivity today.
We were very good at this at Facebook. We implemented lot of technologies that were hugely successful that we ended up throwing away just three years later, and that’s because there was a better solution for the company as it got larger. Whether that was going from Box to Dropbox or going from email distribution lists to Facebook Workplace, we were constantly evolving the technology stack the company had to use, and we were quite comfortable retiring technologies. Without that emphasis, we would not have been able to maintain the productivity growth we had during my tenure.
“At Facebook, I could think big in terms of what I was doing. At Woven, I can think big in the long term, but in the short term, I have to be much more conscious about how much we can digest as an organization”
Dee: What has it been like to take your management experience from a tech giant like Facebook and then flip it on its head and apply it to your own company?
Tim: It’s a night-and-day difference. Some things are actually very easily applied. In today’s day and age, if you’re building technology on a cloud-computing platform like Amazon or Google Cloud, you have this whole suite of infrastructure technologies from which to build your app. For the engineers at my company, building Woven is really not much different than what it’s like to build inside of Facebook. We just use publicly available technologies as opposed to an internal private cloud. From a leadership perspective, you have to scale your leadership style. At Facebook, I had a lot of resources around me. I had a large staff and a large organization, so I could think big in terms of what I was doing. At Woven, I can think big in the long term, but in the short term, I have to be much more conscious about how much we can digest as an organization, and that’s been a good learning experience for me. Going from big to small is becoming even more ruthless about prioritization, because we just don’t have the same set of resources that we did at Facebook, and we have to be very judicious about how we spend our time.
Dee: Before we wrap up, who’s the business or organizational leader that you most aspire to and why?
Tim: It’s hard to nail it down to just one person, because my leadership style really comes from a fusion of different leaders that I’ve been exposed to. One of the things that I really enjoyed about Mark Zuckerberg is that I learned from him how important it is to surround yourself with people who complement you. He is not the most intelligent business person in the universe. He’s a great product guy, a good engineer. So that’s why he recruited Sheryl Sandberg. He got one of the most intelligent business people that he could find, and he did a phenomenal job. That’s a great practice for leaders of companies at all scales.
“They measure the success of their vision based on whether they believe in it themselves and whether they can bring it to reality”
I have a friend who runs a very small IT services company called EndSight in Berkeley, and what I’ve learned from him is the importance of leading through culture. Even more so than at Facebook, he’s so focused on the way people feel about their jobs and the service they’re providing to customers. It has led to just phenomenal performance of his business over the last 10 years. He’s in a business that’s very difficult to succeed in and to grow in, and he’s been doing incredibly well in large part because of this emphasis on the culture of the organization. So my leadership style is very much a fusion of people that I am inspired by when it comes to product.
It’s hard not to be inspired by leaders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk and how they have been fearless in defining what the future is going to look like, and they don’t measure the success of their vision by whether people believe them or not. They measure the success of their vision based on whether they believe themselves, whether they can bring to reality what it is that they’re trying to do. By driving their organizations hard, they have accomplished things that people have thought were impossible. I really love the fusion of all that, and unfortunately it doesn’t give me one person to say is my inspiration, but it’s really a collection of people.
Dee: That’s a really nice mix, and I love that you have a personal friend in there who leads by culture among these tech giants. Before we let you go, where can people keep up with your work?
Tim: Oh, that’s very easy. You can find us at woven.com, and we have a lot of information about our product, about our journey, about some of the capabilities we have there. There’s also a blog where I provide updates on everything from what’s going on with the company to just general musings on productivity and technology. You can also follow me on Twitter @TCampos.
Dee: Brilliant. Listen, Tim, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting to you today. Some amazing insights there. Thank you for joining us.
Tim: Thank you for having me.
Original artwork created by Jason Yim.