At the end of last year, Vista Equity Partners took a majority investment in Wrike, the fast growing collaborative work management platform. The investment will help to fund and accelerate Wrike’s global expansion. James Golding spoke to founder and CEO Andrew Filev about why the company he started in 2006 has been one of America’s 500 fastest growing companies for the last four years and how it addresses the challenges faced by today’s knowledge workers
James Goulding (JG): Please tell us a little about Wrike and why demand for the platform is growing so fast.
Andrew Filev (AF): Wrike is the leader in collaborative work management. It’s a new but very fast growing category. Its roots are in project management, but work management is more than just project management. For individuals it could extend down to task management; and for companies it could extend up to programmes, operations and workflows. Any digital work you can imagine, we try to capture and organise and make more sense of for companies.
Another side of the same coin is collaboration. Before starting Wrike, I was managing a services organisation and one thing I noticed is that digital work cycles are usually very fast, and in a fast environment you tend to plan work in one tool, be it a spreadsheet or a Microsoft project file, and then work on that project somewhere else, so things quickly get disconnected and plans get out of shape.
I realised the only way to address this was to bring collaboration into the tool. Individual workers today rely primarily on email and instant messaging and a lot of them are becoming inundated with messages so that at the end of their day or week or quarter they have a hard time reporting on what they have achieved and why they are moving slower on strategic initiatives. It is to everybody’s benefit – individual workers, managers, directors, executives – to bring more transparency to the digital work cycle so that the company can focus on the most important priorities.
Equally importantly, people need to focus on the same priorities. If we are working together and I am working on one thing and you are working on another, no matter how hard we work on our individual things, we will never get the bigger project done. Digital processes are increasingly collaborative and more and more often cross functional boundaries. Unless there is better visibility into a project across teams, things will get stuck and pile up in bottlenecks.
The category is growing very fast. Tools like ours and freemium tools are already deployed in about a quarter of a million organisations. What we see now is that companies are getting more serious about those deployments. Some of these are now on a much larger scale, because of cross-team collaboration. It is not about deploying 10 different silos, it’s about scaling that to larger organisations; one of the recent trends we have seen is uptake in the mid-market and enterprise, which is where we are leading the charge right now.
JG: Have customers quantified the benefit of using Wrike in any way?
AF: The first thing people look at is productivity; they try to think about the hours saved; how much time is saved searching for information; all the benefits of having information organised in context rather than having thousands of individual instant messages and emails.
We like to go one step further for our customers because, ultimately, businesses and departments in those businesses need to connect digital collaboration platforms to business outcomes. It varies team by team; for a marketing department the outcome might be the launch of an integrated marketing campaign to generate a set of leads or the rolling out of a global branding initiative across
a number of countries. For a services team, it could be customer satisfaction levels for the projects their teams are involved in. For IT departments, it could be around budgets or the user adoption of tools. Ultimately, it is very important to connect the work that teams are doing with business outcomes.
Looking at the different case studies, we typically find that if a company can gain more visibility and operationalise a process, it leads to 20% improvements in KPIs, through velocity, through a reduction in waste, through reductions in the time it takes to approve or redo things. We typically see a 20% boost in those metrics.
JG: How do customers stop Wrike from being just another business tool that adds to the problem of information and app overload?
AF: In the last 5-10 years, there’s been an almost Cambrian explosion of different purposebuilt applications that are all very powerful in their small context. If you look at marketing, there are 5,000 different marketing tech applications. It is mind-blowing. Often, one company will deploy 20 different tools for different needs. It all makes sense until you run an integrated campaign and need to bring the tools and the people using those tools together and move the work thorough all those stages.
This year we launched an open integration platform that has connectors to 400 applications that help companies bring together their data, their workflows, their teams and their different tools as well.
Traditionally, tools that people use for work align across two dimensions. One axis is for broad adoption tools – tools like email and spreadsheets – that are simple and great at what they are supposed to be doing. But, because they have wide adoption, people try to bend them in ways they are not designed for. On the other scale, you have functional depth – tools that go very deep into specific functions, such as accounting systems, which are used by the accounting department but not by other people, even though financial processes touch everybody in the company. What we try to do – and have done successfully – is build something that is horizontal, a digital workspace that can be used by any department and any team, which, because of its configurability and integrations, can go very deep into functional specific needs.
The end deployment of Wrike for a marketing department’s integrated campaign would be very different to the end deployment of Wrike for an IT department, but because it’s still the same platform those two teams can work together easily and it is still businessdriven. This isn’t a two-year implementation; it’s something that users can configure, sometimes by themselves, sometimes with help from us. It’s not a programming platform; it’s a business-driven platform. Users set up the workflows, set up the templates and off they go.
JG: Does it take long to get people up and using Wrike as their main resource?
AF: Technically, it is super-easy. Very small customers can get up and running immediately – it’s a free trial on the web; they try it, they configure it, they are good to go. For larger teams, we work with our customers to set up the deployment; it’s usually 30-60 days. The focus of a deployment is not technical complexity, it’s more about change management; we sit down with our customers and figure out their mission-critical processes, we show them the best way to map them into Wrike and then we train the trainer – we explain to them how it works, we share best practices for user adoption and set them on their journey. What usually happens is that once the user gets through the first workflow the light bulb goes on and they say ‘Ah, I could use it there and there and for that’. You have to give them inspiration at the start and from there they tweak it for their own needs.
JG: How familiar are businesses with collaborative work management?
AF: Most of our customers are what we call greenfield. They come from emails and spreadsheets and occasionally some degree of project management. That is why it is helpful to sit down with them and help them to map processes. There are some pockets where there’s more sophistication, for example in IT departments. IT managers are quite familiar with project management and there is good maturity around operational processes and things like that. The most sophisticated customers are the easiest to convince because they already know the value of collaborative work management, they are just looking for the best tool. The greenfield customer is fed up with their old way of doing things but doesn’t yet have the operational playbook.
JG: In what areas does Wrike have a lead over its competitors?
AF: There are several key areas where we are a couple of years ahead of the market. We see a lot of growth in the enterprise and there are three areas where we lead in large deployments. First, we have the most configurable digital workspace. This really matters because every department’s needs are slightly different and every company’s needs are slightly different, so you really need to give them something that is simple to use but also able to accommodate different needs and configure different workflows.
The second element is security. It’s paramount in the enterprise and we have features that are above and beyond, like Wrike Log, which gives our enterprise customers the ability to control the encryption keys. They can pull them out any time they want and, if they do, neither us nor anyone else will get access to their encrypted data.
The third key area is scalability. A customer that starts with 20 users is perfectly capable of growing to 2,000 users and thousands of projects. We support that on the technical side and, what’s harder, also on the user interface side. When they start with a simple concept and then grow, they spend a lot of time thinking about how to combine autonomy, because every single user wants their own space, with centralisation in terms of security and in the ability to work together, to get their workload across teams, to get their messages across teams, to interconnect their plans and workflows. We spend a lot of time designing clever interfaces to ensure their system is capable of scaling with them as they grow.
JG: What will the Vista investment bring to Wrike?
AF: The reason we wanted to partner with Vista is because they are the largest enterprise software vendor and also the most successful investor. Venture companies invest in 10 businesses; nine collapse and one becomes a superstar. Vista invests in winners and wants every single one to grow several times. They achieve that by investing in their infrastructure and by collecting best practice and sharing it between organisations. We have just rolled out a big sales enablement project and it was very helpful to work with Vista Consulting Group and to leverage the knowledge they have assembled from working with other companies.