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Abacus, Slack, Greenhouse, and Trello On the Future of Enterprise Tech

There was a time when employees shuffled to work in regimented offices and labored for paper-trailing bureaucracies. Not anymore. Today, employees have gotten used to having big computing power in their pockets. Information is on-demand and connectivity is a tap away. Enterprises of all sizes are realizing that to this new generation of employee, clunky legacy systems are increasingly intolerable.

Technology has transformed the way people live. Now, enterprises are using it to change the way they work.

A growing class of consumer-friendly enterprise software is pointing the way forward. Slack, for example, is helping teams communicate. Greenhouse is improving the way they hire. Trello is making project management easy and reliable. Our own product, Abacus, is reinventing the way businesses track expenses.

On August 2nd, executives from these four companies came together to discuss how enterprise software is changing the way work gets done. Moderated by Forbes’ Alex Konrad, the discussion between Abacus CEO Omar Qari, Trello CEO Michael Pryor, Greenhouse CEO Daniel Chait, and Slack Fund Manager Jason Spinell yielded these insights about what makes enterprise tech transformative:

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One product’s ideal engagement level is another product’s nightmare.

There are two types of software in the world: the kind that wants users active all day, and the kind that wants them in and out ASAP. Slack and Abacus are examples of each. “Candidly, we want people to be using Slack all the time,” said Jason Spinell. By contrast, Abacus is a tool that helps teams achieve a goal faster, easier. “In our All Hands presentations, the big stat we put on the board is how much in-app time we drove down with that new feature we launched,” said Omar Qari. Every product wants to engage users, but the nature of that engagement can vary greatly.

Great products solve a single pain point and a macro challenge at the same time.

Daniel Chait described Greenhouse from two opposite yet simultaneous perspectives. On one hand, it solves what many businesses say is their most sweeping challenge — hiring good people. At the same time, the team’s guiding light while developing Greenhouse was to target a very specific use case: that moment when you walk into an interview with a candidate you’ve never met, try to get a feel for them in a few minutes of conversation, and have to cast a verdict on their future. Solving the day-to-day problem with clarity and precision, while delivering on a large-scale vision, is how enterprise tools get adopted and scale. “You have to have this zone where your product is useful today, but also has a kind of gravity towards the long game.”

Qari, Pryor, Chait, Spinell, Konrad

Qari, Pryor, Chait, Spinell, Konrad

Vertical tools offer structure. Horizontal tools empower it.

Anyone can understand Trello the first time they see it. That’s by design, according to Michael Pryor. He sees a low (or nonexistent) learning curve as one of the characteristics of “horizontal” products like his. “Our mission is for you to get it right away. I think that’s core to our product. With vertical solutions like Greenhouse or Abacus, the app’s value has a lot to do with the structure it provides. With Trello, it’s more about adapting to the way they’re already working.” Pryor said the tradeoff is that while vertical apps need to put more thought into onboarding and getting buy-in, once they have it, they can deliver a lot of useful data about how to optimize work. Speaking of which…

It is existentially important to know how to use — and protect — customer data.

Moderator Alex Konrad posed a question about the decision that every product team faces: how to incorporate user data into the app. “I think a lot of startups get the idea that not only are we helping our customers with a problem, but we’re also collecting all this data we can hack together in a valuable way.” On this point, the panel was united: the most important thing about customer data is keeping it safe. Beyond that, it’s important to use data for intelligent product functionality and not gimmicky pitch deck fodder. “There is a use case where you use the data a company generates to figure out how to run the it more pleasantly, productively, and seamlessly,” said Spinell. Qari agreed: “The potential to be able to help a company decide which lever to pull is significantly more valuable than tacking on a data play.”

Having cool technology is important, but policy is what shapes culture.

Building a great enterprise tool only takes care of half of the end-user experience. A lot depends on how clients implement it. “The place where companies can really influence their cultures, but which a lot are not thinking about, is in their policies. How much control the admins retain, how much trust they demonstrate,” said Qari. “The policies you establish very much set the tone in your organization.” No one product can be the seat of company culture, especially out of the box. Enterprises still need to put effort into crafting the employee experiences they want.

In five years, employees will work smarter and for a purpose.

Of all the ways that technology will impact the workplace, the biggest change might be the ethos of mission-driven work that Silicon Valley is exporting to the rest of the economy. Michael Pryor noted that in five years, employment will be less a matter of collecting a paycheck and more about contributing to a galvanizing corporate mission.

The technology that will run that next generation of businesses will help employees work smarter and more efficiently. Automation will take care of rote work and let people focus on the important stuff — strategizing, storytelling, high-level analysis. In other words, things people are best at doing. As technology advances, there’s a good chance it’ll make work look more human.

 

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