On competition and disruption

Wim just wrote about what our product is going to be. In this post I’m going describe how our task/planning IDE relates to other products in the space.

State of the market

To-do/planning apps can be roughly categorized like this:

1) Pen & paper. Making plans on paper is pretty fantastic, provided you’re meeting in person. After the meeting you have to manually transfer your paper plans to a calendar. That’s a bummer. And then every person has to keep a separate todo list for their daily responsibilities. And then you need regular meetings to coordinate the info from the notepads on each person’s desk. Pen and paper might work if you’re by yourself, but it doesn’t cut it when you work in a team.

2) Glorified shopping-list apps. Apple’s Reminders app fits in this category. Apps like these are only suited for casual use. They don’t allow for any higher level planning. Collaborating with multiple people doesn’t really work. Creative work can be chaotic. You want to be able to type in free form, but you can’t. And modifying or reorganizing tasks is tedious.

3) Kanban boards like Trello. It’s a pretty decent solution for planning in a team. It’s like moving post-its on a digital whiteboard. Trello is a good product but Kanban boards address maybe 20% of the problem.

4) Single user (desktop) apps like Things (for casual use) and Org-Mode (for power-users). No matter how great these apps are, in 2022 people want software that’s suitable for remote teams.

5) Enterprise team scheduling apps like Asana. Products like these have decided to appeal to large businesses by shoehorning in as much features as possible. If you add everything and the kitchen sink a product will look great in a comparison table or during a PowerPoint presentation. But who wants to use bloated and slow products like that? Not us.

In 2020 people download 1.7 billion task/productivity/do-apps in the USA. It’s a huge and growing market and people are clearly clamoring for better software. This is matched by our personal experience. We’ve tried a bunch of todo and planning apps over the years and none of them really work the way that feels natural to us.

We think a major product category in this space is missing: the IDE. A task/planning IDE that is for teams, primarily text based, friendly to power-users, and that can be used for high level planning down to disorganized note-taking. None of the popular products try to solve this problem.

Because we’re going to be the first product (to our knowledge) in this segment it remains to be seen if there is a sizable market for it. For the time being we’re delusionallycautiously optimistic.

Market disruptors

IRC never got into the mainstream. Not user-friendly enough. Difficult to share files. A few products like HipChat and Campfire tried to bring IRC-like chat to the mainstream, but ultimately failed. The user experience as a whole wasn’t very compelling. Then Slack set the world on fire.

The story of Spotify is similar. Many people predicted that online music streaming was going to be huge and many startups tried to make the killer app. Spotify was the only one where you could click play on any song and immediately hear music and enjoyed explosive growth as a consequence[1].

GMail was the first email client with search that worked, spam filters that worked, and you could keep a staggering (at the time) 1 gigabyte worth of emails in your account. GMail has stagnated for a decade now but back in the day it was transformative.

Slack, Spotify and GMail all completely transformed their markets by making a product where the –core functionality– was leagues ahead of everything else out there. When you nail the core experience your app can be deficient in other areas. Your users will understand and forgive, provided the core experience makes up for it.

When a segment of the software market feels stagnant it’s because the apps have converged on a local maximum. The different players try to keep ahead of the others by piling on features, but this backfires. By copying each other the products end up in the same spot.

We believe that the task/planning apps out there are stuck in local maxima, and are ready to be disrupted. That’s not to say we’re going to be the ones to do it. We can’t see the future, and our hunches are wrong more often than not. Nonetheless, our concept is solid. Now we have to create some prototypes to discover what feels right and what doesn’t.

[1] The real story is more complicated. Spotify also has to get all the critical licencing deals done and, like many startups, almost died multiple times. However, Spotify’s strong initial growth can be attributed to technical excellence of the product.

You can follow us on Twitter @jdvhouten and @wcools and look for #80daystartup

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