Liz Gannes

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With $15M From Benchmark, Former Facebook CTO Bret Taylor’s Quip Aims to Take Productivity Mobile

Former Facebook CTO Bret Taylor is now on a mission to “build the productivity suite for the mobile era.”

His first app launched tonight: Quip for iOS (plus a preview version for Android), is a collaborative document editor.

“The transition from PC to phones and tablets is so significant that all the software is going to change dramatically,” Taylor posited in a phone interview.

“There’s been so much effort around social and messaging (on mobile). I don’t mean this in a negative way, but those are time-wasting applications.”

Previous attempts to improve productivity software have wilted in Microsoft’s shadow — and to a somewhat lesser extent are now dwarfed by Google Docs — but Taylor thinks mobile might be the opening.

“There could be an opportunity for a company of our size to compete in this space for the first time in 30 years,” he said.

Taylor, who helped start Google Maps and saw his FriendFeed social aggregation app acquired by Facebook, left Facebook last summer. He started Quip with his former Google co-worker Kevin Gibbs, who was instrumental in creating Google App Engine and Google Suggest.

The company has raised $15 million from Benchmark Capital, led by Peter Fenton, along with Greylock Capital, Marc Benioff, Yuri Milner and Ron Conway. It has 12 employees and is based in San Francisco.

Quip’s features include online and offline editing, automatic formatting to the size of the screen, and push notifications that alert someone who created a document and shared it when the recipient first opens it, so they can jump in and walk them through right then. “That previously would have been a high-latency email thread, followed by a meeting,” Taylor said. (The implication: Uggh.)

Bret Taylor

Bret Taylor

Quip is built to be “free-form,” Taylor said. It doesn’t have all the features a traditional word processor would. It does have some novel additions, like a checklist that could be used for a shared shopping list or for product management. And when people make changes to a document, they’re noted as part of a chat conversation, with everyone involved.

“It’s almost like a shared whiteboard, and not just a piece of paper anymore,” Taylor said.

But that begs the question, how compatible are Quip documents with existing tools, like Microsoft Word and Google Docs? And the answer is, not very. Quip users can export to PDF, and “import” from other documents by copying and pasting with the formatting preserved. That’s bound to be a major obstacle to convincing people to give Quip a try.

“Compatibility is becoming as much of a legacy as an asset,” Taylor argued. (Translation: Legacy equals bad.) “In our testing, a lot of folks talked about how they now export everything into PDFs to send it out, because people can’t read Word documents on their phones.

“Previously, when everyone worked on PCs, that compatibility was the most important thing that the software had,” he said. “Now, say you’re a lawyer and you’re on vacation, and your associate sends you a contract, and you can’t read it because you’re on your phone — that’s more of a problem.”

So, how is the Quip experience different from FriendFeed and Taylor’s other projects at Google and Facebook?

“Our ambition is to create a very lasting company,” he said. “There’s a lot of formidable competition, but that also reflects the fact that the market is really big. If we have the good fortune to gain some traction, this may turn into a very important company.”

Plus, Quip is charging from the beginning, starting at $12 per month per user for groups of more than five. “We’re selling this product,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to not put a bunch of crap inside the product to make money off it. It seems like a really pure and simple business model.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald