Soft Divisions

Right now, teams are the atomic unit of the SaaS / business applications market. But what comes next?

I saw this tweet from Pasquale D’Silva over the weekend, and it stuck with me. His tweet referenced new business messaging product Quill. To me, Quill is part of a cohort of business apps that also includes the likes of Linear and Pitch. These tools riff off old primitives (messenger, project management, and presentation software), but with more elegance and attention to the last-mile of the product. Their “buttery” form factor sets them apart, but I’ve always wondered if other mechanics come to play. What else could be driving a rising tide?

From Battery Ventures: Software 2019

Business software tends to come in waves, riding new compute platforms or big ideas about the way we work. If you were to look at the recent wave of successes (Slack, GitHub, Figma), they set themselves apart as canvases for collaboration when their predecessors did not. These tools did not live up to their full potential when they served the individual, but rather, the team. Slack is messaging for teams. GitHub is version control for teams. Figma is design for teams.

I found the interesting part of Pasquale’s sentiment to be hard divisions around teams. What happens when we redefine what a team is? Or, the idea of teams as we know them slips away? There are signs today of what the enterprise of the future might look like. On-demand companies like Instacart and DoorDash have fleets of 1099 contractors, not W-2 employees, delivering their service. Open source software companies maintain an ecosystem of contributors who contribute code at times, but don’t work for the parent organization. Groups working together take on a fluid nature, coming and going, with the structure of teams changing in essence. The lines between employees and non-employees blur, and you’re left with this web of associated agents of the company. This idea — a networked organization — isn’t novel. Management theorists like Peter Drucker and Charles Handy wrote on it decades ago. Ideas take time to play out in reality.

As mentioned with Quill, there are signs this is starting to play out. The messenger totes “Instant Guests and Permissions” as a feature on its site. Linear recently launched “Cross-Team Projects.” If Workday is HCM (human capital management) for employees, Utmost provides this for the extended workforce. Certn delivers risk management for employees and contractors alike.

Like most platform waves or market openings, the thesis takes years to prove out in maturity. Slack and Figma were founded in the earlier part of last decade, and I’d argue the memes around collaboration and productivity have only taken hold in the past two years. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see what business software people build that take new assumptions about organizational structure to heart.