Interview with Jon Froda (Podio)
Podio is an online work platform for collaboration and project management.
I interviewed Jon Froda, Podio co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and fifty fifth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Jon!
Describe Podio in under 50 words.
Podio is the collaborative work platform that helps teams be more productive when working together. It drastically reduces email clutter and is far more effective at structuring projects and workflows than using documents. Oh and signing up is free at Podio.com.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
I’m an explorer thriving at the edges where the physical and digital worlds collide.
Give us examples of how Podio is used. What is the most bizarre use you have come across?
A company in Kuwait that sells and maintains swimming pools uses Podio to manage not just their sales department but also the service engineers that go out to hotels and homes to maintain the swimming pools they sell. It’s a great example of how a company that would never have found a tool for themselves without spending thousands of dollars now has a completely specialized solution in the form of a Podio app.
I also really like how it connects the people using Podio from their desks to the people that are almost only using Podio on their mobiles, it helps people work the way they want.
Tell us the Podio story. What made you and fellow co-founders decide to start working on Podio?
We started Podio more than four years ago in a basement, near to where we’re located now. We noticed that work was not in context or connected, and tools were either too lightweight or too heavyweight. The tools available weren’t flexible enough. We noticed the collaboration tools that people were using the most was email with document attachments. People were using Excel extensively for managing work and projects and email to distribute it.
We wanted to facilitate collaboration in a better way, without the clutter and email overload. We noticed a behaviour in the market and wanted to create a tool that could facilitate work in many forms and empower people to work the way they want to.
What sets Podio apart from the competition?
It’s the flexibility, and the all-in-one nature of Podio. A lot of new social software makes it easy to talk about work – few are tackling the processes, the workflow. For example if you are using Podio to track your sales funnel, you will customize Podio to fit exactly how your sales process should work by building your sales app. You will then interact around and track individual leads on their leads “page” inside Podio – all actions have context, the system of record, the social glue (commenting) and the revision history (how the lead evolved over time) is in one place, and available on your mobile as well.
What technologies have you used to build Podio? What was technically the most challenging part of developing Podio?
I would say the most challenging part was developing a product that is really flexible, that works like anyone wants to work. At the same time, we didn’t want to be a heavyweight IT system. It was a task to make a generic tool yet so flexible that people can get their work done. It’s much harder to build a simple platform that is so powerful yet flexible.
What’s the startup scene like in Copenhagen?
I think it’s much more happening now. There were not a lot of startups, or at least they weren’t identified as being startups when we started out. Now you have Everplaces, Tradeshift and tons of other successful startups based in Copenhagen.
Podio was acquired by Citrix Systems in April 2012. What were the motivations behind this decision?
We were approached by Citrix who had some interesting ideas. They had various really successful online products, leaders in video conferencing with GoToMeeting.com and file sharing with Sharefile.com, but didn’t have the facility to tie them together and add social collaboration to the mix. Bringing the two together enabled us to combine our experience with asynchronous social collaboration with the real-time collaboration experience of Citrix. We were able to do this without changing the product or the team dramatically, so in many ways it was an easy choice.
Copenhagen. San Francisco. How do you deal with the time difference?
With Podio. Seriously, I don’t understand how other people deal with it via email and discussing things back and forth, in unstructured documents. We only have a window of one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon so we wouldn’t be able to get any work done without Podio.
Last year Podio took on a $4m Series A round led by Denmark’s Sunstone Capital, expanded to the US, and was voted Europe’s Best Business Startup at the Europas. Podio is now used in more than 170 different countries, in seven languages. What would you say are the main three factors that have led Podio’s success?
What sets us apart is really that we empower people to work the way they want to and we have a team that is deeply dedicated to execute that vision. We introduced the first easy to use app builder where people, with no technical skills, can create their own workflows and apps, and we added mobile support for these user-built apps. No one else in the market has an offering like this.
Also Podio started off as a multilingual product. Most companies only bother with one language so end up one year or so down the road running into internationalization. We started out with multiple languages from day one and then we picked up on those countries that were embracing Podio the most and those countries with great growth opportunities. We also have more than 15 different nationalities in the team in Copenhagen.
Where do you see Podio in another 3 years time?
I see chat, live video and more social commenting merging together as one. I also see a lot of development in mobile, more than 30% of our mobile users use Podio on their mobile at least as much as they do on the web, so we see a change in how work is getting done. More and more people and businesses realize the value in working from anywhere with anyone on their preferred device, rather than having to go into the office. I see the demise of the physical office as one of the biggest changes to peoples lives in the affluent West the coming 10 years. Off course this is not just about technology, but technology is both enabling and amplifying the trend and Podio is very well positioned to support these new evolving ways of working.
Did you ever expect such great feedback and massive growth?
I would have to answer yes. Four years ago we put a massive poster on the wall in the basement, “We want to give back the power to manage work, to the people who do the job.”
We went out there saying we wanted to compete with Google and Microsoft and even email. We weren’t satisfied with only being popular in one segment. We really wanted to change how people worked. We’re happy it turned out this way and we managed to get so many people involved in the movement around how people work. We have a lot of work to do as there are still a lot of people working in an inefficient way.
Is there anything you would go back and do differently if you had the chance?
I think the biggest challenge for a start up is telling its story in a coherent way. We’ve been pretty good at storytelling and putting ourselves out there. We tried various ways of doing this but I do think that the best way to do this is to keep doing it yourself and avoid outsourcing in the early days.
What one piece of advice would you like to give to soon to be startup founders out there?
Start selling early. Don’t wait, go out early. Then you’ll start finding out about the pricing and demand in the market for your product.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I really believe in building a product that people like and use and that is capable of actually changing how people work. I would always say I’m most excited about seeing people doing that. I’m most excited about developing a real time environment that works on any device, in real time and asynchronous. I’m also excited about the number of apps people are building and using. More than 2.6 million apps so far, that’s not bad, really.
Finished reading? Check out Podio!