VC fund A16z’s Benedict Evans writes: We are in the middle of a wave of interesting new productivity software startups — there are dozens of companies that remix some combination of lists, tables, charts, tasks, notes, light-weight databases, forms, and some kind of collaboration, chat or information-sharing. All of these things are unbundling and rebundling spreadsheets, email and file shares. Instead of a flat grid of cells, a dumb list of files, and a dumb list of little text files (which is what email really is), we get some kind of richer canvas that mixes all of these together in ways that are native to the web and collaboration. Then, we have another new wave of productivity company that addresses a particular profession and bundles all of the tasks that were spread across spreadsheets, email and file shares into some new structured flow. […] A few years ago a consultant told me that for half of their jobs they told people using Excel to use a database, and for the other half they told people using a database to use Excel. There’s clearly a point in the life of any company where you should move from the list you made in a spreadsheet to the richer tools you can make in coolproductivityapp.io. But when that tool is managing a thousand people, you might want to move it into a dedicated service. After all, even Craigslist started as an actual email list and ended up moving to a database. But then, at a certain point, if that task is specific to your company and central to what you do, you might well end up unbundling Salesforce or SAP or whatever that vertical is and go back to the beginning. Of course, this is the cycle of life of enterprise software. IBM mainframes bundled the adding machines you see Jack Lemmon using below, and also bundled up filing cabinets and telephones. SAP unbundled IBM. But I’d suggest there are two specific sets of things that are happening now. First, every application category is getting rebuilt as a web application, allowing continuous development, deployment, version tracking and collaboration. As Frame.io (video!) and OnShape (3D CAD!) show, there’s almost no native PC application that can’t be rebuilt as a web app. In parallel, everything now has to be native to collaboration, and so the model of a binary file saved to a file share will generally go away over time (this could be done with a native PC app, but in practice generally won’t be). So, we have some generational changes, and that also tends to create new companies. But second, and much more important — everyone is online now. The reason we’re looking at nursing or truck drivers or oil workers is that an entire generation now grew up after the web, and grew up with smartphones, and assumes without question that every part of their life can be done with a smartphone. In 1999 hiring ‘roughnecks’ in a mobile app would have sounded absurd — now it sounds absurd if you’re not. And that means that a lot of tasks will get shifted into software that were never really in software at all before.
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We Are in the Middle of a Wave of Interesting New Productivity Software Startups