Mike Turitzin is a Stanford Computer Science grad, ex-Googler, and co-founder of Workflowy—a popular note-taking and list-making app that puts simplicity, efficiency, and flexibility at its forefront. I was lucky to grab lunch with him in Brooklyn, NY, where we spoke about VR/AR, tech entrepreneurship, and more. Below are my favorite takeaways from our convo:
When Mike and his co-founder Jesse started working together on a business, they ran through many different ideas before settling on Workflowy. Their past business ideas were original, brand spanking new technologies, but ultimately didn’t interest them enough. They didn’t know what they wanted to do. However, they knew they wanted to create useful tech tools.
Jesse had been teaching himself to program, and his personal starter project was a to-do list application. He followed a tutorial which helped him build the foundation of the application. Mike and Jesse recognized ways to make the simple To-do list application more intuitive, more efficient, and more robust. This was the beginning of Workflowy. Workflowy took an extremely familiar idea—lists—and added its own, unique flavor to it.
Building a successful business is hard work because one must manage a lot of complexity. There’s marketing, engineering, finances, legal stuff, and soo much more to deal with. Unless you have more than 24 hours in your day, managing all of those parts simultaneously will be extremely hard. So you must learn to focus on only a few things at once—the things that currently matter most for the company. Consequently, you must learn to set aside the things that don’t matter as much. Mike explained this to me when discussing how he made decisions about security, branding and marketing for Workflowy so early on. He explained that, in the early stages, the most important thing—ensuring their app actually worked—was reason enough to spend less time on marketing, because he was sure they’d cross that bridge when they got to it. As they started growing, issues that weren’t as important before became crucial, and this helped re-prioritize what to work on.
Workflowy’s user interface is extremely clean and simple. It looks like this:
How much simpler can you get than that? Surprisingly though, it’s packed with features. If your mouse hovers over a bullet point you’ll see an actions dropdown menu. You can create tags by using the “#” and “@” symbols. There’s a ton of keyboard shortcuts to speed up your list-making process. All of these tips and tricks are available to learn by opening the Help panel on the app, or by reading through Workflowy’s blog. Never, though, do they force the user through a tutorial. Tutorials can be annoying and time-consuming. They can take away from experiencing the app in all its glory. Mike explains that adding new features without requiring users to take another tutorial takes a lot of thought and planning to do. Ultimately, though, it creates a seamless, intuitive user experience, and is worth the effort.