I had been an early user of the Writely beta and was impressed with the browser based document editor that a team could use to all edit a document in real time. I was not surprised when Google snapped them up, but was pleasantly surprised when I found myself at the same table with Sam Schillace, one of the founders, at an Under The Radar conference on “The Business of Web Apps: Where the Web Goes to Work” in March of this year.
He was still sporting his Google badge and I asked him how happy he was there. He told me that it was the first large company that really agreed with him at tissue match level, he didn’t get the same creative antibody reaction he had encountered at some earlier large firms he had worked at, and he was enjoying his engineering director role immensely.
I invited Sam to speak with other bootstrappers and he was interested, the challenge has been to fit it in with his travel schedule. We did a short interview via e-mail to help set the table for Friday’s roundtable discussion on bootstrapping, cloud applications, and getting acquired by Google (before and after).
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what you and your co-founders were able to accomplish with Writely?
We had a vision for real time collaboration on a document that we were able to develop and deploy in production use. After Google acquired us it made a substantial contribution to Google Apps: in particular Google Docs offers the same shared real time edit of a document that Writely did on a more scalable platform.
Q: When you started Writely were you bootstrapping or did you take outside investment? How did you make that decision?
Bootstrapping, all the way. Best decision we ever made, because it gave us time and space to understand the market and pick the correct strategy (partnering with Google).
Q: How did you and your co-founders make the decision to be acquired by Google?
A long debate, actually, but we finally decided that there was a very big and fast-moving market, and Google was the best possible partner–the global brand and visibility was a great asset and would help us achieve what we were interested in, namely changing the nature of application development and deployment, now known as “cloud computing”.
Q: What is the most surprising thing about working for Google now that you have some perspective?
The scale–even if you understand that it’s going to be massive scale before you get there, the scope and ambition of the scale is really incredible. Also, the amazingly high level of expertise, intellect, and creativity you run into on a daily basis when working there – it’s really a geek wonderland. I’m happy with the outcome.
Q: Thanks for your time.
For more information on Writely, the Writely–The Back Story by Peter Rip makes for interesting reading, key extract:
I’ve known Sam and Steve for about nine years. They have been in the application software business for nearly 20 years. Two important themes arise from this. First, they aren’t generic applications software guys. Every major product they have shipped has been about “documents” but on successive platforms.
- They were the authors of FullPaint and FullWrite — the largest selling third party word processing and painting apps on the original Macs.
- They developed the first cross-platform (Mac, Windows) WYSWYG HTML editor which came to market as Claris Home Page.
- They developed the re-design and built the underlying platform to Macromedia’s re-write of DreamWeaver.
- Now they have built Writely.
I’ve seen them build two major sources of expertise in this concentration. First, they understand the user problem so deeply that they can blend the advantages of each new platform with ‘document authoring problem’ to really build a platform-native solution, not a clone of someone else’s work. Second, before tackling the development of the application, they develop a library of services and tools that they know will be required to bang out the kinds of features and performance an authoring application requires.
Sam Schillace is our featured speaker this Friday in Palo Alto, please register if you would like to attend as the room only hold 12 people.