Zeb Evans of ClickUp on Optimizing Productivity

by | Nov 5, 2020 | SaaS Founders

Now, more than ever, with the shift away from office settings and towards remote work setups, a renewed focus on productivity and efficiency has emerged. For many employers, the concern with adopting WFH policies was that employees would be significantly less productive, and as a result, also less efficient. As several studies have shown, that isn’t necessarily the case. Turns out, the hold-ups in productivity and efficiency, as explained by Zeb Evans, Founder and CEO of ClickUp, are often found within the toolsets that employees utilize on a daily basis. 

Evans is described as a “serial entrepreneur.” But he also seems to be a serial problem-solver as well. Evans recognized the delays in progress within his own ventures when constantly switching between toolsets. The results were siloed workflows and halts in productivity. So he developed a solution: ClickUp–an incredibly diverse task management platform. With ClickUp, Evans wanted to create an all-in-one offering to allow businesses of all sizes to chat, collaborate, share files, set reminders, and more to keep employees in sync.

We spoke with Evans about what affects productivity and efficiency, how to combat productivity pitfalls, and how SaaS leaders can focus on these things in relation to running a business. Here’s what Evans had to say:

Could you share a little bit about your experience in the SaaS industry? How did you get involved in this space?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart and been drawn to technology, but my true introduction to the SaaS space came when I was in college. A near-death experience left me in the hospital for a month, and while I was there I was able to use a laptop they had available to teach myself how to code. This was before laptops were common items mind you. I created my first website and was immediately hooked on how software could be used to change people’s lives. As I got older, I continued to expand my skills and experience in the SaaS industry, founding several software companies that have generated over $100 million in revenue. At each of these companies, however, I came up against a void in the productivity software space – there was no single platform that everyone in my organization could use to increase efficiency, productivity, and alignment. So I decided, “Okay, I’ll just build it!” 

Let’s talk a bit more about the founding of ClickUp. Why was consolidating everything into one platform so important to you?

As an entrepreneur, I’ve always been a fan of productivity software, and as a result, I have used many different platforms throughout my career. However, that was always the problem. The sheer amount of different tools and platforms used by companies today aren’t necessarily built to work for every use case, nor can they communicate with each other to maximize efficiency. In each of my previous software companies, our teams were stuck using different platforms, making it hard to create alignment across the entire company. 

So, before starting my next venture, I decided to work with my team on creating an all-in-one productivity platform that would allow our entire organization to work in the same tool and increase efficiency and productivity like never before. As we built the app and saw immediate success using it cross-departmentally, we quickly realized that what we built was an incredibly powerful platform that could benefit all companies of all sizes and ultimately transform the productivity software landscape. We decided to release it to market and the platform took off and quickly went viral, growing to two million users without any funding or marketing. It’s been exciting to watch and we are only getting started. 

Can you talk about the difference between productivity and efficiency? What do the two look like in relation to running a SaaS business?

While productivity is the goal for most companies, efficiency is what truly drives long-term success. Too often companies get bogged down in layers and layers of systems designed to boost productivity, investing in countless tools and hyper-focusing on appearing productive, but they’re actually burning through resources, burning out employees, and falling apart at the seams before they can scale. This can be especially true when running a SaaS business, where competition is fierce to push out new features and keep user engagement high. 

While I absolutely love productivity software, in general, it’s a broken industry. There are too many tools to keep track of, too many functions in entirely separate ecosystems, and too many platforms across different departments. The result is less efficient, and less productive, employees, teams, and businesses. To optimize productivity in a way that also maximizes efficiency, solutions should be streamlined so all of the necessary tools for all teams live in a single platform that keeps track of everything: projects, tasks, schedules, chat, docs, and more. Ideally, one platform that can deliver truly efficient productivity for everyone. That’s exactly why we created ClickUp; we saw the need for one platform that helps employees stay productive and keeps companies running efficiently.

ClickUp: One app to replace them all

Which factors most affect productivity and efficiency?

Seeking immediate perfection. This is the enemy of productivity. Rarely is there a perfect solution, and seeking that solution takes astronomically longer than just a good solution that can be improved over time. Using too many tools can kill productivity and efficiency as well. Pick one that can do it all and implement that within your SaaS business. 

Do you think that the influx of productivity tools has affected SaaS companies in terms of efficiency? If so, how?

The average employee today uses three to five separate programs to manage their workday. These typically include apps for project management, chat, email, document management, scheduling, and more. When employees have to rely on a separate ecosystem of tools to carry out each specific task, that’s highly inefficient. Tools that promised to make companies more efficient have actually bogged them down. Think about how many work apps you have on your phone or how many platforms you use on your work computer. Switching between platforms and trying to keep up is time-consuming and exhausting, leading to project delays and more mistakes. Plus, it’s completely unnecessary when there are platforms that allow you to do everything in one place. 

Why is a focus on automation in terms of productivity and efficiency key?

The problem with a lot of tools that exist in the productivity space is that there is too much management required for use. Departments use different tools in different ways, but there is little collaboration or communication between the disparate products. Manually updating progress, tasks, documents, calendars, and more within several different platforms ends up taking employees just as much time as actually executing on work. When users can automate project updates, automate reporting, automate communication, and more, you start to see the true promise of productivity software actualized – a single platform that actually helps people focus on completing work instead of just managing work. 

Can you recommend any hacks to combat productivity pitfalls?

Set reminders for anything and everything that requires action. Whether that’s a notification on your phone or e-calendar, make sure you’ll receive a reminder before that action-item is due. 

Prioritize your time. If something takes longer than five minutes to do, create a separate to-do list item or document, and come back to it when you have the time to focus 

Trim your technology. Use fewer apps for your work, not more. As I mentioned before, the average employee switches between upwards of three different apps to manage their task load. If you can pare those numbers down, or even find one solution that offers everything in one location, you’ll not only save time but increase efficiency. 

Maintain consistency and automation among similar tasks or projects by using templates.

Set goals to know where you and your projects are going and to find the most productive path. Setting clear goals will allow you to easily identify objectives and any actionable items you may need to work on or produce. 

ClickUp Interface

Can productivity and efficiency boost organic growth? If so, how?

Absolutely! ClickUp was first created as an internal tool, but we quickly realized the power of an all-in-one productivity tool to fuel-efficient and organic growth for all types of companies by enabling full company alignment within one platform. Once launched, we grew from pure organic search and word of mouth to $20M+ ARR entirely organically. A big part of this organic growth was the result of efficient systems and collaboration we set up within the platform that allowed us to boost productivity well beyond our competitors and release new features every week. The proof is in our own organic success and these same systems in ClickUp are now being used by companies around the world, including Google, Airbnb, Nike, Uber, and more. 

What can companies do to focus on organic growth?

A focus on the product will always be foundational. When we set out to create ClickUp, we knew we wanted to create a product that would work for everyone. No matter the size of the team, no matter the industry or level of technical expertise, it was crucial to our vision that anyone could use our platform and see results right away. Having a strong and flexible product in place allowed us to focus on winning organic users by also providing valuable content and that resonated with our wide audience. It’s also crucial to listen to user feedback – the product is the center of your company and it must be built to work intuitively the way your customers work. We have always encouraged user feedback on our platform and even prioritize updates and new features based on the things our users vote for. Finally, true organic growth requires an emphasis on process. Having a process in place for incorporating new features and quickly adapting your product based on feedback helps to ensure you’re always meeting customer demand and staying a step ahead of the competition.

What do you think SaaS leaders can do to be more efficient?

I’m a firm believer in progress over perfection and using systems to achieve growth. Too often, the enemy of efficiency is perfection and I believe progress with iterations over time leads to the greatest efficiency. Additionally, leaders generally have a million things happening at once and need their minds to be in a good place for them to be their most productive selves. I’d recommend creating systems that help leaders to remember key details while automating repeatable tasks in order to clear your mind and your inbox. From there, find growth-focused activities to help you get into a better headspace–reading, working out, meditating–to help you have a clear head before kicking off your busy workday. Personally, I write in my journal every day, setting my goals and areas of focus, which for me has proven to be priceless.

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